Tag Archives: dog

Oh My Darling Clementine

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This has been a long time in coming and I keep putting it off and I continue to tell myself that it’s because I’m busy but I think the truth is that it’s my last words to her and they don’t feel perfect yet.  I keep changing things and deleting things and adding stories and I feel like I’m not saying enough about her.  Now, weeks later, the truth is I don’t think these words will ever be perfect.

Final words rarely are.

Clementine is a cocker spaniel that my wife and I have had the very great pleasure of being friends with over the last seven years.  She traveled the country with us, made us laugh and watched us grow.  In many regards, we owe Clementine a great deal because she was very much like a first child to us.  We received her as a puppy, potty trained her and had to temper our schedules to meet hers.

She was our dog but she was also a member of our family in a very important way.  My children loved her, my wife loved her, our friends loved her and I loved her.  Looking back through my photos and memories, I see that Clementine is in many of them and she isn’t tucked away in a corner as an afterthought; she’s sitting on my lap, resting at my feet, standing by my side, a very prominent part of our lives.

Oh My Darling Clementine, you are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine…

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***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I never wanted to get a cocker spaniel.  They always struck me as dopey looking, mangy animals.  So, when my wife presented me with the idea of acquiring a second dog some 7 years ago, I adamantly fought against the idea tooth and nail.  wanted a dauschund or a Saint Bernard.  I couldn’t tell which way my interests were leaning but I definitely wanted something with personality; something who’s actual physical attributes just popped out at you.  I wanted a furry eclectic curio on four legs.

My wife persisted.  She pulled up photo after photo of dopey looking, mangy cockers and said, “Look at this one!  It’s beautiful!  It’s like Lady from Lady and the Tramp!” and I’d say, “I’ve never seen Lady and the Tramp,” and she’d say, “What kind of sad and despicable childhood were you raised in?”

But she didn’t give up and I quickly became schooled in the history of the spaniel simply by proxy until finally, like the battered husband that I am, I caved and threw my hands up into the air and melodramatically moaned, “FINE!  FINE!  Let’s get the cocker spaniel!”

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ABOVE: The lesson I learned was to make sure the doors were all shut before letting Clementine out of the bathtub.

 

One month later Jade and I found ourselves standing in the LAX parking lot with a small crate at our feet.  Our visitor had arrived.  The breeder told us that Sweet Pea (her name for our puppy) was the runt of the litter and just wanted to be held.  “She just wants to crawl into your lap and be cuddled and snuggled,” the breeder would say via her weekly email to us.  “I named her Sweet Pea because that’s what she is – just a darling little Sweet Pea – the most adorable personality.  You’ll love her.”

We’d seen photos of her online but nothing compared to the moment when we opened her kennel door and little Sweet Pea hesitantly stepped out, afraid of the world.  I sat down on a curb stop and watched as this little fuzzy dot crawled out into the California sun after flying straight through, all alone, from Florida.

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ABOVE: The very first time we met little Clementine.  Her very first picture with us.

She hesitantly peeked out, a big white ball of fuzz with brown splotches, looked around with the world’s saddest eyes, slowly walked over to me in the teeniest, tiniest little steps, hopped into my lap and laid down.  She was the most adorable puppy I’d ever seen in my life and I just wanted to pet her and squeeze her and hold her and keep her.  From that moment on I couldn’t imagine having gotten any other dog besides a cocker spaniel.  We told her that her name was Clementine and from that moment on, she owned our hearts.

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ABOVE: Our little vampire would nibble on your toes with those sharp fangs.

Clementine was born with the absolute friendliest demeanor you’ve ever seen in an animal and even in her later years she had the attitude and spirit of a puppy.  She simply exuded joy.

She was a terrible guard dog and would bark at her own farts.  She was as dumb as a box of rocks and would lose in a fight every time but she the one thing she was good at, she was great at.  She was the type of dog that loyalty speaks of in its truest sense.

She really was so very, very stupid but so very, very respectable.  In my opinion, personality will win out over intelligence every time (and that rule applies to both animals as well as humans).

She was a very simple animal to love.

In fact, some of my fondest memories of her are simply driving in the car, she resting on my lap while America’s countryside passed by.  She and I saw quite a few states just like that.

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SOUTH DAKOTA

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MONTANA

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UTAH

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COLORADO

I always loved taking a break and escaping to the dog park with her for a bit.  I’d let her off the leash and she’d wander away and get lost and not be able to find her way back to me.  Meanwhile, I’d just sit on a picnic table and watch her sniff around, unable to pick up a scent and now, writing this, I see how horrible that would actually become.  Eventually, she’d simply give up and stand by some new owner.  She would simply insert herself into a new family.  That said…. perhaps loyalty to ME was not her best attribute so much as loyalty to the human race… or mankind… or The Cause… or Joy.  She was just very stupid and lovable.

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ABOVE: The park in Denver where I proposed to Jade.  We revisited it with the dogs on a vacation passing through CO.

One of my final memories of her was taking her for a stroll with my children and teaching them how to walk her; me trying to teach them to gently nudge without yanking her around.  I’d hand Rory the leash and he’d walk her and then I’d hand Quinn the leash and she’d walk her.  All by themselves.  As we neared our home I told Rory to go run with Clementine.  “RUN!” I shouted as I watched the two of them scramble down the sidewalk side by side before disappearing into our driveway.

A moment later Rory jumped out from behind the fence followed directly by Clementine and I always imagined that they would somehow be really great friends for many, many years – a boy and his dog.  The idea always seemed very romantic to me.

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ABOVE: Baby Rory and Clementine.

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ABOVE: Baby Quinn and Clementine.

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ABOVE: Little Lady Quinn and Clementine at a family campground.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Last Wednesday night my family went out to a little place called Jerry’s Pizza for dinner.  We just wanted to get out of the house and so we loaded everyone up and took off.  Before I left, last one out the door, as per usual, I checked to make sure the back doors were locked, Clem had water, the stove was off, and then I reached down and rubbed her nose and said, “See you in a bit, Clemmie.  Be good.  Good girl.”

And then I walked out the door.

And then we ate pizza.

And then we came home and kicked open the doors.

And then I sat down to do some work.

And then around 10pm as I was feeding Clementine, I realized I hadn’t seen her for some time.

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We have a completely fenced in yard and so it is not unnatural for us to kick the doors open and let Clementine take rein of the property.  That said, over the course of the last few years that we’ve lived in this house, she’s gotten out a handful of times BUT each time, by the Grace of God, she has made her way back home, typically by Jade or I finding her or by the hand of a gentle stranger.  Again, Clementine will go to strangers.  She will get in their cars.  They don’t even need candy.  They just need to ask.  She will adopt herself into their lives.  Thankfully she wears a collar with our contact info and most people are kind enough to heed it.

SIDE BAR:  IF YOU ARE A DOG OWNER, GET A COLLAR WITH YOUR CONTACT INFO ON IT.  When I see a dog walking around without a collar or without plates, I think of all the times my dog has gotten away and I just shudder.  GO.  NOW.  TONIGHT.

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I called her name a few times and hit all of the standard hiding places; under the bed, under the couch, under the desk.  Sometimes she just hides.  This is not abnormal.  Sometimes you think she’s gotten out but really she’s just lying under the couch and doesn’t feel like coming out.

I find nothing.

I walk outside and all the gates are closed and locked.  I call her name.  Nothing.  I walk into the street.  Nothing.  I walk down the block, calling for her.  Nothing.

She’s gotten out before.  I know that panicking doesn’t help.  I force the rising knot in my stomach to untwist.  I try to run through the emotion and get straight to the logic.

I walk around our block, one of those huge city blocks that is the size of three normal blocks.  I walk into the next neighborhood.  I get in my car and drive around.  I come home and Jade leaves to try her luck – keep in mind that the children are asleep so we can’t fully abandon the house.  In this state of, “I want to go find my dog,” one of us is always forced to plant our feet at the house and it makes us both incredibly anxious.

So I pace.

