Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Phantom Dog Syndrome, a Eulogy

Was it the babysitter's husband, or was it some random neighbor? I don't remember who it was- I was five years old and memories get jumbled. All I remember was that a person my father's age was choking back sobs with his whole body shaking. He was inconsolable, though the small group of adults in his midst tried everything. I was helpless to watch this, feeling that it was something I should not witness. Slowly the story revealed itself- his dog was hit by a car and killed.
I have always been a cat person. Their aloof nature and their detachment combined with just the right amount of attention makes them the ideal pet. They can be silly, sweet, and affectionate and they could be pissy when angered. They can be consoling when they sensed your sadness. Fiercely independent, you know that when they give you their time it is out of want and not need. In so many ways they are the perfect pet.
My life changed 12 years ago when my wife showed me a rescue puppy. It was a little runt. I have seen many puppies in my days, but something that day made me say “ Is that our dog?” He was tiny so right away he shared our bed with us. In time, this became a challenge, as he grew to be a rather large dog. Our night-time routine was that he hopped on to the bed, licked Ann's face ( he loved the smell of her lip balm), licked my face, then plopped heavily on Ann's legs. She chided him for pulling away the covers, so he got up, turned around once or twice, and thumped down on my legs. This was our routine, and it had us laughing and wiping at our faces when he licked us, and though I was his second choice- I was happy to have him draped on my legs. We half-heartedly spoke of making a bed for him on the floor someday, but that someday never happened. As he grew older, he would whine by the bedside until I got up and lifted him on the bed(he was 75lbs). Somehow the act of lifting him made him more grateful and he would immediately go about trying to lick Ann's face.
He was an omnipresent dog. When we watched TV, he would drape his long body across both of our laps. When we discouraged this behavior, he would sit by the couch until we were both distracted and sneak up onto our laps a paw at a time. If you were in the house, he was with you. Not in an annoying way, mind you- he was not an under-your-feet dog. If you were in the back yard, he was with you, period. His perpetual hope was that the back yard signaled dog fetch time. He only weighed 75 pounds, but his presence was huge.
Just two days ago this hour, We found ourselves digging his grave by flashlight. The long ride home from the emergency clinic, my whole body was racked with sobs , my face streaming tears. Ann kept asking me if I was ok to drive, even though the front of my tee shirt was still wet with her tears. Sami was bundled in the back seat for his final ride- we couldn't bear to put him in the trunk. The necessity of burial was a welcome short-lived relief. The sweat and toil of moving mounds of earth didn't last long enough. I dug with vigor, hoping to postpone the grief even another moment. Ann said it was deep enough, but I kept digging. When I scooped up his still warm body to carry him to the grave, I hugged him close. I still think about that hug and wish I would have done it a bit longer. When he was covered, I didn't sense the finality. I still don't. I wish I would.
So now I am afflicted with phantom dog sensation. It is kind of like I imagine phantom limb sensation is- separated, but still very much there. He is everywhere, trotting through the halls of the art building, laying with us in bed, lounging under the easels in my studio, and in the back yard- especially the back yard. This should fill me with joy, but I know he is just a phantom. I can tell by the big hole he left in my body and the rock in my throat. I suffer the phantom dog now, but I can't bear to have a single memory fade.
Now I really understand dog people.