When my brother and I were kids, we really wanted a dog. Like ready-to-bargain-on-Christmas/Birthday-presents-really-wanted-a-dog. There were all sorts of promises about how we'd take care of it in every way ourselves and my parents would never have to worry about a thing. There's a chance my mom would have eventually caved, as she is wont to do, but my dad simply wouldn't relent. He always says that the pain of losing a beloved pet is just too much to handle. And that he never got over the sadness of his dog, Maxy, dying in his arms.
Maxy was an energetic golden retriever that my dad found when he was a kid in Bombay. Dad holds his hands out like the AllState logo to show us how he "raised that dog from when he was this big." He was completely my dad's dog, sleeping next to him every night, waiting for him at the door every day. And Maxy wouldn't obey anyone else. I see how attached my father got to our neighbor's dog here a few years ago, and I can only imagine what he must have been like with a pup of his own.
Unfortunately, back in the day Maxy kept getting into the neighbors' yard, digging around the flowers while my dad was at school. And one day he came home to find the dog vomiting and shaking uncontrollably. It was impossible for a 13-year-old to carry a full-grown golden retriever all the way to the vet, but my dad tried. And when he physically couldn't go any further, no taxi or rickshaw drivers would allow such a sick dog into their vehicle. So my poor dad did the best he could to make the dog comfortable where they were in the street, and he watched as Maxy died in his arms. From rat poisoning.
My brother's roommate, Mark, bought his grandparents' house in Mobile, AL, and while it's off a major road, the neighborhood has a lovely house-in-the-woods kind of feel. Almost everyone has a huge back yard, and the street is flanked with so many beautiful old, tall trees it's actually cooler because of all the shade. You can hear birds and crickets, and it's just a peaceful place to be.
A little less than three years ago, this small brown puppy came to the door. No tags, no collar. She just arrived and didn't show any intentions of leaving. Mark and my brother went around the neighborhood trying to find out if anyone had lost a dog; they may have even put up signs. No one ever came forward, and they started to suspect someone just dropped her in off the neighborhood in the hopes people would take care of her. So they got her checked out and gave her the necessary shots, and the little chocolate lab mix became their dog, Belle.
Neither one of the guys had ever had a dog growing up, so everything Belle did was a novelty, from the never-faltering excitement when one of them came home, to tearing up the laundry room and all the clothes in it, to the lazy weekends just playing in the yard. My brother was terrified of dogs when he was very little, so the loving tone he'd use to call her or coax her to do her business in the yard while he was on the phone with me was really sweet to hear. You only really get to hear him speak that tenderly when he's just had surgery and is high as a kite on pain medication. I know he loves that dog very much. And, while I'd only seen pictures, he talked about her so much that I feel like I knew her.
My brother is in some town 30 minutes west of Austin, Texas right now, working evenings through the weekend. Yesterday he sent me a text message that Belle had died. My brother can never just give the full story in one go, so after some prodding, I found out that Mark had let her out and when he whistled and she didn't come, he began to worry. Apparently she had wandered out to the street and was hit by a car. She probably heard his whistle and tried to make her way back, but only made it as far as the grass, where he found her, bleeding. Mark called a neighbor, took her in his arms and was rushing to the veterinarian when the neighbor looked down and said, "Mark, I think she's gone."
When I talked to him later, my brother said he's never been this depressed in his life. He said now he understands how dad must have felt, and other friends he's seen have to put their pet down after having them be a part of the family for years. When he worked in town, my brother came home during lunch to let Belle out and play with her. He said that sometimes Belle would pull his slept-in pajamas out of the hamper and into her crate to sleep on while he was gone more than a few days. And when he would leave for a project, he made a point to give Belle a special treat and a kiss goodbye before he went out the door. This time he had to take off mid-week when Mark was at work, so he had to feed her, let her out and he was in a hurry to get to the airport. So he didn't have a chance to say goodbye in the usual way.
It's true, losing a pet is brutal. Hell, I've been sitting here crying over this dog that I never even met. But is having one worth the pain? I think maybe it is.