Twenty minutes.  Thirty minutes.  Forty-five minutes.  Ninety minutes.  Nothing is turning up and it’s getting late.  This has never happened before.  She’s never not come home.  We’ve never had to go to bed without her in the house.  She’s never done this and I feel so helpless.  I suddenly realize how big the world is.  I can suddenly see how massive everything is.  My dog is missing and she could be anywhere.  Any backyard.  On any street.  In any neighborhood.  With each passing moment she could be getting further and further away and I don’t even know it.  Blocks are turning into miles.  She’s leaving Van Nuys… into Panorama City… crossing a busy street.  Traffic is flying by.  Horns are honking.  She’s scared.

Or she could be coming closer!  And so I call her name again but there is no response and, ultimately, Jade and I go inside.  And we go to sleep.  Because, frankly, we don’t know what else to do and now, today, I regret that decision.  I regret it horribly and painfully.  I hate that I stopped looking.  Knowing what I know now I wish that I had just kept going and kept going and shouted longer and louder and looked harder and driven further.

But we didn’t.

And that night I have a dream that Clementine is returned to us and I’m hugging her and smiling and laughing and when I wake up in my bed I’m so happy that everything is over and that Clem is back, our little Sweet Pea is back, and then I remember that she isn’t here and we haven’t found her and that it was a just dream and I’m heartbroken again.

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ABOVE: Road trip to Montana.  Clementine was very wonderful to snuggle when she was clean.

Jade goes to Staples and makes fliers.  White ones.  Hangs them up on telephone lines.  She makes a huge poster and hangs it on the front of our house so anyone walking by can see that she’s missing.  She calls shelters and animal hospitals but no one has seen a cocker.

This, of course, is GREAT NEWS because we know she isn’t hurt or dead.  There has been no confirmation.

But, worse than that… we have nothing.  We have no idea.

Jade says, “I just spoke to Tiffany and she says that some people find nice dogs and kidnap them and try to sell them,” and I say, “BASTARDS!” and Jade begins to scan Craigslist for people selling cockers.  She finds one and, when she asks to see a photo of the dog, the man deletes the posting and I think Clementine has slipped away from us for good.  I become positive that the man has my dog and that she’s in his house.  I wonder if she’s in a cage or on his couch.  Is he treating her nice.  Does this guy live on my block?  In my neighborhood?  Could Clementine be so close?  OH, IF I FIND THAT GUY I’M GOING TO BREAK HIS WINDOWS!

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Jade reads on a lost dog forum that in order to achieve higher visibility, fliers should be bright pink or orange because they attract the eye.  People tend to look past white ones.  So Jade goes back to Staples and prints off another hundred fliers and she covers our neighborhood with them.  She puts them under windshield wipers and on light posts and she hands them to people and she talks to strangers and, meanwhile, I’ve got an edit that’s due the next day and am working and I hate it.

Rory and Quinn, my three year old twins, stand in the front yard and, whenever anyone walks by they say, “Have you seen my dog?” and the people smile and shake their heads and walk away.  Someone else walks by and they say, “Excuse me?  Have you seen my dog?” and they smile and shake their head and walk away.  Rory shouts, “She’s white and red!  She’s lost!  You go find her!” and then the person is gone and I wonder if my son feels as helpless as I do, trapped in a yard.

I get angry at Clementine and I say, “Stupid dog!  What are you leaving the yard for!  Where were you going?  Where are you?”  and then somebody tells us about Pitbull bait and how dogs that are in dog fights need to train and so lost and found dogs are sometimes used as bait and I shut my eyes and try to wash the image of Clementine being torn to pieces by a dog and his asshole owner but I can’t.

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That night Jade goes to sleep and I’m still working, the front door hanging open.  I go outside on a whim, hoping to just see her prancing down the street towards our house, back from her big adventure.  My brain doesn’t accept that she’s gone and I just expect her to…. be back.  I shout her name.

Nothing.

A Latino couple walks up to me and the woman says, “We lost our cat,” and I say, “Yeah,” and she says, “Your dog was beautiful and so friendly.  A lot of people would find a dog like that and keep it.  Take it home for their kids.  So friendly,” and I imagine these people picking up my dog and I imagine Clementine in their house on my very block, loving her and feeding her and playing with her.  BASTARDS!

I vow to get her back.  I’m going to find the selfish pricks who think it’s okay to steal dogs and I’m going to get her back.  And when I find the guy who did this I’m going to kick the shit out of him.  Or I’m at least going to try because some things are just worth getting your nose broken over.  I’m hurt and angry and heartbroken.  She’s part of my family and my house is feeling like a puzzle piece is missing.

I love my dog and I miss her and I WANT HER BACK!

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Last year we put our older dog to sleep and we grieved fiercely over her loss but there was preparation and peace surrounding the process.  This was just chaos and confusion and neither of us knew what to feel or what to expect.

That night I go to sleep and I dream again that Clementine has returned and the next morning I awake and I begin to feel the very real twinge of loss setting in.  Could she be gone?  Really gone?  Truly gone?  My heart pushes the possibility aside, unwilling to accept.  I get up and tell myself that someone will bring her back.  Someone has her and they’ll bring her back.

A woman emails us, someone who saw the Craigslist ad that we posted.  She tells me her neighbor stole her dog and kept it hidden for three months until she put up a $500 reward.  BASTARDS!

We put up a $500 reward.

Nothing happens.

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ABOVE: Waking up at a truck stop after a night of sleeping in the car with these two.

That night at dinner we get a phone call from a stranger.  They say they’ve seen our flyer and they’ve seen our Clementine just last night one block from our home.  I immediately drop my fork, grab my keys, jump in my car and head into the setting sun.  I stop in the parking lot she was allegedly last seen in and scour it top to bottom in complete desperation.  I call her name.  I shout.  I walk for blocks.  I jump back in my car and drive and shout and nothing.  The sun is gone.  It’s dark.  I go back home.  Every time I turn back I feel like I’m quitting.

I walk in the door and I can see on Jade’s face that she’s hoping and expecting me to walk in with our dog.  It’s the first solid lead we’ve had and now it’s dead.  I shake my head and her shoulders fall.

If you’ve never loved a pet, a part of your soul has not lived.

We eat dinner in silence and then Jade takes the car out to look while I get the kids ready for bed.  She returns empty handed.

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ABOVE: This is her excited face.

That night we decide to start a Facebook page called FindClem.  If someone is keeping her or trying to sell her, we’ll just make her so internet famous that they’ll get busted.  We’ll create an enormous viral campaign.  Clementine has a face made for radio – just a droopy, mangy maw and I became convinced that people would help us.  I stand in my kitchen and say, “We’ll blow this thing up!  We’ll get her back!  We’ll make t-shirts!  Stickers!  Tweets!  We’re going global!”

We never go global but over the course of the following 24 hours we amass a total of just over 100 likes, mostly from complete strangers.  People emailed us and personal messaged us with links to cockers that fit Clem’s description being sold online.  IS THIS YOUR DOG?  DID I FIND CLEMENTINE?  LOOK HERE!”

None of them were her but it was inspiring to see such help rally in such a short time span.

We go to sleep.

In the morning my friend texts me and says he had a dream that we found Clementine and that she was hiding under a car.

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We take our fliers and we head back out into the street.  Rory and I walk down one side of the block while Jade, Quinn and Bryce walk down the other as we begin to canvass East.  We hand fliers to everyone we pass.  We hang them up on pegboards in restaurants.

When we reach the end of the road we turn around and my anger rises every time I see one of the hot pink MISSING posters lying in the gutter.  These are my hopes that people are discarding, throwing on the ground.  My fury peaks when I see that people have intentionally ripped them off several light posts. For every good person out there it seems there are two or three awful ones… maybe more.

We meet back at the car and, in a Hail Mary move, decide to try one more place – the bridge across the street.  We hit the walk button.  We pass over the crosswalk.  We approach a man fixing a bicycle.  I hand him a flier and say, “Lost my dog,” and he looks at me and looks at the flier and he stands up and he smells like alcohol and he points at Clementine and he says, in a thick Spanish / drunk accent, “This your dog?” and I say, “Yes.  Yes.  Have you seen her?” and he says, “I seen this dog,” and everything in me blooms.  Hope.  Fear.  Anxiety.

