by Donna Schoenkopf
I have done just about everything I can think of to avoid writing this story.
I have done the laundry, which is always more of a project here because of my desire to be environmental. I have to unfurl my long tubing from the washer out the east sliding glass door to the east yard, prop up the sags in the tubing with whatever is handy like laundry baskets and shoe boxes in order for the gray water to pour onto the grass on that side of the house. It also spares my septic tank the more than fifty gallons of water it takes to do a load.
I have taken my bed apart. While changing the sheets this morning I again noticed the rip in the covering of the frame and decided to see what was under that ancient fabric and disintegrating foam. It was wood. One thing led to another and I ripped it and cut it off the frame. Then I got a flat head screwdriver and a hammer and took out every single staple, of which there were hundreds and hundreds, that held the old cover on. And then I vacuumed the area. And threw the rugs out on the deck to hose off. And did the dishes. And watched a lot of morning political talk shows which included Donald Trump and Anthony Weiner.
The morning had morphed into afternoon and I, being a responsible person who has a personal deadline in writing a weekly story, couldn’t put off trying to put into words what has happened this week. That sounds so melodramatic. If you were around me I would appear to be just going along like normal. It’s not that I am prostrate on the floor with grief. Instead, I am in a kind of blue funk which seems to have immobilized me.
You see, on Friday, I euthanized my handsome, happy, strong, loving, warm, big, wonderful dog, Diego.
Here is his story.
It was the middle of March, 2008. I had finished building my affordable and environmental house and had been living in it for about three months. There was plenty of rain, and red clay mud with patches of wild grass outside. I saw two dogs, a big one and a small one, running across my south yard.
It turned out to be two dumped dogs—a mother dog, tall, thin, and completely black, followed by a black and tan, large galumphing puppy. Her teats were still active. I could see them hanging from the underside of her belly.
The dogs ran around the southeast corner of the house and my eyes were able to follow them because I have glass around three sides of my house. I saw the puppy make a move to get a teat and watched as his mother turned and offhandedly took his whole snout in her mouth and clamped down. Hard. That brought my attention to his snout and I could see that there was a scarred area across the bridge of his nose. This wasn’t the first time she had told him, “No!”
They continued around to the north side of the house. Mama Dog reached down and grabbed a rubber outdoor electrical extension cord and started chewing. Puppy watched with great interest. I yelled at Mama Dog and she ran back around the side of the house. I began thinking of what my choices were regarding these dogs. Keep ’em. Shoo ’em away. Give ’em to somebody somewhere.
I decided to keep them.
So I got out bowls and put some food in them and put out some water (water is the most vital thing for a homeless dog), and they wolfed it down and that was that.
As the days went by Mama Dog continued to eat weird things. Tin cans, wire, plastic. I began to fret about her insides. She was very disconnected from me psychologically. She barely noticed me. She was frantic all the time. But the puppy liked me and had a more casual personality.
More complications arose. I had cats. I had always had both dogs and cats as pets at the same time when I was a kid. I didn’t think it would be an unsolvable problem. I was wrong. Mama Dog loved cats. Killing them, that is. She tried for two weeks to get, and eat, my two cats. She had an intensity of purpose and hunger I had never seen before. She would see them somewhere outside, freeze, then charge at them with sheer blood lust. Puppy followed close behind, in absolute glee. He thought of it as a marvelous game. The cats escaped with their very lives on many occasions.
I imagined, perhaps mistakenly, that the dogs had been penned up in a miserable situation and Mama Dog had become literally insane and puppy would have gone nuts, too, except Owner Person had decided he (I think of Owner Person as a he) would dump them in my neighborhood because he lived in town and was moving and hated them anyway and they were just nuisances, so bye-bye.
And now here they were.
I made a hard and cruel decision. I decided I would keep Puppy because he seemed malleable and appeared to have a happy disposition, but Mama Dog had to go. I asked my friends and neighbors if they wanted her and they said, sorry. We’d love to but ...
So now what?
I decided I would have her put to sleep. I had had two dogs put down before and knew that it was extremely humane. Very fast. Very gentle. Better than starving to death in the country. Better than having my innocent cats killed. Better than nonstop destruction for the rest of her time with me.
I knew that I needed to have proof, like a utility bill, of a Shawnee address to be allowed to use the Shawnee Animal Shelter. I didn’t have any such thing because I lived in Tecumseh. And Tecumseh has no such thing as an animal shelter.
So I asked around and S.P.A.R. (don’t ask me what it stands for, but I’m sure Animal and Rescue are part of the acronym) came up and I called them. There was no answer, no matter what time of day I called. This went on for several days and then into a week. I gave up on S.P.A.R.
Finally, I could take her shenanigans no longer. The cats especially were in danger. Mama Dog was smart and beginning to figure out how to get the cats. There were several really close calls. I finally came up with a plan. I would put her in my car and take her to the Animal Shelter and I would lie. I would tell the person there that I had found her on the road, Killer Highway 177, to be exact, and that I had almost hit her and that she was about to cause a terrible accident, so I had stopped and got her in the car and now here she was, and thank you very much for taking her.
I figured she would have a chance to be adopted (she wasn’t bad looking) and at the very worst she would have a humane death.
So sue me.
I got there and went inside and spun my story and the guy there, cowboy hat on head, boots on desk, shit-eatin’ grin on his face, said, “What side of the road was she on?”
What side of the road was she on?
Uhhhhh. That wasn’t part of my script. But without hesitation I blurted out, “Right out there on the other side of the highway.”
“Can’t take her. That’s out of the area.”
He had a real evil smirk on his face. His cocky boots insulted my very presence. The putrid, acrid odor of uncleaned pens assaulted me. I hated him and his smirky, smirky face. Deeply.
Yes, I am flawed. Okay?
After a strenuous back and forth involving my angry complaints and his evil enjoyment of my predicament, I left. Cursing over my shoulder.
Mama Dog was still in the car. I got in and drove away.
Okay. Now what?
I started driving toward the old neighborhood of my teens, without a plan. I realized that it was a nice neighborhood. A plan started to hatch. I drove over to my old house. My old house with the park across the street. The little park that Mama Dog might like.
I stopped the car and got out and opened the door of the back seat and she hopped out and we walked across the street to the park. I sat on the cement park bench and watched her nose around. She was pretty happy and, because she never did establish a bond with me, was completely unaware of me and eventually left the park and ran back across the street to my old house where there were a couple of garbage cans on the side of the house. Mmmmmm. Garbage cans. They weren’t full of garbage, though. Just building scraps. But they must have smelled good because she was totally unaware of my blithely strolling to the car. She didn’t even notice me driving away.
Yes. I felt awful.
I drove back to my house and parked and opened the car door and the puppy jumped up and down in sheer happiness to see me. His comic expression and sweetness melted my heart.
Now I had a puppy. A good natured, big old galumphing puppy, whom I named Diego Rivera.
Our life together began.
He was always a good dog. He didn’t eat cans or wires or plastic. He knew his name immediately. He absolutely loved me. He never once peed or pooed in the house. He learned the neighborhood early because I had substitute teaching jobs and had to leave early and stay gone for many hours during the day, so he roamed around till he found Neighbor Jim, who was nice to him. There were other dogs in the neighborhood, too, and he made friends with them. The whole neighborhood accepted him.
I think they accepted him because of his happy-go-lucky attitude. He always had a big smile on his face. He liked everybody and everybody liked him. He was a local character. Never got into too much trouble, at least not enough trouble to have the neighbors want to shoot him.
Once he was seen eating a neighbor’s rat poison. I took him to the vet and got him treated. The vet said dogs don’t die that often after eating rat poison, and lots of them get into it in the country. Oh.
His being a free dog eventually tempted him into running out onto Killer Highway 177, following my car. That freaked me out. It wasn’t so much about Diego getting killed—although that would really hurt—but if someone died because of my dog running in front of their car, well, that I couldn’t take. I talked to Neighbor Jim in casual conversation about it and he very tactfully said that if I didn’t mind guns he had a solution.
Turned out he had a BB gun and he had trained his dog, Sally, to not run out on the highway by shooting at her when she started following his car. I could borrow his gun, he said, if I promised not to aim for his eyes.
I could do that.
Took me three or four “lessons” and then Diego never ran after my car again.
Eventually, Diego met his consort, Angela Davis, a cute little part Malamute, who lived up the road. They fell in love and she moved in with us. They had sex even though Diego was neutered. (What a guy.) I had Angela Davis spayed after her first litter from another fella. She and Diego never, ever, ever were apart. Not ever. If you saw one, you saw both. They loved to play their jumping, frolicking games. They loved running off into the woods together. They loved touring the neighborhood together. They eventually became a squirrel, rabbit, armadillo hunting team. They loved chasing birds of all kinds—turkeys, hawks, vultures. They howled at coyotes at night. They sloshed through ponds, coming home to shake all their nasty mud and water all over my floors and furniture. They were truly happy dogs. They had a perfect life.
Until Diego’s knees gave out. It took months for me to realize what was wrong and how bad it was. Daughter-in-law Casey recommended aspirin, on a full stomach, twice a day, and it worked for a while. But then that failed. I brought him to the vet, who told me it would cost $4,000 to fix both knees and he might have a hip problem too, and that the knees would last his lifetime if he didn’t reinjure himself.
