On Sunday, in Wilmington, NC, it was a gloriously beautiful sunny day, and our hearts were breaking, tears flowing down all the human faces in the house.
Our old dog had experienced a very difficult month of rapidly deteriorating health, and the past week had been the worst - with at least a couple of serious diseases in advanced stages, plus a bad form of cancer, she was barking pitifully on and off throughout the night, just feet from our bed. The medications that were supposed to help her no longer could. Our other two dogs, much younger, stayed busy trying to comfort her and lick her wounds. The cat was just perplexed, but hovered and stayed close, as if wanting to help.
As the new dawn had come, the old girl refused her favorite food, as she had, for the first time ever, just the day before. And then, when she somehow made it out the door and into the backyard, barely able to walk on swollen and weakened legs, she did something very unusual for her. She snuck off alone to a part of the property that's more heavily wooded and lay down near the perimeter fence, looking out. This extremely social animal wanted solitude. This house dog wanted to hide in nature. She yearned for something beyond the confines of what she had.
I first saw her there from a distance, lying down, and looking through the fence. The broad yard and large fenced in area that had so long protected her and given her a place to frolic and play were now not where she wanted to be. She looked out through the fence as if she wanted to go beyond it, far outside it, and she seemed, at the same time, to be in a similar way looking beyond her failing physical body, wanting and needing to get outside it, as well. The physique that had made her tough and agile and great fun was now her great impediment. And she knew it. She needed release. So she lay there and looked through the fence as if, somewhere out there, somewhere beyond all that she had known, and had physically been, was the freedom from pain and growing restriction that she needed in order to continue to be herself.
The previous day, my wife and I had been at a graveside service for an elderly aunt who had lived a long and vibrant life before she began to suffer severe dementia, a fate that took her away in bits and pieces for ten years before her heart gave up. Her death freed her from a prison that had seemed to obliterate the person she was. The old animal at our house seemed to be aching for a similar liberation of the soul.
The dogs in our family somehow tend to end up with multiple names. This one, a female rescued eleven and a half years ago, at the age of one, was at New Hanover County Animal Control, on the day she was originally scheduled to leave this world, when our daughter woke up and had the urge to go there, and adopted her, hours from what would have been her leave taking from this life. Her name was Lexie, and that's what we called her, when we weren't calling her Boo, or DevilDog, or Debolt, or Dibs - all names that arose under certain appropriate circumstances. She was an entertainer. She was a bull of a dog. If you ever told her "No" in a serious voice, she would bark wildly and back away from you as if her life were on the line, no matter how gentle your correction might had been. And in the midst of the Mad Dog routine, all you had to do was say "Good dog" in an overly friendly voice, and she would instantly change back, wagging her tail and approaching for a hug.
And then the day clearly arrived. We cried all day, on and off. But we also talked of her being with her old sisters that she had grown up beside, other mixed breed rescue dogs that had been ours and had gone on years ago, far too young. We hoped they would soon greet her and introduce her to the other Morris dogs that they had known, and they, also, in turn. We have quite a pack awaiting our own arrival on the next shore.
And so, we worked to convince ourselves, what seems so sad could actually be gloriously good for the old girl and her former companions. May it be true. For them, and for all of us, their grieving owners, and great, forever friends.