Thursday, July 15, 2010
We were in the Jeep, Gertie and I, driving home from a trip running errands. We had found ourselves behind an Amish cart at a corner, and I patiently waited there for the driver to pull onto the highway and gain some momentum so we weren't tailgating him. Gertie, who loved to bark at horses, was on full alert in the back seat.
"Gert -- now, behave yourself," I cautioned her as I pulled onto the pavement and began to pass the cart driver, who'd gone off onto the shoulder to give me room.
What happened next was -- well, I don't know. I heard barking, and clinking, and then when I looked back to shush Gertie, there was no dog in the back seat. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a dark shape limping into a bush in someone's lawn maybe 50 feet away, and the Amish driver stopped on the shoulder, staring in alarm.
Gertie had never, in her years with us, expressed any interest in jumping out of the window. But apparently this is what she did.
I stopped the Jeep, ran back toward the yard and scooped up Gertie in my arms; she was quiet -- too quiet -- and panting.
"I am so sorry," I said to the Amish man.
"Don't be sorry," he said. "It was my horse she didn't like. I hope she'll be okay. It looks like she might have broken her leg."
We were only about mile or so from home. I don't remember driving there, but I did. Fellow Traveler was in the garage, cleaning. She smiled when she saw me -- until she saw the look on my face.
"We need to go to the vet's right now," I burst out. "Something's happened to Gertie. She jumped out of the car."
Up to this point I'd been running on adrenalin, my mind a blank, but at that point I broke down.
Not Gertie. Not our baby. Not "our" dog.
FT quickly examined Gertie, who winced and whined a little, but mostly just lay there on the back seat. She'd begun to bleed.
"Here's what I want you to do," FT said. "I want you to go inside and get a damp towel. Then I want you to find the veterinary hospital phone number." I numbly nodded.
FT came in while I was still wringing out the towel. "I don't want you to go with me," she said. "There's probably going to be a lot of pain during the examination. You've seen and done enough right now."
I sat in the living room and listened to the Jeep speed down the driveway and to the next town over, where the closest veterinary clinic is. Across from me Mollie the cat slept, blissfully unaware of the drama playing out in our home. I started to sob.
A very short time later, I got a phone call. "We are at the vet's," FT murmured softly. "We're going to have to put Gertie to sleep. There's too much internal injury for her to get better." This veterinarian's office euthanizes all its animals at the end of the business day, so FT had the veterinarian call our local animal shelter, where we'd taken Katie and Cassie when they were dying, where the staff had been so kind and gentle; and they told FT to bring Gertie right over.
"Now, I can drive home first," began FT.
"No -- no," I cried. "Don't make her suffer any more."
Another half hour passed; and then FT pulled into the driveway.
"I'm so sorry," I sobbed when a red-faced, weeping FT came through the door. "I'm sorry you had to do the hard thing."
She shook her head. "No; you had the hardest part of the day."
And that's how it's been around here. We cry; we hold one another; we reminisce; we try to distract ourselves; we move to opposite chairs and just sit quietly with our own grief.
This morning we began picking up after Gertie for the last time: collecting the dog biscuits scattered throughout the house, bagging up her battered assortment of toys, cleaning her pawprints off the French doors. We're also trying to somehow convey to Mollie the cat, who keeps sniffing and staring out the windows and looking at us quizzically, that her best pal is not coming back.
I know that people who aren't pet people don't get this; don't get how we, whose circle of friends includes people fighting terrible cancers and other mind-numbing calamities, can be so seemingly dispassionate about those things but so uncontrollably distraught over the loss of a dog. And frankly, if animals aren't your thing, I'm not even going to bother to explain.
But for those of you who love your own animal companions: I don't have to explain this to you, because you know the hurt. Add to that the fact that Gertie was our first dog together, and our only dog for most of her life, and the circumstances of our rescuing her, and the circumstances of our losing her...this is a really, really tough one.
This ain't my first rodeo when it comes to the death of an animal. Growing up on a farm, death is a constant presence among the livestock. And I've lived through my share of dead dogs -- dogs who darted in front of cars in a final, fatal "ooh, shiny" moment; dogs in extremis whom my rifle-bearing great-uncle would take "out back" at the behest of my dad, never to be seen again; graying, cataract-and-arthritis-ridden dogs who simply gave up the ghost in their sleep after a long, full life. Right now I can't read any treacly homages to pets crossing the Rainbow Bridge...my belief system gives me no comfort, frankly, damn it...I just brood and weep and try to stop the images of those horrific moments and the self-punishing "What ifs" from circling around and around my head.