Where Woody Go
9 a.m.: Oh, how the fuck am I going to get through this day? I’m taking my dog in to be euthanized at 4, and that’s seven hours – an eternity – away. It was so much easier with my last dog. I took him in at lunchtime on deadline day. I couldn’t allow myself to wallow. But there’s nobody around this empty house for whom I have to put on a brave face right now. So, no brave face for me.
I want to spend time with Woody, but he’s kind of lying in the front room, semi-sleeping. He doesn’t care that I’m there. Frankly my presence, as always, seems to make him a little uncomfortable. So I’m doing what feels right for Woody, and I’m staying in my office even though it’s killing me by degrees.
He made it into my office this morning and sat down on his dog-rug – if I had known then that it would be the last time, I would have gotten a photo. It was obviously a big effort for him, making it in here. He’s in pain. I got the Bad Feeling last night when, for the first time ever, he was not into chewing the lid off an empty water bottle. That was like a little dagger, right through my heart. And this morning, he’s just giving off that “I’m not interested in this shit anymore” vibe. I even offered him a cookie, people-variety, and he was not interested. It’s still laying next to him on the floor in the front room.
I’ve seen it before, with my last dog, Doolittle. I let him go too long, and I swore I wouldn’t do it again. Today may be the day I make good on that oath. But first, I have to get through the next seven hours of my heart actively breaking, a pointless collage (job-related) and a trip to the dentist. I’m having trouble breathing and I can’t bear the thought of listening to music right now. Everything would seem stupidly fraught with meaning, I’m sure.
Just goes to show you, you never know when a trip to the dentist is going to be the highlight of your day.
What’s ironic is that, for the past 12 years, whenever I was this emotionally wrecked, Woody was the one who was always there. And I mean, right there. Underfoot. Standing on his hind legs, licking my face. Pulling at my jeans or bringing me a toy, dropping it repeatedly on my lap. The Missus calls him my “emotional barometer,” and it was so true. Even if we were in totally different parts of the house, if my blood pressure went up, Woody appeared. And often as not, put himself in the way of danger, because sometimes when I was upset, I didn’t want to be comforted. But that never stopped Woody. He was fucking fearless. That’s waned in the last year or so. As his regular five senses began to stop doing their jobs, his extra-sense began to become less acute as well.
(Leonard Cohen. That’s who I can listen to today. He always understands.)
And what are we going to tell our almost-three-year-old? He’s always been aware of Woody. Before he could put a sentence together, his word for Home was “WoodyDaddy.” Woody always been part of his landscape. Just a few days ago, the boy stepped up and said, “Where Woody go?” I said, “I don’t know.” “Outside!” the boy answered. I said, “Yeah, did Mommy let him out to go potty?” I started looking around our back yard – no Woody. I said, “Nope, Woody’s not there.” “Woody outside!” the boy insisted. Then it dawned on me – we’d all been out front about 15 minutes earlier, Woody too. I ran to the front door, swung it open, and Woody hobbled in. The grown-ups weren’t paying any attention to Woody, but The Man Cub was.
This is going to be fucking hard, hard, hard.
While all this is going on, the cable-tv news channels are on Teddy Kennedy Death Watch. I can’t escape the Grim Reaper today no matter where I turn. Maybe I should re-schedule my dentist’s appointment…
6 p.m.: Well, it’s a few hours later and the deed is done. At the end, at the vet’s, he was extremely affectionate. He must have licked my face a hundred times. And since he was suffering total renal shutdown (it turns out), they were some pretty stinky kisses, and none were ever sweeter. Woody and I were definitely on the same page. He had reached that Zen state of calmness and acceptance that I remember so well from Doolittle’s final days. I’d seen this before, and I knew what it meant. He was ready.
The credit card was billed and forms were signed and then they asked, “Do you want to take some time with him?” We’d been there for a fucking hour already and I’d spent the whole day on the floor with him at home too, saying goodbye. “No, let’s just do this,” I snapped, not really giving a shit at that point what they thought of me.
The vet had already tried to nudge me into taking extraordinary measures, involving totally draining him (of what I’m not clear on, I think his blood) then re-sanguinating him. Strapping him down, poking and prodding and scaring the crap out of him, for at best, a null result. He’d still be broken in all the ways he already was. His quality of life was on a clear downward trajectory for a while now, and this treatment, even if successful, would only accelerate that trend.
And I had given Woody my word, years ago.
What a great dog he was. He came to me 12 years ago at about a year and a half old, from a foster situation, through my big sister (thanks, big sis!). He’d already been through hell — nobody ever told me the details, other than he almost lost a leg; one of them had been hanging by a tendon when he was picked up and put back together.
But you wouldn’t know it from the way he attacked life. You didn’t take Woody for a walk, he took you for a pull. Twice, I had a pinched nerve in my shoulder, and both times, he repeatedly aggravated the hell out of it because I’d forget what a psycho he was and hold the leash with my injured arm, and WHAM! Woody would launch himself at whatever was handy and damn near pull my arm out of the socket.
He loved going to the vet! Today was the only time he didn’t stand up and begin to dance and bark in the back seat after it became clear where we were heading. I swear to god, he was crazy about going to the vet.
He was never scared.
He was also a graceful son of a bitch. Woody didn’t just catch stuff you threw to him, he leaped up, snatched it out of the air and continued to spin ‘round till he hit the ground again. He was like a circus dog. He was endlessly enthusiastic and for all his wild-thing antics, didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Everybody always asked what his breed was, and since I didn’t actually know, they’d usually surmise he was at least part coyote or wolf. I can’t say I disagree. He had a wild streak that ran from the day I picked him up at his foster owners (he almost caused me to crash the car on the freeway taking him home, jumping onto my shoulders unexpectedly from the back seat) to just about a few weeks ago.
I may amend this more as time goes on, and I remember other cool stuff about him.
I already miss him like crazy – the house feels so empty, even with all the human family members present and accounted for – and we still don’t have any idea what to tell the boy when he asks, “Where Woody go?”
Addendum May 21, 2008: Almost 24 hours later and I’m still here. Barely. Thank G-O-D for my wife and child, or I would be lost. While going through the wallowing process, I unearthed a treasure trove of cool photos of Woody from a few years ago, before shit started breaking down and going wrong. Just skimming a few off the top, and in no particular order...Lovin’ his yard:
Back home in SoCal, late 90’s:
He never even let The Cone Of Dumbness cramp his lifestyle, or his outlook:
Finally, there was thing The Missus used to do to his ear that made him do what I called The Elvis. We never got tired of it: