Dog Love In August
August is the start of the dying season. Garden things begin their slow shrink into the earth, the days grow shorter and cooler, lazy ocean- or mint-scented summer days snap into rigid schedules of work and school.
August is also the month that I lost Diego, my first dog. You can get acquainted with Diego here, a post I wrote a few days before he died. But I would like to share a little more now, on the second anniversary of his departure.
Diego was a poser, in a very literal sense of the word. He loved having his picture taken; in fact, he insisted on it whenever he saw me holding the camera. This picture, for example: it was taken the day I brought my daughter home from the hospital, the day after 21 hours of hard labor produced an eight-and-a-half-pound baby who actually stopped halfway out of my body, looked around, and scowled before resuming her reluctant journey onto the planet. (She was 12, twelve days overdue, FYI all you mothers out there who can surely feel my pain.)
I laid baby Isabella down, stepped back with the camera, looked up, and there he was: Diego, staring. Fifty-eight pounds of solid, unmoving dog. Insisting that I photograph him, too, with this creature that he wasn’t sure if he should guard against or lick. This child who personified the singular emotion of furious for the first nine weeks of her life (if she was not sleeping or eating, she was screaming).
When my doula told me that the colic or distemper or petite innards or whatever it was making Isabella so unhappy would resolve itself in about nine weeks, I said oh, that’s nice. But I won’t be alive for nine weeks of this. I’ll be in an asylum acquainting myself with a selection of opiates, or at the bottom of the mighty Rio Grande; so behold, an orphan.
But somehow, I survived. And Diego was part of it.
You see, from the very beginning, it was just us — the two of us, the three of us. I was abandoned by my husband before Isabella was born, a painful time that I don’t often write about.
Within a matter of weeks, the married-and-expecting life I’d known was gone, and I was left to fumble around with the pieces, a wreckage sitting on a pile of broken glass in the dark. The small hours of it were the worst, waking up alone and panicked in the middle of the night wondering how (or if) I would live through the next weeks and years. And Diego was always there, a silent and comforting presence curled at the foot of the bed or coming up to lick my tears if I was crying, which was basically all the time. He was always there.
I have a teenager now and those days seem ancient. While I rebuilt my life, Isabella grew up and Diego grew old. And finally, in his sixteenth year, he began to deteriorate to the point of pain. I knew he wouldn’t be with me much longer and I had already called the vet to ask her how it worked — when do you know it’s time? Do I take him to the office, or do you come to the house? Will he feel anything? I planned to schedule an appointment soon; I hadn’t had to make this decision before and it was a very painful.
On the morning of August 9 before I left for work, I told Diego that we would have to say good-bye soon because his body wasn’t working right anymore. I told him that I loved him and it was okay for him to go. Over and over I told him I loved him.
Less than two hours later, he drowned in the pond.
I think it was his way of avoiding the vet (he hated the clinic), and maybe sparing me that particular pain. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t devastated. But rather than remembering the urgent phone call at work from Isabella, or the vision of him when I got home, or my step-father struggling to carry the terrible weight of him away, I like to imagine Diego simply being received by the fish and toads. Delivered from his pain by warm water, wrapped in a blanket of lilies.
Anyone who has cared for pets perhaps knows that there is one, a special one, who will always occupy the largest piece of real estate in your heart, though others may follow. That was Diego for me.
But now we’re lucky enough to share our lives with another dog, the rascally, neurotic, road trip-loving Velma. I’ll end this post with a short video of her that reminds me of exactly what I love about dogs: their absolute and abundant connection with life, free of judgement, agenda, or desire to be anything other than what they are. That’s what I think of every time I see Velma in her Writhe of Exquisite Happiness. Perfect contentment of being.