Debra Marshall: Goodbye to a very good boy

  • Aroofus Gooptus Barkbender was a big, 85-pound moose of a dog. Courtesy Debra Marshall

For the Monitor
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The day I’ve been dreading for months finally arrived: Aroofus Gooptus Barkbender’s hind legs refused to work, in spite of a rubdown, in spite of meds, in spite of helping him get up to take the first steps that usually stimulated enough function to allow wobbly – but speedy – walking. The inevitable call to the vet’s office was made, then we sat and talked to Roo, and rubbed his belly and ears, and stuffed him full of all the good things he wanted to eat: a slice of pizza, a bowl of milk, some usually forbidden cat food, soup with an egg in it. Then we lifted him on a blanket into the car, and he woo-woo’d his last car trip to the vet, and oblivion.

We experience in our self consciousness many tragedies of being human: We have to kill in order to live, whether we’re carnivores, omnivores, ovo-lacto vegetarians or vegans – and we’re aware of that, and of the ironic tragedy of it, and most of us, at some time or another, will struggle with ourselves over it.

We know that our existence will inevitably come to an end, and as we grow older we become acutely aware of the passing of time, of how much weight rests on the scale on the used and gone forever side, how relatively little remains on the new days to come side. We know that when our time is up, we’ll exist only as a memory; we’ll leave stuff undone, stuff unknown, and the stuff that only we remember will blow away with our dust.

We live with the tragedy that no one – ever – will really know us: The human condition ultimately is one of resounding solitude, and yet we strive to find comfort in the existentially limited connections we make with other people, other beings.

We long to be truly seen, truly known by another human – and we live with that hungry ghost all our lives, struggling to accept our ultimate aloneness, to accept that only I, myself, can ever know the fullness of my thoughts and feelings and experiences.

Another tragedy is that we live much longer than our beloved pets – or, what may be worse, our pets may sometimes outlive us.

Roofus was a big, 85-pound moose of a dog, with long black ears and a typical hound’s baying bark. Like all our critters, he was someone else’s cast-off. When he was found wandering the streets in a nearby town, he was rail thin, no smarter than he needed to be, already suffering some walking issues from an untreated injury, but young and strong and very enthusiastic – all feet were in the air at least as often as on the ground, and he talked constantly.

The local vet more or less tricked me into taking him home to see how he might fit in with my other Barkie Boy and the Furry People, telling me I could keep him as long as I wanted and bring him back any time if it didn’t work out. I found out later that the staff had bets going on how long it would be before I brought Roo back: The longest was a couple of hours, the shortest was 15 minutes. They were surprised when he spent the night, and then the next day, and then another – and by then, I’d forgotten all about bringing him back.

Not long after Roo became a household member, we adopted a new Furry Person. For months afterward, every time Roo woke from a nap, his nose would snap into the air, sniffing furiously. He’d jump to his feet, and baying aroo aroo arooo, he’d search for the – !cat! – that had invaded, and corner her. Did we know this cat was here? Aroo aroo aroo aroo!

Eventually Catman trained the hound. Giving us a disgusted look, he’d race to the baying Roo and deliver a hard smack on the snoot that we could hear at a distance. He didn’t use claws, but Roo understood. Barking was reduced significantly.

Roo was a lover of humans and thought he was a lap dog. I never took a nap on the couch without his hot body mashed between me and the sofa back, snoring mightily, nose buried in my armpit or knee. Stretched out, he was nearly as long as me. In the last year, when his old injury made such snuggling uncomfortable, he’d settle for lying on top of my feet – as long as there was touching, all was right enough in his world.

Human beings don’t easily accept that ultimately we’re not in control. Maybe other critters, most times, agonize less and accept more readily the ebb and flow of existence.

When we returned from the vet, my other Barkie Boy carefully sniffed me all over. I’m sure he read what had happened off my hands. He gave me one long look, then went about his usual Barkie Boy day. Several years ago, when there was still a chance that my beloved, ailing cat could recover from the illness that eventually killed him, Catman – who, as a Lord of the Universe, never shares – brought him a freshly killed mouse to eat every evening. When that gift stopped, my heart paused for several beats: I knew the wrong corner had been turned, and time was growing short.

The putting down of a beloved critter is a sweet and gentle thing, once we finish struggling with the tragic responsibility of deciding when it’s time. It’s over in seconds. The spirit drifts as if to sleep, and from there drifts beyond the body. Time goes on. Our lives go on. Suffering ends. Our hearts ache but the worry and agony of weighing benefit and detriment ends.

The irony is that we haven’t made the same simple release as gentle and reliable for the suffering members of our own species, who, for the most part, could tell us when they were ready for that last adventure. The telling resolves the tragedy, and makes the parting of a loved one from life a grace, instead.

I was lucky – that day I was certain Roo was ready; it often isn’t so clear. He told me he wants to be buried in the couch. He’ll have to settle for a garden-side place under the apple tree, or maybe the peach tree, where he can monitor our outdoor goings-on.

We sigh, hug the other Barkie Boy often, and wait for time to soothe our aching, human hearts.

(Debra Marshall lives in Wilmot. She blogs at herondragonwrites.blogspot.com.)