Hippie Squared: Red Sleeping


a blogumn by Jeff Rogers

Red Sleeping

Leaving his body was very hard; for a long time I couldn’t do it. I just kept stroking his fur, and getting down and hugging him, from behind, like I would do in bed when it was a cold night and he would move up and lie next to me for warmth. I’d hold him from behind with my hand holding his chest, his rib cage, where the fur was white.

He was so soft. I also kept putting my face down next to his, the soft fur on his cheek, kissing his snout and his cheek, the ruff there—knowing I’d never feel it again, memorizing the feeling, as I had been for months while he lived with the cancer, so that particular unique sensation would remain within my sense memory for as long as possible.

Elise asked for scissors to cut off a lock of his fur. We ended up cutting several locks from different places. From the fringe up near his front leg, from the ruff collar around his head. Some of the white from his chest.

Elise set up a little shrine to him at home. She went through old photos and found a great one of his “JFK look,” looking very noble and handsome (not digital, unfortunately, or I’d post it here). She nestled the photo, and the locks of fur in a small basket, inside his rugged, beat-up leather collar, with a candle between, and now the cedar box of his ashes, on the mantel.

For anyone who’s never loved a dog, this might all seem a little elaborate and excessive. Anyone who has loved a dog will understand. It’s a wordless love on one side of the equation, and yet the communication across species can be profound. Its very wordlessness makes it something deep and in some way unexplainable in words.

Though I keep trying. I know I’ve gone on about it, not at length maybe, but repeatedly, both here and over at Three Line Lunch. But I’m not done yet. I’ll be done soon, I think. But not quite yet. There’s so much to capture, about his death and his special life, and if I don’t do it now, I know it will fade. So bear with me; or click away; as you wish. I’ll understand either way. I remember there was a column here, on Fierce and Nerdy, some months back, about a dog being put to sleep. I couldn’t bear to read it; Red had already been diagnosed with cancer, and we’d lost Gracie not long before. I think I’d like to read it now, actually, if someone can remind me which of our resident bloggers wrote it.

The key with pets dying is knowing when and if to euthanize. Elise and I have rescued numerous animals, we’ve been through the range of variations: pets that died at home in pain, so we wished we’d put them to sleep. Pets who died peacefully at home. Pets we put to sleep and wondered if we’d done it too soon. It’s not always easy to know when they’re in too much agony, particularly because animals are often experts as hiding their pain.

On the day that Red died I got up early and went to the kitchen to make some hot water with lemon for Elise and myself. I had a happy little moment with him, which I wrote a poem about which ran in the last “Hippie Squared” here. Even on his last day he still had the magical Red happiness, though he’d definitely slowed down and was often restless, particularly at night. He’d gotten down off the bed the night before, in the middle of the night sometime, and I don’t believe he got back up. He had tumors in his lung, on his spine, on his liver. I would guess they must have been uncomfortable—like sleeping with rocks in your abdomen.

So about 6:30 a.m. when I headed for the kitchen I found him lying on the hardwood floor, face between his paws, scrunched up, asleep. As he had become mostly deaf and blind that had become his spot, so that when I went to the kitchen in the morning he’d know, and begin his daily routine of following me wherever I went. He kept closer tabs on me as he got older and his senses diminished.

He was sleeping so peacefully I didn’t have the heart to wake him by walking by, so instead I sat in a chair and watched him for awhile. I ended up writing a poem about it, posted here. For Valentine’s Day Elise got me a wonderful book by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist master, called True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart. In it he gives some mantras for lovers, one of which is, “Dear One, I know you are suffering. I am here for you.” This ran through my head as I sat and looked at my dear old dog, who I knew would not be with us much longer. This was March 6, and just before Christmas his vet had said her gut feeling was that he had about two months.

At last I got up and went to the kitchen, trying to be quiet. But before long I heard him get awkwardly up. Moving around had become difficult for him; he seemed to be a hundred years old. I met him close to the entrance to the kitchen, to pet him. He’d come to greet me, to see what I was doing, to be near me, to be a part of it. I leaned down and ruffed the scruff of his neck, and cooed, “Hey sweetie boy. How’s my sweetie boy?” His head hung down. He did the “doggie laugh,” the open-mouthed silent pant that meant he was happy. I just remember being present with it, with that moment, precious now, because it was really my last moment with him that wasn’t directly part of his dying.

I’m going to leave off now; though I still haven’t gotten past this moment–it does stick with me. But there’s more to be said, so next time I will say at least some of that more.