This is just a simulation of
our beloved essayist at work.
We really are not sure what
his creative process involves,
we just print the results.
The house is quiet, too quiet. I expect to hear her bounding down the stairs and
turn my head to smile at her joyful face. I find myself waking up from a deep sleep,
expecting to fight her for the blanket that she slowly took over during the night. When
I walk by the sliding glass doors, I think I am going to see her out of the corner of my
eye, sitting there, letting me know that she needed to go out.
What I am going to do with her food? There are two bags sitting in the garage. I
cannot just throw them out. Her pills are still sitting on the counter. What do I do with
her leashes, pink collar, and the bowls she used to bang on the tile floor in the
kitchen to let me know that she wanted more to eat?
There are tears. I had her for almost a decade. An inability to keep focused. I find
that I look up from a book or some project I am doing and it is just like the last two or
three minutes have been erased. Strangest of all, and I know it is not rational; one
thought runs through my mind. I blame myself.
Have you ever felt out of place? If everything has a purpose, the angel in charge
was sloppy with quality control when it came to you. It is easy to believe that things
are simply chaos. That screw-ups and misfits happen all the time. It is all just
happenstance, a random clashing of atoms.
If any creature was not meant to be, it was my dog, Layla. I called her a puppy
because I sometimes forgot she was almost ten. She came out of one of “the worst
puppy mills in the Midwest.” Along with one of her brothers, she was
unceremoniously dumped at the doorstep of a local veterinarian. She didn’t pass the
grade. She was judged a failure before she was weaned. Due to interbreeding, she
was born deaf, a fate that 18 percent of white boxers suffer. She went from being a
thousand dollar dog to a burden. Something to shove out the door, all because she
I don’t know if the deafness made her needy and clingy or if it was just her breed.
She had a hard time being alone. When you would sit in the chair to watch television
or do office work, she would fall asleep on your foot. So, if you moved or left the
room, even in the deepest sleep, she knew it.
It was not a perfect system. Occasionally she wouldn’t know you’d got up to go to
the kitchen or another room. When she awoke, all bedlam would break out as she
scurried from one room to another searching for you. In this whirlwind of activity, you
could sneak up behind her, she would turn, and her face became the embodiment of
relief and joy.
At nights, she had to sleep with you, and she pushes. She puts the whole weight of
her body into you, pressing her back against yours, until you wake up in the morning
clinging to the side of the bed and freezing because she has most of the sheets.
Her jaw was slightly misaligned, causing her to constantly look at you with an Elvis
like snarl, the tip of her left canine tooth resting on her upper lip, and causing half her
nose to dry out because she cannot lick it and made it pretty difficult for her to eat.
She is by far the smartest dog I have ever had, but looking at her you couldn’t tell
that because her tongue is constantly hanging out the right side of her mouth, often
looking like a dried out piece of leather when she slept too long.
There are the seizures. Boxers often have a spot in their brain that does not get
enough oxygen. Once or twice a year they come, and it horrible. When she felt them
coming on, she stumbles towards you like a drunken sailor and just wants to be held
until they go away.
Even as a six-week-old puppy, she did not sit right, always scooting her butt and
legs to the side. Over the years, hip dysplasia, and eventually arthritis, have given
her a stiff-looking walk. Our walks together ended when she tore up a knee from
tearing through the kitchen too fast one morning, as she went one way and her hind
end the other. I slept on the floor, so she would not have to do the steps to my
bedroom to allow her to heal.
The vet had named her Halo as a six-week-old puppy, certainly not because she
was angelic, probably because she looked like a fat, puffy cloud, but it really doesn’t
matter what you call a deaf dog to the deaf dog. I was looking for a companion for
my older dog to keep him active and interested in life. She did that, mainly by
nipping at and pestering him, keeping him terrorized for the first four years.
Strangely she became his caregiver for his last couple of years when he went blind
and his mind wandered from time to time. She would lick his wounds that came with
age and time, until he got up in the morning to move around.
We gave her a home and she returned the favor by promptly peeing on the carpet
and giving everyone ringworm. Self-centered and half-crazed, boxers are the clowns
of the dog world, there were times I did not know how to handle her. There were
several times she came close to losing her happy home. In spite of all her
imperfections and problems, she became perfect, the embodiment of gentleness
and love. There was not a mean bone in her body. She was a rescue dog; that if
truth be told, probably rescued me.
She died. So quickly, I wasn’t prepared for it. She was sick just four days. She had
stopped eating her dry dog food, but still gulped down cookies and the cheese and
meat that hid her pills. She had even wolfed down some wet dog food I had bought
her a few hours before she died because I was worried about her lack of appetite. I
figured it was just her arthritis and the wet weather. Even the slightest pain can make
it harder to eat. She was walking a little stiffer than normal after all.
I would find her by herself, just lying there. Strange behavior for a dog that hated
being alone. I also found her just standing in the backyard for five or six minutes, just
staring into the darkness. She wasn’t licking you every chance she got and
sometimes her bobbed tail wouldn’t wag like it had always done when she was
petted. I knew there was something wrong, but she didn’t seem near death. I would
just look at her and say, “Eat, you need to eat,” even though I know she could not
hear me. And I thought she would.
Here is that irrational thought and why I blame myself. The last night before bed I
found her just sitting on the tile of the guest bathroom. She was just sitting there
looking up at me with those gentle eyes. Her breathing was a little raspy. I sat down
on the floor next to her. She placed her head on my lap.
I told her that I expected to have her around for another five or six years. Then for
some unknown reason I started to cry. I told her I loved her, thanked her for being
my dog, and that she had gone through a lifetime of pain. If she wanted to go to
God, she could. I then kissed her on the forehead several times, got up, and went off
to the couch to sleep.
Later, in the middle of the night, I found her staring at me. Her face inches from
mine. I don’t know why I removed her collar and told her she was free, but I did. She
licked my nose and lay down on the floor next to me. I closed my eyes fully
expecting to see her smiling face in the morning. She must have died shortly after. I
know given her love for me that is where she would have wanted to die.
Still, I wonder, and I know it is not rational; did I give her permission to go? I sure
miss her. All that pain she went through transformed into so much love. I don’t know
if there is a heaven and are dogs allowed there? If there is, I hope God will give her
my spot because she deserves it more than me.
Thank you, Layla. You made my life.