The man, whose name I later learn is Carlos, reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a collection of hot pink Lost Clementine fliers.  Maybe 20 in all.  Jade says, “Why do you have those?” and Carlos points to the dollar signs on the poster and says, “Is there a reward?” and I say, “There is a reward for the dog, yes, yeah,” and he says, “Is there a reward for information leading to the location of your dog?” and I say, “There is a reward for my dog,” and he says, “I have your dog.”

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ABOVE: Brookbank Christmas card 2013.

Jade and I both look at each other and my stomach flip-flops and Jade says, “Where is she!?  WHERE IS SHE?!” and he points back to the money and I say, “Show me where she is,” and he says, “Come here… I show you…” and I tell Jade to stay with the kids and I turn and I follow this stranger down the sidewalk as he takes off at a brisk pace.

As I jog to keep up with his Goliath steps, he glances over his shoulder and casual states, “I live out here, you know?  That’s my home.  I live on the street,” and I nod silently as he points back to his bicycle.  Half a block later he stops at the crosswalk and says, “Here,” and I look around.  I say, “What?” and now I feel like a fool.  I’m letting a drunk man lead me around as I stupidly follow blind hope.

He says again, “Here,” and then, “Friday night.  I saw that dog running around right here.  I thought to myself, what a beautiful animal.  I used to have a dog like that when I was a boy.  A cocker spaniel.  White and spotted like a cow.  Beautiful dog.  I thought… that dog is lost.  I came to pet it and it ran back and forth and before I got to it…. it jumped into the street and was hit by a car and was torn into two pieces.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

This is the part of the story where my stomach drops to the floor and I stand up straight and I can feel a nervous breakdown beginning to grow and I lean in and I say, “What?  What’s that?” and he says, “I’ve never seen anything like it before.  A car ran her over and tore her in half.  She was so beautiful but she was a mess,” and I say, “My dog was….. hit by a car?… and you saw this?”

He says, “Here… look, look.  Follow me,” and he marches into the busy traffic, nearly a third of the way across the street.  He says, “Right here.  This is where she was,” and then he walks back while he points at the ground.  I look down and see what looks like a tire burn out.  I say, “What is this?  What?  The tire mark?” and he says, “No.  That’s no tire mark.  Your dog was hit there-” and he points to the spot as I watch a half dozen tires run over that exact place, perfectly aligned in the street.

He says, “I couldn’t leave her out there.  I was drunk.  I went out and I picked her up.  All of her pieces.  All of her insides.  And I dragged her,” and he points to the tire skids, “over to here,” and he steps down into the gutter a points at a blotch of dark black matter.  I look at the mark in the center of the road and I look at the smudge in the gutter and I look at the skid mark connecting them and I say, “That’s…. her blood?  That tire mark is her blood trail?” and he says, “Yes!  It was terribly sad!  And I couldn’t leave her here.  She was too beautiful.  So beautiful!  So I scooped all of her pieces up and I carried them across the street and I put them in that garbage can.”

He points across the street to a garbage can I’ve walked past at least a dozen times since losing her.  “No…” I think.  “Please don’t let that be true.  Not like this.”

He begins running across the street, saying to hell with the traffic light.  He cuts between speeding cars and my hands are starting to shake.  We approach the garbage can and he says, “I put her in here but it was just… so much,” and I say, “So much what?” and he says, “I didn’t want anyone to see – children or people – she was -” and he grimaces and rubs his fingers together, never completing the thought.  “So I cut the bag out of the can — you see here — you see where I cut it?” and sure enough there is a bit of black torn plastic left inside the now empty garbage can.

I don’t want to believe anything he’s saying.  I’m certain he’s drunk.  I’m certain he’s crazy.  I’m certain he’s just a violent and horrible man who wants to tell me lies and he’s making it all up and nothing is true but I follow him and I listen to him and I can’t stop because I have to hear it all.

He says, “This way.  I took her over here… in the bag…” and he takes me to a dumpster about twenty yards away.  He says, “Here.  She’s in here.  Now.”

And I bite my tongue and I bite my lip and I rub my hands on my pants and my knees are weak and I can see Jade watching me from across the street and I say, “My dog is in this dumpster?” and in my head I’m thinking, “My Sweet Pea is in this dumpster?  My baby that crawled into my lap at the airport?  My precious Clementine is IN THIS DUMPSTER LIKE A PIECE OF TRASH!?”

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Carlos says, “Yes,” and then hops in and starts pulling boxes out and pushing things aside.  He finds black trash bags and pokes them and prods them and moves them around before he says, “I smell her.”  He lays his hand on a bag before quickly pulling it back and says, “This one…” and I look at him and I say, “Open it,” and a fear comes over his face that makes me wonder how bad it all was.  He says, “You serious, man?” and I say, “I need to see her.  I need to see my dog,” and he bends down and sticks his finger into the bag and tears it open and yellow ooze pours out and I look away but it’s just rotten restaurant food.

He says, “She’s not here…maybe they emptied the trash,” and I think, “Or maybe you made the whole thing up to get money,” and then The Logic in me speaks up and says, “There are too many compelling facts.  The mark in the road.  The fabric on the garbage can.  The fact that the story was so quickly fabricated and told in such detail.  The location of the event to the parking lot from the previous call.”

I don’t want to believe it and so my heart cries liar.

Carlos and I cross the street as Jade approaches us.  I say, “Jade, this gentleman is alleging that–” but Jade, with red eyes, cuts me off and says, “I know.  I just heard.  His friends told me,” and she points to a group of rag-tag homeless men that are halfway to oblivion well before noon.

A man on the street says he was there as well.  Says he saw it happen.  But my heart still disagrees and won’t process it.  Not Clementine.  Not like this.  Not my Clementine.  She’s too sweet.  Too precious.  Too little.  I’m still picturing her in someone’s living room, eating popcorn with them while they watch a movie.

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ABOVE: An art installment at an abandoned desert museum.

I leave Carlos behind and approach another homeless person on the block.  I ask her if she knows Carlos and she says, “Yeah,” and I say, “What do you think of him?  How is he?” I feel like I need to know what the personal integrity of this man is, which just seems crazy.  Anything to prove him wrong.  How did my day end here?  How did this all happen?  I’m so angry that I ever suggested going to Jerry’s Pizza.  I count all of my decisions back and try to figure out how this could have been avoided.  My thoughts are interrupted by Jean, the homeless woman, “He’ll lie and cheat to get what he wants.  He ripped my friend off twice for more than a hundred bucks.”

Is this man some kind of con artist that has hatched a story just in case he came across us, my wife and I, suspecting that we’d be looking in the neighborhood?  Is he telling me the truth?  If he saw my dog die and thought he could make money, why didn’t he try calling us off the number on the fliers?  Why was he collecting all of our fliers?  He says it was so people wouldn’t waste time searching for a dead dog.  Or maybe it’s because he didn’t want other people to be conscious of the reward money.

I walk home, jaded and confused.  I try to separate logic from emotion, an act that has been nearly impossible over the last hour.  My brain and my heart are telling me two different things.  Inside, Jade and I discuss what we’ve seen and heard.  I tell her that I don’t know what to believe and she agrees.

Forty-five minutes later I go back to the intersection and stare at the streak and try to imagine Clementine but I can’t.  I see Carlos staring at me but I ignore him.  I look at the garbage can and I look at the dumpster and my heart breaks open.

I walk home and I tell Jade that I think Carlos is telling the truth.  I tell her that my brain is saying it all makes sense but my heart is unwilling to accept it.  She nods and her eyes gloss over with tears for our little Clemmie.

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ABOVE: Clementine getting cozy with cancer-era Johnny.

That evening we log onto our FindClem Facebook page, our beacon of hope, and create a post that reads, “The saddest of days in The Brookbank Home as we discovered today that our very dearest Clementine is no longer with us. Thank you so much to everyone that helped and reached out. We appreciate you all.”

After typing the words, I just stare at them for a moment as the pieces and the truths all fall into place for me.

