What can you say about an 8 year old dog who died? That he loved me and chicken, not always necessarily in that order, that he hated being photographed, that he acted like he was running for mayor on each and every walk, and that he may not have been 8 years old after all. A female ambulance driver pointed out that possibility to me during one of our walks. “Pretty dog. He looks old.”
He had just turned four. Supposedly.
When adopting a dog, you generally don’t know his history and the best you can do is give them a healthier and happier future. Or at least try. Some things are beyond your control. What was he fed before? What illnesses might he have had? Was he a puppy mill dog? Max was the first dog I had since I was in high school. Every minor upset he had over the five years I had him could easily be ascribed to something benign; he was never sick until the very end when he was very sick. And for a while he got better and then he got sick again. His vet was stumped. I was wringing my hands. “How old is he again?” the vet asked. When he rallied, I churned out page after page and when he stopped eating, I stared numbly at a blank Word document page. When he died the day before Christmas, I crashed.
Friends brought me carrot cake and sushi and vodka. It was like sitting shiva. Max’s tests were inconclusive, pointed at nothing. I pored over the results repeatedly, like I was divining tea leaves, seeking meaning in numbers I didn’t understand. His vet said none of the numbers would lead him to think he would die. But he had and I was plagued by woulda coulda shouldas and sleeping with the light on, when I could sleep at all.
I remembered things. How it was first believed he was “much older,” until his teeth were cleaned before I adopted him. The food that the person fostering told me he was used to. I never fed him that food and when I looked it up, I saw it had been recalled because it contained aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen. Was that it? When adopting a dog, you generally don’t know his history and you can’t reverse it. I am so grateful to have had him. I just wish I’d had him longer. I’ve read about dogs living past 17 and dogs dying at 5. Love is a crap shoot. My decision to adopt another dog two weeks later was absolute and I knew even less about his history, except that he was abused and the ‘walking wounded’, just like I was. I made it through all of the stages of grief except that last tricky acceptance one. I haven’t quite mastered that one. But at the end of the day after I’ve fed Kingston and sat down in front of my iMac, words flow more freely and that is a good start.
Susan Israel is the author of Over My Live Body, which was published on March 18, 2014. This is her first novel. You can learn more about Susan and her book at our website.