The pups were so adorable we fought the urge to take two. As we drove home our curly shepherdoodle lay peacefully on Karen’s lap, looking up from time to time as if to ask where, exactly it was we were going. We wondered if she’d be lonely without her mom, her adopted dad, grandmother, and her seven brothers and sisters. Pawsome was at home, but for the last few months she’d had trouble getting up and her bark had softened and become frayed around the edges. Where, before, she’d ranged freely over the mountain, chasing the traces of wild scents, now her disabilities shackled her to the end of the dead end road where she strained to make sense of the bent images coming to her through clouded eyes.
By the time your dog is old you’ve forgotten how quickly it grew up and are amazed by the rapidity of its decline. Only months ago, Pawsome was eagerly trotting the trails alongside the river, crossing the stream whenever she wanted. Then I began to notice her stream crossings were laboured. Concerned that she might not make the far side before running afoul of a log jam, I began grabbing her collar before a crossing. Not long after that, she stopped crossing altogether, something that must have pained her as it would put me out of her sight, something she couldn’t abide for the last fifteen years we’d spent fishing together.
For most of those fifteen years she’d cleared the tailgate of the pickup as soon as I’d lifted the window on the canopy. After she snapped her ACL, I was forced to lower the tailgate and use a bin or a milk crate as a makeshift step. Soon, I was lifting her into the passenger seat. Then, almost overnight, the physical ordeal of an outing trumped desire, and Pawsome became yard-bound.
There was still adventure in her life. The bears came down to forage in the fall, bolder than ever now that my dog’s bark had turned into a whisper. She still craned her neck to catch wild wind borne scents, still greeted the postwoman and attempted to bark at the garbage truck.
Paws came up to greet us as we took the pup out of the truck. She sniffed it curiously. We took the new dog into the house and put her in the kitchen behind the baby gate we’d bought in anticipation of her arrival.
What to call this new dog? We’d been making lists. Why not call her Uno, I suggested, the Spanish word for one, thinking of the 1 Lori had put on her belly to make it easier to separate her from the other pups. This got hesitant approval, but we soon realized that Uno and No were too similar in sound. Our pup might develop a negative association with her name.
Why not Una, I said proffering a feminine article more befitting a female pup. From Una it was a small leap to the Irish, Oona, as in Charlie’s fourth wife, Oona Chaplin, and Oona River. We agreed that Oona was a good fit for our little Labradoodle.
Oona wanted to play. Pawsome didn’t. If she’d been healthier, the older dog would have put the pup in her place, but she was so enfeebled that the small black energy ball knocked her over. To avoid this pathetic sight, we let the dogs out at different times and kept them on opposite sides of the baby gate and the fence. A few weeks later pendulous growths began breaking through the fur under Pawsome’s neck like dark mushrooms breaking through the forest floor in Fall. I booked an appointment with the veterinarian.
It was a Tuesday, the first day without rain or snow, or both in two weeks. I put Pawsome in the box of the truck then put the harness on Oona and strapped her into the passenger seat. By the time we were at the pet hospital, Oona was asleep. Karen arrived, as we’d arranged. We let the sleeping dog lie and took our old pooch inside where Dr. Farkvam examined her.
They’re sarcomas, he said feeling the tennis ball sized lumps on her neck. I could remove them but they’d be back in no time.
The look on his face said it was time.
I’ll sedate her, he said, could you come back at 11:30. We could, we said.
When we returned faint shafts of light were shining through fissures in the southern sky. Dr. Farkvam brought Pawsome out from the back.
I gave a shot he said. In her mind, she’s probably thinking nice thoughts of running over the mountain behind your house.
He administered another shot. Paws’ breathing got shallower. We patted her gently until her heart stopped.
By the time we’d left the hospital, the sun had broken through. I opened the door to the truck. My little curly pup, now awake, gave me a where-have-you-been-and-what-took-you-so-long look.
Let’s go for an adventure, I told her, a walk by the river.