All the dark and disgusting things that have been in my heart, all the fear and despair that I’ve kept mostly at bay are creeping towards the surface.  The Black Abyss that has been circling me like a mist is getting thicker.  Typing the words has brought this dormant thought to activation but it isn’t until I hit enter that I realize it’s true.  And in that truth I understand the certainty that Clementine is gone.  Forever.  I realize that I will never see her again.  I realize and understand that I will never pet her again.  I will never take her to another dog park.  I will never go on a vacation with her ever again.  I’ll never wake up to her curled up on my feet and I’ll never get to watch my children chase her again.  She’ll never greet me at the door.  She’ll never see me off.  I’ll never get to take her on another walk.

Ever.

Again.

The RETURN key clicks and the post appears for the world to see.  It’s broadcast in front of me like a fact and everything that has held on for the last three days let’s go; breaks like a levy.  I stand up and I walk to the corner and I fall against the door and I simply weep into my hands for the loss of my friend.

The anchor of hope is gone and it’s been replaced by a weight of bricks tied to my neck and I can feel it pulling me down and making me sick.  I want to lash out but there’s nothing to grab.  Jade puts her hands around my waist and sobs into my shirt.  And it goes on and on and on.

It’s not right.  None of it is right.  Clementine getting out of the fence was mischievous and stupid.  Clementine getting hit by a car was, frankly, just bad luck.  But Clementine being picked up by a drunk man and disposed of in a dumpster…

It’s not right and she deserved better.

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We’re just over a week out from her death and I still find myself reacting to muscle memory.  In the morning I go to feed her and when I have leftovers from dinner my first reaction is to just toss the scraps on the ground.  Before I go to bed I catch myself just before I shout, “Bedtime, Clem!  C’mon!”  Sometimes I think I hear a scratch at the door and, just because I believe in miracles, I go and check… but it’s never her.

I hear dogs barking in the street and I always pause to listen for her voice… but it’s just strange canines that belong to other families.

We’ve picked up her bed and have begun the process of de-dogging the house – giving away her bag of food and putting away her toys.  I pulled the cover off her mattress and threw it in the laundry basket only to have Jade call me back a few minutes later.  I rounded the corner to find her holding it out to me.

She says, “I’m going to wash this,” and I say, “Okay,” and she says, “Do you want to smell it?  This is all we have left,” and I am suddenly faced with this goodbye that I wasn’t at all ready for.  I grab the stupid dog blanket and I shove it into my face and I inhale and I can smell her.

One last time.

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ABOVE: The very last photo taken of her with my youngest daughter Bryce, just a day or two before she disappeared.

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Kaidance: Epilogue

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Three days after burying Kaidance we’re driving out of town on I-90, pointed for somewhere in Montana.  The van is quieter, cleaner and smells better but neither of us can shake the feeling that we’re abandoning our pet.  Logically, we know we’re not.  We understand life and we understand death but I think it’s the mourning that confuses everyone.  Driving away feels so… permanent.  Real life.

We hit a tourist attraction called 1880s town in South Dakota and stop for lunch.  I let Clementine out of the car and walk around the property with her, unleashed.  I sigh at the simplicity of the process.  Clementine runs up and jumps on a couple of strangers who immediately bend down and begin petting her.  Clementine, always the conversation starter.  She disappears under a dead train to chase a cat while I talk to this older couple about their adventures.  In case you’re wondering, they’re in their 60s, from Wyoming, headed to Washington and then back to Texas.  They have children all along the route.  They have a small camper they’re towing with them.  They’re living in it for the next three months.  I am jealous of their lives and secretly wish to be old.  To be retired.  To have the ability and freedom to run for three months without permission or consequence.

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We order a round of bacon cheeseburgers to go and hit the road.  I turn around and see Clementine staring out the window and suspect that she suspects that something is up.  I shout her name and pat my lap and she jumps into the driver’s seat and I quietly pet her for the next five hours until we arrive in Montana.  I’m fairly certain she’s depressed.

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A week later she’s eaten nothing more than a few scraps here and there.  She won’t touch her food and I’m not even certain she’s drinking water.  I hope it just has something to do with homesickness or carsickness or vacation overload; being around so many strangers and strange houses and strange dogs.  I shout her name and she doesn’t come.  I shout again.  Nothing.  Eventually I find her sleeping under a table in the dark.

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A week later we arrive back home just before midnight after an incredibly long eleven hour day on the road.  We drove from a campsite somewhere in Idaho back to The Valley.  Normally we wouldn’t do this but it just felt like everyone needed some space; cabin fever beginning to set in.

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I open the front door and am greeted with a blast of heat that my thermometer claims peaks around 105 degrees.  My house is not what one would call “insulated properly” so in the summer it’s an oven and in the winter it’s a freezer.  With no one around to open doors, turn on fans or, at the very least, try to battle the heat with the pathetic AC window unit, my home has turned into an Easy Bake Oven / Human Incinerator.  I gasp and fall to the floor, dragging myself, clawing myself over the hardwood and tile until I reach the backdoor and rip it open.  Cross breeze.  It’s incredible how wonderful 92 degrees feels after coming down from the triple digits.

Kaidance’s bed lies abandoned on the kitchen floor, a 2 x 3 ft genuine Orthopedic mattress.  She may have died of cancer / overdose of fatal poison but her back was in perfect condition.  The children still haven’t asked about her, which surprises me.  It surprises me that, even after seeing my brother-in-law’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, they didn’t at least inquire as to the whereabouts of their own dog.  With the proof of the empty mattress I’m certain the pieces are going to click… but they don’t.  Their lack of observation shocks me.

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I pull out Clementine’s dish to feed her for the evening, a task that Rory typically helps me with.  I fill it with salmon tasting nuggets that look like Peanut Butter Crunch and set it on the ground, feeling as though the chore is only half completed.  Rory looks at me and says, “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I say, “What’s that?”  I don’t know why I answer this way.  I heard him.  I heard his statement.  It’s just that, now that it’s here, I’m trying to figure out the best thing to say.  How honest should I be with a 2 year old?

He repeats himself.  “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I squat down and say, hesitantly, “Kadie doesn’t live with us anymore.  Kadie lives with Jesus,” and then, not certain if I should say it or not, I blurt out, “Kadie died.”  Rory repeats it, “Kadie died?” and I say, “Yes,” and he sits down and plays with his trains while I keep crying.  Stupid tears!

I pull out a broom and mop bucket and clean the floor of the last tracks of mud Kaidance will ever make.  With every swipe, I erase a little of her presence from the Earth until… she’s gone.

Six days later we’re still trying to get accustomed to life without a big dog; the baby gate has come down, Clementine roams the house and sleeps with us at night.  Our house and floors are eternally cleaner but there are more leftovers around.  After dinner, Jade jumps in the shower with Quinn, who asks to be picked up.  Jade complies.  Quinn asks for the bathroom window to be opened.  She says she wants to watch Kadie.  Jade sets her down and says, “Kadie is with Jesus,” and Quinn, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t want to live with Jesus.”

Jade strolls into the living room in her dead great-uncle’s housecoat that still smells like cigars, even after 45 years.  Quinn has a towel wrapped around her head and nothing else.  The towel is so heavy, her head tilts largely forward, forced to watch her feet as she walks.  We all lie on the couch together and feel The-Baby-In-Mommy’s-Tummy.  Rory places his hand ever so gently on her stomach and says, “Baby,” and it’s so sweet until he starts pushing so violently that I have to quickly restrain him and wonder if he didn’t purposefully lull us into a false sense of security.

Quinn turns to me and says, “Daddy, Kadie dead.”  I take two breaths and then nod.  This is the empire that I have built, the hole that I have dug.  “Yes, dear.  Kadie is dead.  She’s with Jesus now.”  The following conversation plays out like so…

Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus.
Jade: Well, you do… but not right now.
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus right now.  I don’t want to die.
Jade: You don’t have to worry about dying, honey.  Not for a very, very long time.
Rory: I can’t die!
Jade: Uh…….well, honey… You can die…
Rory: I don’t want to die!!!!
Jade: Don’t worry, you probably won’t, not for a long time.
Rory: I can die.
Me: It’s okay, Rory.  You don’t have to worry.
Rory: I can die……but I don’t want to!
Me: Neither do I.
Quinn: I want to live with Jesus!
Jade: Well, yes… but not right now.  Right now… let’s just play with Baby.  Remember the baby in–
Rory: I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!

