We knew he was sick. We didn't know how sick until:
"Mama? Mama, he won't do it…."
I still remember how hard I cried when I said those words. Every morning for years we'd had the same routine. He'd come into my room; I'd sit down on the bed and pat my leg; he'd put his front feet on my knee; I'd rub his head and chest and give him a hanger to carry into the laundry room. An odd trick, I know, but we enjoyed it. But this day he'd just kind of looked at me and wouldn't even venture to be petted.
And somehow, deep down, I knew we were going to lose him.
And I clung to my mother and cried.
She tried to reassure me that he'd be okay. And when the vet examined him a few days later, he diagnosed "trash can tummy" from having gotten into the birdbath once too often. It seemed like things were going to be okay. So I tried not to worry and get on with the business of finishing the semester and catching up on the tests that I'd missed from being home for a week with the aftermath of a bad case of bronchitis and two severe allergic reactions to medication. But then the reports from home started getting bad again.
He wouldn't take his pills.
He was far grouchier than normal.
He was better in some ways but worse in others.
He wouldn't eat.
They were taking him back to the vet.
The vet wanted him to stay overnight for some exploratory surgery because it looked like part of his small intestine was blocked.
The blockage was from a roll of fat… but part of his liver looked funny.
He still wouldn't eat.
The vet was sending bloodwork and a liver sample to the lab at A&M.
Some of the liver enzymes were very high, and the liver seemed to be producing blood cells, which was strange. But the vet didn't know what to make of it, although it didn't seem life-threatening.
By this time I had gotten home for the summer, and my parents and I would go to the vet's office at least once a day to check on him. Some days he was well enough to go for short walks; other days he would go a very short way and just sit. And he still wouldn't eat much, if anything. The vet even had to put him on an IV. But he seemed, slowly but surely, to be getting better.
Then came the fateful Saturday morning when my father came into my room and urgently woke me. They'd gone to visit him and he'd been just fine until the vet set him down on the floor… and he couldn't stand. I rushed to change clothes and grab something to eat in the car, and we drove the five minutes back to the vet's office. We held him and tried to keep him calm, assuring him of our love. The vet took some more blood to have analyzed, but he had a sinking feeling that he already knew the results and that official confirmation would come too late.
It was liver failure.
After some discussion, we took him home so he could have a few last hours in the place he loved best.
For a while we sat out in the front yard under a tree, so he could be outside and hear the birds he loved to chase. And we carried him around a little so he could see things. Then we took him inside and set up a little bed near the computer so he could be with us there. And from time to time we'd try giving him some water, or one of us would simply sit beside him and pet him and talk to him. He seemed to perk up by degrees, and the last time Daddy carried him around the yard, he was able to hold his head up and look around a little. I kept telling myself he'd be okay, but as I went to bed at midnight, I kept hearing the same song play through my mind, brought on by one final feeble lick he'd given me:
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you;
Tomorrow I'll miss you.
Remember, I'll always be true…
At daybreak my father woke me and said, in a broken voice, the two words I never wanted to hear:
He had died in my mother's arms. It was Mother's Day.
We buried him under the oak tree where we'd buried his best friend Chubby four years earlier. It seemed appropriate somehow for them to be together.
We didn't make it to church that Sunday.
That afternoon, while my parents were still napping, I went back to the computer and arranged the best small tribute I could muster at the time: a web page with a blue background, his picture, a small snatch of a song, his name and dates of birth and death—thirteen years in all, long for a dog but not long enough for his people—and the epitaph: "Truly Man's Best Friend."
And I wept.
It's been nearly a year to the day now. Much has happened in the intervening time. We adopted another dog in September, and we love him to death (although he can be a pain at times, like any dog). But I still can't listen to his tribute song without crying:
They say that all good things must end someday,
Autumn leaves must fall,
But don't you know that it hurts me so
To say goodbye to you?
Wish you didn't have to go,
Oh no no no,
And when the rain beats against my windowpane,
I'll think of summer days again
And dream of you,
And dream of you.
Namarië, mellon. Patches, I love you dearly. Wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge.