I begged for you for years. Actually, I begged for any dog for years. For a while, there, I begged for a beagle, until I was told that they howled and dug up the yard. Then, towards the end, I begged for a Shetland sheepdog; a little girl, to be named Daisy. At the last, it came down to three (all Shelties): A Philly; a Molly; and you.
I watched them bring you into the foster house from outdoors, you surrounded by a canine sea of frisky little noisemakers. Small as you are, you loomed over them, shy and silent. You sat quiet as we petted you, and followed meekly as we led you out for an experimental walk. Out of the three, you were the only one who didn’t bark and jump and terrify my sister. You were ours.
It seemed stressful for you, your first arrival at your new house. Not as stressful as the obedience classes, of course; all those bothersome dogs with no sense of personal space, one of whom drove you to your first and only growl. But you pushed through and graduated, then promptly eschewed every useless thing you’d half-learned out of your head. You really are a Shipley.
You used to leap at squirrels, until you got tired of never getting farther than the leash. You used to hop onto the couch and hope we somehow wouldn’t notice. You used to rear up with delight at the thought of a treat, and lean back into a stretch with a yawning sound of excitement. But almost never a bark.
We supposed barking had been beaten out of you by your previous owners – apparently with a camera, since any attempt to capture your image had you heading for the hills. A good decade together, and we’ve got only a handful of photos, the best of them taken lately, with you too blind to tell what we were up to.
You can’t seem to see much of anything, now. Or hear. Or stand on our slippery wooden floors, never mind take the stairs like you used to. What is there left for you to do, now that your dog years stack up past a hundred? Not much, except that one last act, and you refuse to do that easy – out of stubbornness, I swear it. Such a Shipley.
All those times you got underfoot and tripped us up… All those times you left a puddle or a pile or got sick… All those times you wandered in confusion from the driveway and I had to hunt you down and bring you back… I won’t miss those times; the times that made me grumblingly wonder when you’d hurry up and die.
I will miss those times you’d sit there and smile at us. Those disgusted looks you gave us that expressed so much, clear as speaking. That way you always seemed to know exactly what we were saying about you, and snort with appropriate derision. You and your opinions; no wonder your articles were the popular ones in our family newsletter.
I didn’t want this to be my decision. I wanted to leave it up to somebody else, or just let you live until you didn’t. Who am I to make the call on when you go?
But I’m afraid for you, puppy.
That night I awoke to a sound I blearily thought was my sister singing in her sleep. But no, it was coming from downstairs, and down I went, and there you were, sprawled on the floor, unable to rise, struggling and whining in distress. I helped you back onto the carpet, and tried to calm you; and then, for some while, I stood back and watched you, feeling for the first time that aching, miserable fear that you were in too bad a way to live.
That day I was in the basement, and watched in helpless horror as you tumbled down to the stairs’ first landing, and from there to the bottom, fallen to that godforsaken space between the steps and some piece of plumbing. I thought that would be the end, right there, but I pulled you out and took you up and you were absolutely fine. It’s like you can’t even die on your own power; not quickly, anyway.
I can’t bear the thought of finding you, someday, caught and strangled somewhere after who knows how many hours of torture, or drowned in your water dish because you couldn’t raise your head, or… well, if you were going to get run over in the street, I’m sure it would have happened before now. But you get what I’m saying, right?
So they left it up to me. Because you’re my dog. And I’ve put it off and dithered, while the signs increasingly point the same direction.
I don’t want to put you down, Max. But I will.
And I’m so sorry that the last you’ll know of me is that I made you get in the car (where you’re always so nervous, you stand and pace and pant the whole ride) and took you to a place I know you’ll hate (because you’ve always hated any place we ever took you) and stood by listening to you cry while some stranger stuck you with a needle.
And I’m sorry I wasn’t always nice to you, and yelled at you for almost killing everybody by tripping them when they had knives and stuff in their hands, and that maybe I wasn’t always as gentle as I ought to have been when putting on the senior citizen doggie diapers you despised but necessitated.
I’m sorry I couldn’t keep your fur brushed and your teeth clean and your nails clipped, since you refused to sit still for any of it, and even began to resist it so violently, I was sure you’d do yourself injury.
I’m sorry for ever calling you a lousy, stupid mutt, when I was sometimes just as much of a lousy, stupid owner.
I’m not sorry I’ll soon be done having to deal with you.
But I’m sorry you’ll be gone.
You’re family, meaning that, sometimes, I’ve hated you.
And meaning that I love you.
I’ll miss you, Maxie.
Maximillian Devineaux Shipley:
Born ~1996, with us October 25, 2001 – July 30, 2012