Archive for Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shouts and Murmurs: Making one last walk together

April 26, 2006

It started out as a peaceful evening walk. The sun filtered through the trees along the driveway. One of our two dogs, Spot, ran ahead of me. I was talking to our oldest son, who lived nearby, on my cell phone.

Suddenly there was the sound of a car braking, of gravel flying and within a split second, my dog whimpering.

Spot was on his back, curled up in a ball at the side of the road. He'd been struck by a car.

I scooped him up in my arms. He was still alive, but there was a swath of flesh hanging from the lower half of his body.

There was no blood, no sound, just his eyes frozen into mine. He melted into my arms.

I could hear my son on the phone, but because I was cradling Spot I handed my phone to the driver of the car, who had stopped to help.

Meanwhile, I wondered which direction my family should head to find a veterinarian clinic open on a Sunday night.

But Spot's time was up.

The driver and I stood there in the near-silent dusk, feeling the dog's chest for a heartbeat, a breath, seeking life in his ebony eyes.

But the black and white cat-sized dog, who chased cars up the driveway by day and tormented opossums by night, was still.

The driver seemed as shaken as I was. He said he had swerved to miss a neighbor's dog when our dog darted onto the other side of the road. It was hard to dodge one dog, impossible to dodge two. Fortunately, the driver was safe.

He offered to drive me to the house.

Hundreds of times, I've taken walks up and down our driveway, usually with two dogs and a cat or two in tow.

I declined his offer of a ride back to the house, knowing this would be the last walk Spot and I would make together.

Perhaps I'd had a premonition. In recent weeks I had made it a point to thank the dogs for their protectiveness -- for taking care of us. My thanks were aimed more at Diablo, a fiercely protective part-Chihuahua. Diablo was about 2 years old when my son selected him at a dog pound nine years ago. He was showing his age -- gray hair on his face and a hesitancy to climb steps. Our friendly Spot was young and bouncy -- we thought he'd be around for a long time.

Spot's body was soft and still warm.

By the time I reached the deck and sat in a chair, still holding Spot, our oldest son had arrived. He and my husband and I tried to comfort the driver. After all, the dogs had been crossing the road for five years -- it was nobody's fault, least of all the driver's.

Our youngest son -- the son who five years before had claimed the spotted rat terrier puppy as his own -- joined us. Earlier that day he and his girlfriend had given Spot a bath and brought him in the house to play. For the little dog, it seemed, his last day had been a good day.

We wrapped Spot in a towel -- the same towel the kids had dried him with just hours before -- and buried him in a shady area at the edge of the woods ... in the woods where a day earlier he chased foxes, where hours before he napped on the soft green grass and near where minutes before he had stood outside the kitchen door waiting for his evening snack.

We never expected to bury our dog that evening.

But, like everything else in life, things can change in the beat of a heart.

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