Then, my daughter, who I legitimately suspect of being able to see into the spirit realm says, “Kadie does not want to go.  Kadie does not want to leave home,” and Jade says, “This conversation is over.”  We ultimately distract them with Skittles and beef jerky.

It’s been nearly a week since we’ve been home and Kaidance’s dog dish is still sitting on the counter and her bed is still sitting on the floor.  I know that it all has to go but I’m finding it difficult to corner a good chunk of time to walk it all out to the garbage can.

I still suspect Clementine of being depressed, although I think she might be coming out of it.  The Effexor I’ve been crushing up and placing in her food certainly seems to help, although I wish she wouldn’t drink so much.  She has escaped our yard twice from parts unknown since we’ve returned, has rolled in mud / poop once and has taken on a propensity for farting.  I believe there may be a strong possibility that Kaidance, in her last dying breath, expelled the Black Smoke Monster that had been living inside of her for so long and passed the torch to her smaller canine companion.

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This letter is to you Clementine.  I’m watching you.  I have my eyes on you.  I know your games.  I learned the rules from The Master.  Behave… because I know a guy that knows a guy… that knows a vet.

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Talking to Strangers: Jake

I like to set daily challenges for myself; something that betters me, in my opinion, as a person.  Sometimes that means trying to be extra kind to that co-worker that I’m not a fan of.  I force myself to go into work and, although my blood curdles when I’m in his or her vicinity, I smile and ask how their day is and hold the door open and they say, “Thank you,” but I can tell that they despise me as well because we’ve had several run-ins and we’re both being totally fake but it builds good character, I guess…

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Sometimes I’ll say, “Today I’m buying dinner for the car behind me in the drive-thru”.  This is one of those good deeds that is a gamble because you’re either going to get $4.16 worth of good karma or you’re going to get $62.34 worth of good karma.  You just kind of spin that wheel and cross your fingers.  And yes, I’ll admit that when I’m feeling generous, I will often glance into my rear view mirror and try to gage just how much generosity the car behind me could eat…

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Lately, however, I’ve been trying something a little different.  It started while I was standing inside of a Jimmy John’s sub sandwich shop and was staring at this sweaty teenager that was making my sandwich.  This specific incident happened just over a week ago so my dog was still alive but I knew that I had to dig a grave for her in the morning.  While I stood in this semi-empty restaurant, I stared at this scrawny little geek and I thought about myself when I used to work at Subway in high school.  I thought about how I had to dig this grave and put my dog to sleep and how I was pretty sad and about how I used to have cancer and boy, oh, boy, aren’t I just down on my luck and I bet every single person standing here has absolutely zero problems going on in their lives and then……… I realized how completely arrogant I was being.  Disgustingly, grotesquely, self-centered.

It’s so easy to picture the entire world revolving around your life story when you live inside your own head; everyone else just an extra in your movie.

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I took another look around and tried to imagine what was really happening in their lives.  Sick parents.  Dying siblings.  Welfare.  Ulcers.  Migraines.  Depression.  Most the kids behind the counter looked like they were about ready to graduate from high school.  I wondered what they were all planning to do now that “life” was starting.

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I suddenly, desperately (and weirdly) wanted to know what everyone was experiencing.  I knew all these people were just like me and I wanted to connect with them and tell them about my cancer and my children and here’s some advice and I wanted them to tell me something about my dog and help me put things into perspective.

Everyone has a story.  Not only that, everyone has a good story.  They’ve done something, they’ve been somewhere, they’ve seen something, they’ve been involved in some way.  There is something dynamic and interesting and fascinating and incredible about everyone but these things just float right under the radar and are forgotten because nobody asks.

So I’ve started asking.

Engaging.

This is my new challenge.

If I meet someone on the street, I push against every instinct that is inside of me to push the conversation past the standard, “Hello / how are you / thank you / that will be seven-twenty-five-please-pull-ahead-have-a-good-day-sir” into the meatier stuff… and it’s this stuff, these bizarre small stories that I’d like to share here in a scattered series.  Talking to Strangers.

I don’t always have all the details and the stories aren’t always long but the bits and pieces I hear are so rich, I think they’re worth passing along.

This first one is about a man named Jake from Montana.

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Jake is early 30s, white.  Tall.  Very tall.  The type of guy that sets his water on top of a refrigerator because it’s closer to his range than the kitchen table.  He’s got a red baseball cap on, a Miller High Life t-shirt and a Foster’s beer clutched in his hand; one of those enormous cans that really contain three “American” beers itself.  It might be his second one.  It might be his third.  His eyes are the same color as his cap.

We’re at a barbecue and I’ve just met this man a few hours previous but haven’t really spoken to him.  We’re sitting across from one another in a sloppy circle consisting of five people.

A dog slowly saunters through our group and Jake says, “How much does that dog weigh?” and my brother-in-law says, “80 pounds” and Jake says, “80 pounds?  Last time I weighed Bud, he was 120.”

I ask who Bud is and he says it’s his dog.  Something called a Chesapeake.  After a quick Google search I find that it’s not dissimilar to a variety of Retrievers.

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Then Jake says, mostly reminiscent to himself, “Getting that dog over the fence was not easy,” and I say, “Why were you lifting a dog over a fence?” and he says, “Because I stole him,” and I say, “What do you mean?” and he says, “The dog didn’t belong to me and I stole him.  I crawled over a fence, picked up the dog, and stole him.  My dog is a stolen dog.  Stole,” and me, still confused by standard definitions say, “This dog belonged to somebody and you took him?” and he says, “Yes.”

And then he goes on.

Bud was living in the country, on a farm, in someone’s backyard.  They had tied him to a tree with a small piece of rope, so short that he wasn’t able to move more than three or four feet away from the tree he’d spent his life at.  The rope was so tight around his neck that all of the fur from his shoulder blades to the backs of his ears had worn away, making him look like some kind of reverse mane-less lion.

His “owners” had set a piece of plywood up at a 45 degree angle so he had shade from the sun and Bud had taken it upon himself to dig a hole into the ground as far as he could, presumably because the Earth is cooler the deeper you go.

Well, some dogs get all the luck and one Fourth of July someone shot a firework at Bud and he panicked and ran down into his hole and got his leg tangled in his short length of rope and nobody ever noticed or cared and finally the leg sort of just fell off and it truly is a wonder that it didn’t become infected.

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ABOVE: A Chesapeake Retriever missing a leg carrying a duck missing a life.

So it’s at this point in time that Jake is working at a very popular sporting goods store in Montana and he gets wind about this three-legged dog from a friend of a friend and he decides to go out and investigate the situation.  Well, low and behold, there actually is a three legged dog in the middle of nowhere stuck to a tree.  He says, “It’s being fed, I guess, and it’s being watered, I guess, and it has shelter, I guess but………..” He takes a long drink from his Foster’s and grimaces.

Jake says he goes out there just to see the dog.  It sounded mostly like he was trying to size up the situation… could it be as bad as this girl was saying?  Could this be like one of those Animal Planet rescue shows?  He tells me that he didn’t plan to take the dog and he didn’t plan to keep the dog but rarely does life care about our plans.

He hops the fence, slowly approaches the growling yellow eyes coming from this earthy hole and befriends the lonely / angry / neglected canine with a few kind words.  In my mind he lures him out with beef jerky but he never actual said that so rest assured that it is me taking creative liberty.

Jake cuts the rope with his pocket knife, takes the nameless three-legged dog back to the fence and somehow (I never asked) hoisted him up and over.  He gets back to his car and calls his wife, telling her that he’s headed straight to the vet.

I asked if the vet had questions and he says, “Yes.”  I say, “Did you tell him the dog was stolen?” and he says, “Yes” and I ask, “What did the vet say?” and he just shrugs and instead of answering the question simply says, “$45 bucks for shots.  Dog loves my kids.”

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The Green Mile

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The phone rings.  The vet is ready when we are.  It’s 5:45pm on Sunday.  We ask her to meet us at The Farm in two hours.

