The kids next door have this swing. It’s a simple disc swing, made of wood, stained dark, with a sturdy synthetic rope through the middle and a washer on the bottom to help secure the knot. They hanged it in their front yard, and I can see them swinging on it from my desk. Now that the heat of our Texas summer has relented, the two oldest of the kids usually take a swing on it when they get home from school. They both drop their backpacks without a care in the world. The boy climbs on and his older sister gives him a good push. And I smile.
She scrawled 10 digits on a card. “Just give me a call before you’re going to bring him back.” That was the parting message after we adopted the dog that saved my marriage.
I was severely depressed following my granddad’s death in December. I had checked out of my whole life; I wasn’t doing any one part of it even half-assed. After six months of being alone in our apartment, Ann Margaret needed someone. I was a shell, using raw memory power to scrape by in my classes and the muscle memory of hundreds of lattes to keep my job. I had nothing left to give at home. I was blowing it. Out of her loneliness, she asked, “Can I get a dog?”
Ann Margaret knew he belonged with us from the first picture she saw. I wasn’t so sure. He only had three legs. (He had lost his right front leg during his initial rescue.) I worried about what it would be like to pet a dog who wasn’t “whole.” He had social issues. He had already been adopted and returned several times because he didn’t get along with kids or otherwise proved difficult to deal with. His profile on petfinder.com was littered with disclaimer icons about his various shortcomings. What if we couldn’t control him? What if he couldn’t coexist with our sugar gliders? What if…? What if…?
We drove to the shelter near Houston. Diane opened his kennel door and he charged out and tore ass around her yard. He looked more brown than white like he had looked in the picture. We went inside and spent some time getting to know him. Diane told us about him, but his personality was obvious. He was loud and demanding, opinionated and rowdy, fiercely independent and infuriatingly charming. We loaded him into the back seat of the Durango on the quilted mat the shelter provided. The only other thing he had to his name was a ratty collar and a toy named Mr. Squeak. He was a little scared as he rode away with yet another family to his hopefully-forever home. He peed through the mat on the leather seats.
We brought him home to our apartment. Ann Margaret was already in love with him, and I had it all figured out. He wasn’t going to sleep in our bed. He was going to sleep on the floor. He was a dog after all! The first night he scratched at our door and cried for a while. He tore up part of the carpet in the process. Eventually, he went to sleep in the dirty clothes that were under the counter in the bathroom. That was the only night he ever slept anywhere but in our bed. When our second dog came to live with us, Sean started sleeping on my side of the bed for some unknown reason. Over the last six years, he’s been my bedtime buddy.
We were worried how he would do since our apartment was on the second floor and also had an upstairs loft. The stairs were never any match for him. He owned that apartment. He chased his toys up and down the stairs like a rocket. Unlike his friend Binky, he was never afraid of the stairs up to our front door. They didn’t have any backing and it freaked Binky out. Sean bounced up and down the stairs. He equally owned every house we’ve lived in since then.
Sometimes Ann Margaret or I would walk him over to check the mailbox. He would bark at everything in between sniffs of whatever scent caught his attention. He would tire out before we made it back, so we would have to carry him. If he ever got tired on a walk, he would just sit down and demand to be carried. We gladly carried him whenever he demanded. When it was time to go outside, he would chase Ann Margaret and jump and bite her pants legs in his excitement. As soon as he could reach the leash before we could put it on, he would bite it and play an little game of impatient tug. Since we moved to our new house, walking to check the mail at the mailbox bank in front of the next door neighbors’ house was our daily ritual.
No matter where we lived, he would bitch at us when he wanted something; he would bitch at us when we didn’t move fast enough giving it to him. He barked and snapped at the vet and techs. At our old vet, the front desk worker once asked me why we didn’t put a muzzle on him since he was barking so loudly. I explained to her that that sound was with a muzzle. Our current vet chastized me about Sean’s behavior once. I told him, “Yes, I know. He has lots of behavior issues and we enable him. But this dog is special and he’s earned it in ways you won’t ever know. Don’t bring it up again.” He never did. If you save your parents’ marriage, you’re entitled to do whatever the happy fuck you want. Free pass for life. That’s the deal.
Most people reading this won’t have had the privilege of meeting Sean. This is the fierce, insane, charming boy that we had the privilege of loving for the last nine years.
In 2012, just before we moved to our new house, Sean was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. It’s a terrible disease but manageable. He was on two different medications full time and required regular checks of his blood chemistry, and he caught every little disease that happened to come by. Over the last several months he started having some other problems, too. We dealt with them like everything else but we never found the cause of them or any real solution. He was in the vet clinic just about every month.
We knew his time was going to be shorter than it should be for a little dog with an excellent family, but you can know something and still be terribly unprepared for when it comes. He should have had around fifteen years; he got just about eleven if the vets’ estimations about his age were correct. Last Saturday morning we checked him into the emergency vet hospital. He had been being treated for pneumonia and he wasn’t responding. He was just lying around limp and wasn’t able to keep any food or medicine down. He certainly didn’t have his usual spunky spirit. They started giving him IV fluids and nutrition to get his strength up and balance out his blood chemistry. The plan was to check his blood again Sunday morning and see what needed to be done to get him back home.
In order to distract ourselves, we left him at the hospital and went to have coffee and then to eat some lunch. He was in the best possible hands. After lunch, we stopped at the hospital so I could visit him. I didn’t really want to go in, but I told myself I owed it to him for all he had given me. His blood work wasn’t getting any better and he looked as sick as when we left him. Later that evening, the blood work came back again even worse, and the doctor called us. We needed to decide what to do.
We talked for a while, and I was apparently not processing things very well. I was thinking of ways they could help him feel better enough to come home, have a victory lap of one more walk to the mailbox with me and chase his toy for a little bit before he had to go. Ann Margaret told me that wasn’t going to be an option. We were deciding whether to say goodbye tonight or first thing in the morning. That’s it. Then the phone rang.
The decision was being made for us. He was declining fast, and we needed to come and say goodbye. Ann Margaret sweetly offered to stay with him until the end if I couldn’t. I snapped at her in my grief. If a creature gives you its whole life plus yours back, you owe to stay there until the end no matter how bad it hurts. That’s the deal. Nut up.
Last year, we saw the beautiful bluebonnets and other wildflowers near our house. They were gone before we could schedule a photo shoot, so we decided we would be sure to set it up for the next year. Earlier this year, our friend Kerri did a photo shoot for us. We didn’t know for sure that it was our last chance, but in hindsight, we’re so glad that we had these photos done.
The vet and the staff were very kind and helped Sean move peacefully on to the next stage of his journey. I don’t believe in the afterlife the same way I did when I was younger, but I do believe there’s something after this life. Maybe it’s a desideratum, but I believe that every being is whole on the other side, no matter how sick or broken things are on this side. I believe that having made my life whole when I was too helpless to do anything with it, his life is whole now as he waits for us with our other loved ones that have already passed.
Wherever you are now, Sean, thank you for everything.
P.S. Some folks have asked if there was anything they could do to express their condolences. If you’re so inclined, a donation to the Humane Society of Johnson County would be very kind. Even a small donation can help save a dog or cat that should be in a forever home. They like to send out a note to families whose pets are memorialized. Just give them my URL and I’ll make sure they know how to send those along.