I find myself in one of those horrible adult moments where I have to say goodbye to my old dog, For some folks it’s a sudden surprise and a teary goodbye at the vet but I’ve been looking around this corner for a long minute. He has been declining for months. Last Christmas I knew it was coming, I told myself, this will be our last year together, observing the lasts in my mind as the time has counted down. Last trip to the river, last ride in the car, last, last, last. I’ve marked them all. I’ve watched him change and turn away slowly from all of the things that made him happy till there was nothing left but supper and me. I’ve watched him drift around the house following me from room to room and when it was too much to get up he would follow me with his eyes from the bed blankets that I’ve put out for him to lie down on around the house.
Today I called the doctor who will come tomorrow and open the gate from his tired hurting body so his spirit can run down the trail that I can’t follow on. Today I am suddenly a wreck. After weeks of monitoring his QoL and changing his bedding daily and mopping the floors when the accidents began to multiply to the point where it was obvious he couldn’t keep up with the demands of his body. We have come to the end of the trail and I am spent beyond measure with sadness. Tomorrow will be our last date and he won’t hurt anymore and that is all I want for him now.
Of course, all this raw emotion sends me burrowing into my photo archive so it can do what I built it to do; comfort me, stop time, take me back to the beginning for a little while so I can feel it all again like I did when it was new.
So this is the beginning. December 5, 2004 at a Home 4 the Holidays adoption event in Reston,VA. As the event photographer I had said no thank you 300 times that day to all of the beautiful animals that I was photographing. Wouldn’t you know it would be 301 that got to me? This photo is pretty much our first moment of eye contact through the crowd. Already two years old and with his own ideas about who was in charge, his name was Cooper and we kept it that way for a few years until Cooper the boy, my nephew, was born. Then the kids renamed him Scooby. I always thought it suited him better. ’Look how handsome he is!’ was all I could think when I first saw him through the lens at the adoption event. Right after I took this photo I walked over and introduced myself to his foster Mom. He sat on my lap licked my face and that was it, he was home within a week. I’d never heard of a Plott hound before (he’s a Blevins Plott), now I could tell you all about them. How they are so stubborn and crazy and brave and stupid and smart and strong all at the same time. I guess I saw a lot of myself in a dog like that. It’s easy to forget how difficult he was at first now that we’re on the other side of this life together but he had no manners, terrorized our old beagle till the day she left the planet and was generally a disaster on four legs at every turn. People would scoop up their little dogs in our suburban Northern Virginia neighborhood and run the other way shouting things like ‘Why would you have a dog like that?’ When we moved to Western North Carolina I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the motivation for me was to bring him home to a place that he was built to live in. And the conversation with strangers and neighbors changed completely. I would have him in the back of the truck at the gas station, going off at top notch so much that the truck was swaying and the barking was a total din. An old timer would walk by and peer in the truck and say ‘I bet that’s a good dog.’ Yes sir, he is.
The wheel turns. Soon we will begin listing firsts with new animals. The kids have never been able to have anything but fish because Scooby would hunt anything furry and smaller than him. So there will probably be a menagerie in my yard before too long. It might take a menagerie to fill up the hole I feel in my heart today. Sweet dreams good boy, I’m gonna miss you. Meet you on the other side.