The clock is ticking.  What do you do with your dog for the final two hours of its life?  She’s too weak to really walk or play and she can’t see.  It’s 90-something degrees outside and, since she can no longer control her bowel functions we can’t take her indoors.

We lie in the grass and pet her and talk about her and tell stories about her and I think it’s the closest thing to a funeral you can give a dog.  She moans and wheezes the entire time and I watch bugs crawl all over her body, treating her like she’s already dead.  I put my hand on her ribcage and feel her heartbeat, wondering how many pumps it has left.

I feel mournful and sad but in control.  I feel like I have it completely together but I know the worst is yet to come.  An hour and a half.

Earlier in the day my wife and I had dug a hole.  “Hole”.  A grave.  Kaidance lazed in the grass nearby and slept while we worked.  At one point I glanced over and she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.  I shouted her name but she didn’t respond.  “KAIDANCE!” I shouted again.  Nothing.  I walk over to her and nudge her with my foot.  She blinks.  She’s alive.

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It would be just like this dog to give me the final “screw you” by being disobedient even in death; passing onto the next world on her own accord when I’ve orchestrated this whole beautiful thing.  I turn around and keep digging, through the top soil, through the clay, through some roots.  It’s a very textbook operation.  I turn to my 8 month pregnant wife – who is using a spade to flatten the edges – and say, “It’s better than I thought.  I thought I’d be a mess but this is sort of cathartic.”  She agrees and stomps on the top of her shovel.

It’s now around 7:30 and we decide to make The Long Walk before the vet shows up; get her comfortable Out There before hand.  I try coaxing Kaidance to follow me but she seems reluctant, maybe even more so than usual.  I loop my finger through her collar and start walking very slowly while whispering, “C’mon.  Good girl.  It’s okay.  C’mon”.  And she follows me.  Off the driveway, through the yard, past the electric fence, into the pasture, towards a small grove of trees.  It’s not exactly The Green Mile but it’s definitely The Green Block and a Half.

This is it.  20 minutes and counting.

The first purchase my wife and I ever made together was a striped comforter.  It’s come with us from house to house over the past ten years but, as we’ve upgraded our home, the blanket has slowly found it’s way to the back of the closet.  Every year or so we pull it out while doing a spring clean and say, “Maybe we should donate it to Goodwill….no….no, it’s too emotionally valuable.  Put it back in the closet.  We’ll talk about this next year”.

And so it goes.

But today we’ve found the perfect use for it.  Today it stops being a comforter with high emotional value and it transforms into a shroud.

We lay the blanket out on the grass in the field about ten feet from the grave and, since she won’t sit on her own anymore, we force her backside down.  I set a white Burger King bag down on the blanket and something turns over in my stomach.  The Last Meal.

I say, “Look what I’ve got for you,” and pull out a Whopper Jr.  I tear it in half and feed it to her.  She swallows it in one bite, barely chewing at all.  I tear the half in half and give her the first piece.  A pickle drops on the blanket.  She sniffs it out and picks it up.  I feed her the final bite of the Whopper Jr.  I pull out a second one and the exercise repeats itself.  My wife and I continue to talk about her and joke about how bad of a dog she is.  I pull out a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast croissant and feed it to her.

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I say, “You’ve never had one of these,” and I pull out a King Sized Snicker bar and unwrap it.  I break it into quarters and feed her the first bite, the second bite, the third bite.  I put the fourth bite in her mouth and my wife says, “Last bite” as she’s swallowing it and I immediately feel a sense of loss, like it should have been cherished more.

But it’s gone.

I start to choke up a bit.  We get her to lay down on her side and I think I hear something in the distance.  I look.  Nothing.  I huddle next to her and I pet her behind the ear and my wife pets her muzzle and I put my hand on her heart and I feel the beating again and I just want it to be over but I feel so guilty for wanting that and then I definitely hear something and I turn my head and I see a truck pulling into the driveway and it’s so real and it’s happening now and panic washes over me and tears start running down my face and I’m sobbing and I’m hugging Kaidance and I’m telling her how much I love her and I’m whispering in her ear and I’m telling her that I’m sorry and she’s so good and everything is spinning around and it’s all so surreal.  The sun is setting and there is a breeze and it couldn’t be more beautiful or horrible.

I turn around and the vet is walking towards us and I know this is the end.  This is what the last week has been leading up to.  We’re here and it’s now and it’s happening.  The vet is blond and tells us that she’s very sorry.  My wife and I are both puffy and salty with tears and we both mumble something about, “Thank you so much for coming out here on your day off”.

She sits down on the blanket with us and hours has turned into minutes has turned into one minute.  The final minute and I’m not ready to let go and I don’t know if I can do this.  I lean down and whisper, “It’s going to be okay, good girl, good girl, good girl,” and the vet pulls out a syringe filled with something intensely blue and she tells us that it’s a high grade anesthetic and that it will be just like going to sleep.  I put my hand on Kaidance’s heart and the vet asks if we’re ready and there’s no way we are or ever will be but we both nod yes and she sticks the needle into her leg and words just start pouring out of my mouth.  “I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance.  Good girl.  I love you so much,” and I can’t say it enough.  I can’t get it across.  Every bad thing I’ve ever done to her is flashing into my mind.  Every time I’ve ever yelled at her and every time I’ve thrown her outside for tearing into the trash and every moment of our stupid road trip where I asked her to stop breathing on me and I just want her to stay here and be okay and I just want it over with and it’s done.

Before the vet even pulls the needle out, Kaidance has stopped breathing.  Her heart has stopped beating.  No matter where I put my hand, I can’t find the labored thump-thump.  I lay my forehead against her and I weep.

The vet walks away and Jade and I are left in the field alone with our dog.  We try to shut her eyes but it’s not like in the movies.  They just stay open.  We sit with her for several minutes and we both cry and pet her and say those final words.

Jade picks up the Burger King bag with the old wrappers in it and lays it down on the blanket by Kaidance’s chest and says, “We should bury her with this.  She would have wanted it,” and it’s so stupid but she’s so right.  Kaidance would have wanted an old Burger King bag.  We wrap her up in the Striped-Comforter-With-High-Emotional-Value and we each pick up a side and there is definitely a reason they call it dead weight.  120 pounds is much heavier than I was imagining.  I step into the grave and I grab both ends of the blanket and I lower her in.

We each throw a couple handfuls of dirt on and then we grab the shovels and for the next 15 minutes we move dirt and tell more stories.  When we’re done we stand above the grave, the sun just dipping below the horizon and we say a couple more things.  “Kaidance, we loved you and we valued you.  Thank you for your protection.  Thank you for loving us.  You were a terrible dog but we loved you.  We will think of you often.  We probably won’t miss you, but we’ll think of you often.”  I say the last part mostly in jest because I need to laugh.

We grab the shovels and we begin walking back to the house.

Alone.

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ABOVE: The last photo.

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The Cost of Living

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‘Tis  better to have loved and lost than never to have–”

SCREW YOU, ALFRED TENNYSON!  YOU PROBABLY NEVER HAD A DOG THAT YOU HAD TO PUT TO SLEEP!

It’s 12:30am on Saturday night / Sunday morning.  I have to get up in about 8 hours to dig a hole.

Someone offered to help.  I said no.  Someone offered to bring out a Bobcat.  I said no.  It feels wrong.

This is the only way that made any sense.  This is the only way that feels right.  Doing everything alone.  Somehow making it mine.  It feels like it’s my last gift to her.  It feels like I’m cheating if I do it any other way.

The whole thing; the whole event.  The journey.  It’s supposed to celebrate Kaidance and give her one last “hoo-rah”  before going out… but it’s difficult to have a party when you know you need to kill the guest of honor at the end.

 

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The last two weeks have watched her go from bad to worse.  I would guestimate that she is now roughly 95% blind and equally incontinent.  She’s covered in tumors and struggles with breathing and standing.  A dog that was once a passionate connoisseur of food now can’t even find her dish when it’s placed directly under her nose.  Watching her desperately weave her head back and forth over her dinner breaks my heart and makes me sick.

The cost of living.

I have to splash water under her mouth so she knows where it’s at.  She can no longer walk up and down stairs or get into or out of the van.  I have to lift her up and, at 120 pounds, it’s no joke.  Last night my wife and children slept on the second floor in a bed while I slept on the couch in my mother’s living room because we couldn’t get her upstairs.