The only way he’d be safe from hurting himself would be if I completely locked him in and only let him walk on a leash.
I tried that for a couple of weeks. He got hysterical when I wouldn’t let him outside, especially at night listening to the coyotes making inroads on the property. Angela Davis would sit on the hillside baying and barking while Diego paced in his painful, crippled way, back and forth, back and forth. When I tried to bring her in she’d go rigid and lie on the ground, refusing to budge. She would not abandon her post.
I got meds of all kinds from the vets. Anti-inflammatory to try to keep the swelling down, a morphine derivative for the pain, and Tagamet so he wouldn’t throw up. Nothing worked for long.
Eventually he could walk only on three legs. Then in the last few days, only two. He lost a lot of weight. He’d lie on the concrete floor and whine. He cried in pain.
I made a date to have him euthanized. Neighbor Jim came over and we found a pretty place close to the pond for Diego’s grave and then he helped me dig it, pickaxing while I shoveled the loose dirt out. He was a big dog. It was a big grave.
The next day I collected large rocks in my wheelbarrow, put a potted lavender bush in the wheelbarrow too, along with a large watering can filled with my specially treated water, and left the wheelbarrow alongside the grave for the burial the following day.
That night I felt deep grief. I cannot tell you how alone I felt. I felt like a simple, weak, defenseless woman on the edge of the prairie without a masculine presence to love her and protect her. I felt completely bereft. I cried, deep, deep moaning cries, and held Diego in my arms.
The next morning Jim drove up to the house and we put Diego in the car and drove to the vet’s. I was strangely unemotional. As we came down the offramp and turned onto Highway 9 I happened to see something in the grass. It was a tiny, blond puppy. I thought it was dead, it was so still, but as we passed it I saw its eyes following our car. I thought, “Diego is sending me a replacement.” I excitedly told Jim about it and he said, “It’ll be there when we go back.”
I didn’t believe him. I knew the puppy would run into the road and get hit or leave its spot so we’d never find it.
We drove on.
We got to the vet’s and Dr. Bob brought us into the examining room. Jim asked if he should put Diego on the examining table and Dr. Bob said, “No, that’ll hurt him. Just let him be where he is.”
He began to fill a hypodermic with a thick pink fluid, the color and texture of Pepto-Bismol. Then he walked over to Diego, put the needle expertly into Diego’s forearm, and injected. Diego didn’t even wince. He stood for a few seconds, and then slowly collapsed to the floor as we gently held him. I stroked him, telling him I loved him and that he was a good boy. He lay on his side, eyes staring, not breathing. After a few seconds he took a deep, deep breath. Dr. Bob said it was a reflex. Then a few more seconds and another deep breath. Now his tongue was lolling out of his mouth. One last deep breath. Dr. Bob put his stethoscope against his chest and said, “He’s gone.” It all took less than twenty seconds.
Dr. Bob brought out a stretcher and he and Jim and put Diego on it and they walked him out to Jim’s car and laid him in the back. Dr. Bob said he was sorry for my loss. Jim and I pulled away and started home. I felt Diego’s presence intensely, there in the back. I didn’t say anything.
As we passed the offramp where we had seen the puppy, I craned my neck to see if he was still there.
And he was. Jim made a U-turn and I scooped it up. It was a male. He licked my mouth and wagged his tail. I felt Diego in the back, as real as can be, very interested in the puppy. Then I realized he was dead.
As we drove along Jim said “Highway” would be a good name for the puppy. Yes, it would.
We turned down the country road to my house and Sally, Jim’s dog, and Angela Davis, Diego’s mate, saw us and ran after the car. When we got to my house, I put the puppy in the bathroom with some food and water and ran down the hill, where Jim had driven. The two dogs were waiting and Sally ran into the woods to explore but Angela Davis stayed by the grave and watched as Jim and I carried Diego in Jim’s blanket to the grave. She watched as we laid him in it. It was a perfect size. She watched as Jim slowly and gently covered Diego with shovel after shovelful of dirt. I put the lavender bush in the dirt and Jim filled it in. Then Jim took each rock out of the wheelbarrow and put it carefully on Diego’s grave. I watered the lavender bush and we all, dogs and people, walked up the hill.
Jim didn’t want to stay. I had told him I’d make us a lunch but he said he was antsy and wanted to go do some woodwork.
I walked back into the house and let the little blond puppy out of the bathroom. He was shy and shaking. I picked him up and held him close.
Today, three days later, I named him Joe Biden. Highway. Joe Biden. Two good names. “I’ll use them both,” I said to myself.
And just now I looked out the sliding glass door and saw Angela Davis still sitting after three long days, at the end of the driveway in the dark, waiting for Diego.
I feel the same way, Angela Davis. I surely do.