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ABOVE: Kaidance in the days following surgery.  The vet said if we removed all of her tumors we could buy her another six months.  Ended up getting us almost three additional years.

 

People kept saying, “You’ll know when it’s time, you’ll know.  The dog will tell you” and… I know it’s time.

It’s 12:40am and this time tomorrow she’ll be in the dirt and the thought of the bugs eating my dog twists my gut.

Standing outside at the farm today Jade says, “Let’s bring her a giant bone tomorrow” and I say, “No.  Tomorrow we’re bringing her a Snicker’s Bar and a Whopper and maybe even a personal pan pizza because… why not?

When she finally goes, I want her to think she’s in Heaven before she actually gets there.

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Responsibility vs. Debt

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I was 25 miles away at the time of this incident so the story is being retold from my perspective as it originally happened to Jade, who was my girlfriend at the time but is my wife today.

It’s past midnight.  The moon is just a sliver in the sky making Denver darker than usual.  The year is 2004.  My wife is living in the basement of a 4-plex down the street from Capitol Hill right off Colfax.  The area is sort of a living juxtaposition as Capitol Hill is pretty nice but Colfax is a dump so you never know who’s going to walk into you.

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Something pulls her out of a dream.  Something has lassoed her consciousness and started to slowly tug it towards the surface.  Clink-Clink.  Two people in the dream click their glasses together in celebration.

Her eyes come open and the room is black.  The simple apartment consists of a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom, each darker and dingier than the last; all of them looking like they should belong to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.  She’s tried her best to gussy it up but still it just looks like a dungeon with some tulips in the corner.  She shuts her eyes again.  Click-Click.  The dream changes to the face of an old robot, its mechanical parts trying to operate a dead system.

The consciousness floats a little higher and her eyes open again.  Click-Click.  She wonders if that noise were in a dream, sort of those lacy tendrils of memory we have when we wake up – the fog of the unconscious waving in front of our brain.  Was it real?  She waits, quiet.  Click-Click.  It’s not in a dream.  It’s in real life.  In her basement.  Click-Click.  She can see the doorknob leading to her unlit backyard from where she lies.  It shakes once.  Pause.  It shakes again.  Click-Click.

And it falls to the floor.

The doorknob falls from the door frame, onto the floor.

Capitol Hill / Colfax.  You never know who you’re going to get; sometimes Buffalo Bill walks right into your house.  Be sure to ask him for an autograph before he sticks you in The Pit.  Get a photo with him before he makes you into a skin suit.  Update your Facebook status before he turns your thumbs into decorative earrings.

Jade’s eyes open.  Her consciousness is full surface.  A large figure steps into the door frame and then through it.  He’s inside the apartment and, just like that, Kaidance is up like a piston.  While Jade is stiff with fear, just waiting politely to be scalped and boiled alive, Kaidance charges straight towards this dark shadow without hesitation.  She doesn’t need questions.  She doesn’t need answers.  She only knows that someone is here who does not belong.  It’s the bravest thing she’s ever done and it is majestic.  She barrels across the floor, all four of her feet lifting off the ground at once, her teeth bared, her head down, her hair up.  The noise emitting from her mouth is neither bark nor growl but a primal language that is very clear.  It simply states, “If I catch you, I will hurt you”.

Kaidance is young and in her prime and for this one act of service I owe her so much.

The Man turns and runs out of the house.  Jade hears the chain link fence in the backyard rattle and then silence.  Kaidance waddles back into the basement with her slow lioness gait, meanders back to her bed and lies down.  No “Thank you” necessary.  No “You Owe Me”.  Nothing.  This is simply the unspoken contract a dog has to its person.

It’s this one moment that I carry with me for the following decade that makes me grateful for her presence.  What did she save my wife from that night?

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Fast forward roughly ten years and Hurricane Kaidance is the the most burdensome creature in my day-to-day routine.  She ruins my house, my belongings, my clothes.  She makes my life more difficult than it needs to be and certainly more difficult than any other dog owner that I’m familiar with.  At one point the “Maybe-We-Should-Give-Her-Away” conversation comes up but…

I can’t help but remember 2004 when Kaidance saved my wife’s….. what?  Life maybe?

Maybe.

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I believe that when you bring the responsibility of a living thing under your wing, you are making an unspoken contract that lasts for the big haul, through thick and thin.  Ashes to ashes and all that.  It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun but it’s yours.  Hanging up the hat is not an option.

Have we discussed getting rid of Kaidance; donating her to another family, leaving her in South Dakota for “farm life”, dropping her off on the side of the road and speeding away as quickly as possible and never looking back free of her burden forever and ever amen?  Yes.  We have.  Countless times.  But we can’t.  Because, even though my personal motto is “’til death”, I owe Kaidance considerably more than a generic PETA themed fortune cookie.

A dog is a responsibility, but I owe Kaidance a debt.

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Brown Desert

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There’s a strip of desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that runs dark for about 300 miles.  It’s an area of the Earth so void of hope that no one has ever bothered to develop; it’s no man’s land.  Anything goes.  Mad Max.

It’s in this stretch that Kaidance suddenly begins breathing heavily; goes straight from her average, low volume wheezing to full on post-marathon panting.  Like a floodgate that has been switched, saliva begins dangling from her mouth in long tendrils.  Droplets of spittle bounce off her tongue like confused raindrops and begin covering the top of our cooler.  It’s day one of our Fantastic Voyage to Take Kaidance Home to Heaven and we’ve been traveling for 2 1/2 hours.  In case you’re uncertain, this is definitely foreshadowing.

Your Woman by White Town begins playing and, as though on cue, Kaidance sticks her slobbery jowls between our seats like Donkey in the first Shrek movie and just begins to……. exist.  And I could never be your woman.  No, Kaidance, you sure couldn’t.  Her putrid breath heaves onto us.  You can feel her stank exhale resting on your skin like a thick Georgian humidity.  She mouth-dribbles on the cooler.  She mouth-dribbles on the arm rests.  She mouth-dribbles on my wife’s Diet Coke and, if you know anything about my wife, you know you don’t mess with her Diet Coke.

Homey don’t play that.

She shouts something incoherent, threatening the life of the canine.  The panting gets louder.  My wife cracks a new, untainted DC because she’s certain some of “that damned dog’s” mouth water has poisoned the well.  The panting gets louder… louder… louder… it has successfully drowned out the radio and we’re beginning to grow concerned that the noise of her breathing is going to wake up the children.  Something by Nirvana comes over the speakers but I can barely make out what song it is.  This says less about Kurt Cobain’s choppy vocals and more about the noise of a pervert hissing in my ear.  Why is she standing so close to me?    Kaidance has her mouth full open, jaw unhinged, tongue dangling 16 inches past her teeth, a waterfall of saliva in full stream running down her chest and into a bag of groceries.  There goes the fruit.

My wife says, “This is disgusting.  Dog, you are disgusting.  This couldn’t be any worse” and I say, “Don’t tempt the universe” and my wife says, “What’s that?  What is that smell?”  I think perhaps she’s making a Teen Spirit joke, what with Nirvana and all but then, no.  It’s a fart.  No.  A shart.  No.  A turd.  No.  A bunch of turds.  No.  Diarrhea.  For every ounce of saliva that Kaidance has splish-splashed on our belongings, she has perfectly matched with The Liquid Brown.

Softer than any velvet and more pungent than the strongest cheese, it’s on the door, the floor, the blankets.  It’s week old green eggs and ham.  It’s Operation Dumbo Drop.  It’s The Devil Inside.  It’s a hot dog factory where everyone has BO and bathes in horchata.  It’s……. still coming.  The Spray.  She’s a sprinkler with a pulse, a faucet filled with rusty water, a fire hose gone wrong, and I’m gunning it at 80mph down the freeway into Oblivion.

My wife turns to me and says / sobs, “What are we going to do?” but she already knows the answer.  She already knows the horrible, inescapable answer even before I say it… she knows.

Nothing.

It’s 10:30 at night and there’s nothing between us and civilization but 60 miles and a trillion specks of sand.  My wife gags and rolls down a window.  She gags again and says, “I think I’m going to puke”.  She sticks her head out the window and starts making these loud breathing noises that don’t sound dissimilar to Kaidance and her wheezing.

I turn the volume up on the radio.  Something soft by The Shins juxtaposes everything that’s happening.

Like a turd, the next 45 minutes are long and smelly.  Finally, we find a lone gas station that’s lit by a solitary flickering bulb.  Horror movie’s have started here for sure.  We clean the van out.  The kids wake up.  Kaidance lets the concrete know who’s boss.  Clementine runs away.  The kids go back to sleep.  The dogs get back in the car.  It’s midnight.  Everything stinks, the upholstery is clean-ish but covered in a sticky residue.  Pandora’s box has been closed… or at the very least plugged up.  We only have 23 more hours until we reach our destination.

This is vacation.  Welcome to Paradise.

This story and a million like it are what I will remember about Kaidance long after she’s gone.  Some people have stories about hunting dogs and farm dogs and family dogs and wonderful little dogs that fit in purses and lick you on the lips and wear sweaters and know fun tricks.  Not Kaidance: Destroyer of Hope.  No.  She is a breed of cruel, dastardly perversion all her own.

Below, I’ve compiled a quick list of memories I have with my dog, both the good and the bad.

Kaidance, this is your life…

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1. When you were a puppy you would sleep on my pillow, curl up next to my ear and snore.  That’s a cute one.
2.  I remember taking you to the park in Denver on a winter day, the snow standing taller than you.  Another cute memory.  You were so tiny.
3.  One day you ate my friend’s pet turtle.  She was pretty upset.  That’s a sad memory, for sure, in case you’re keeping tally.
4.  We took you to The Turtle Girl’s parent’s house and you did that diarrhea thing you’re so good at all over their brand new white carpet.  They said it wasn’t a big deal but I could tell… they were pretty upset.
4.  Jade had spent a considerable amount of time on a three tier cake for her Cake Making 101 class.  You knocked it off the counter and ate most of it moments before she left to present for a final grade.  You also ate my celebratory “I beat cancer” cake that my favorite nurse gave to me.
5.  I remember you pulling a bottle of vegetable oil off the counter, tearing it open, drinking the whole thing and then dropping peppermint patties all through the house.  PS. Peppermint patties = more diarrhea.  This happened while we were out so by the time we got back it had all dried into these dusty  rocks that had stuck to the floor like anal barnacles.

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6.  You went through a phase where you tore open the trash every single day.  Even if there was nothing in the bin but newspapers, you simply didn’t care.  This was frustrating.
7.  Towards “the end” when you were no longer able to control your bladder, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to let you out at 11pm, 2am and 5am like a newborn baby.  This too was pretty frustrating although I do understand.  Even at 30 it is rare that I don’t get up at least once a night.
8. You were never a dog that could be taken to someone’s house for a social function.  When you get excited you drool… and you get excited about pretty much every thing.

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9.  Once, when I had cancer and was having a particularly tough day you suddenly crawled up into my rocking chair with me, completely unprovoked.  You’d never done it before or since.  It was very thoughtful of you and was exactly what I needed.

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10.  I once purchased 20 Whopper Juniors and gave them all to you on a platter.  I know it wasn’t healthy but I’ve never seen you happier than on that day.

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11.  One day I left some carrots on the counter.  You pulled them down and then pulled down Jade’s favorite turquoise ceramic bowl.  She was upset.  At both of us.

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12.  You once sat on my pillow and when I pushed you off there was a brown starfish where I put my face.  Why do you do these things to me?
13.  You are one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen and you love pushing yourself between people’s legs like a bridge.  It freaks newcomers out.
14.  You used to sleep on the bed with us and would full on stretch out, taking up every square foot you could.  I would typically curl into a little ball and try to work around you.

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15.  You’d get so excited when we pulled out your leash, you’d jump onto your hind legs and bark… and then when we got to the dog park you’d just lie down next to us and observe those which you considered inferior.

You’ve been with Jade and I since 2002 and, as evidenced by this list, have taught me a considerable amount about patience and grace, which I’m thankful for.  In a very backwards way, you’ve helped me to become a better father.  Trust me when I say that being a parent of 2 1/2 year old twins is 90% patience and grace and 10% damage control.  Whether my kids are destroying an object that I’m fond of, pooping on my couch, waking me up at 2am to pee, or hogging the bed with their strange sleeping aerobics, you did it first.  You forged the way for these pioneers.

Am I surprised that you blew the stinky all over the inside of our new mini-van?  Absolutely not.  I know your track record.  Like a moth, you’re going to go out big and I’d expect nothing less.

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Dirty Dog

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I’m sitting in my car, alone, in a grossly lit parking garage.  My lips are curled back and pulled down, tugging my face-skin tight.  My nose crunches in on itself and everything goes blurry.  I’m doing that thing humans do when they’re sad; I’m crying… alone… in a parking garage… in the building where I work.

There’s a banana sitting in the passenger seat and, since I’m sort of hungry from an early lunch, I lift it up and start to peel it.  Tears streaming down my face, I quietly whimper and take a bite of the fruit.  FACT: You can’t cry and eat a  banana at the same time; you feel too foolish.  It’s like the two cosmic ends of the universe are colliding right into you – the mournfulness of tears and the comic genius that is representative in 1000 people slipping on banana peels over the years.  One must break.

I prioritize my hunger, finish eating the banana, set the peel down and then pick up where I left off with the crying.  I start my car and, through blurred vision, navigate out of the garage and start my journey home to my dying dog.

Kaidance is an eleven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that has been with my wife and I since we were in college.  She’s moved across the country with us, she was there when we got married, she was there when we had children (and when we were trying to have children, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-dog-in-the-room-while-you’re-having-sex-joke-wacka-wacka).  She watched me go through cancer and enter remission and has also dealt with her own battle which, sadly, she is finally succumbing to.

Over the last four years she’s been, like the Fast and Furious franchise, sick but active.  However, over the last four weeks, we’ve watched her go from an overweight bitch with a penchant for food and destruction to an overweight bitch who is blind and has trouble standing up and sitting down.  Even when she lies on her bed she just moans like every breath is killing her and I suppose, in some regards, it is.  That whole Ticking Clock Syndrome each of us suffers from.  Every second is closer to our own endings but there is something reassuring about not having any idea about when it is; next week, next year, next, next, next.  Not Kaidance.

Kaidance doesn’t have anymore NEXTS left.  This week Kaidance has only The Lasts.  The Last Bath.  The Last Night of Sleep.  The Last Walk.  The Last Meal.

My family and I are leaving on a road trip very soon.  We’re leaving Los Angeles and heading to South Dakota to see my sister’s new daughter.  From there we’ll hit Montana to see my sister-in-law’s new son.  When we leave LA we’ll have our two kids in tow along with our two dogs; Kaidance and a cocker spaniel named Clementine.  When we return, we’ll have only two children and the cocker spaniel.  When we get to South Dakota, we’ll stop at my mother-in-law’s farm and she’ll call her vet.  The vet will come out to the farm and we’ll put Kaidance to sleep somewhere in a field.  I will dig a grave and I will bury my dog.

We’re doing it this way because I cannot stand the thought of taking her to a vet clinic.  THE SMELL ALONE.  She hates going and begins shaking compulsively when we pull into the parking lot.  It’s not fair that her last feelings would be those of fear.  She is more valuable to me than that.  She is better than a cold steel table, the reek of cleaning supplies and a needle.  I just need her to know that we love her and I just want her to be as comfortable as possible.  Kaidance is not JUST A DOG.  No dog is JUST A DOG, the same as no person is JUST A PERSON.  Emotions, impulses, instincts, feelings; love, excitement, joy, hunger, thirst, fear.

Kaidance has five days left to walk the Earth.  She has seen her last Monday.  She has seen her last Tuesday.  The numbers on that stupid clock are getting smaller and smaller and sometimes I wonder if she can’t tell something is up.

Over the following week I’d like to share with you all the reasons I love and hate this stupid dog and my final journey to take her home.

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