About eighteen years ago, an associate of my mother’s brought my family a young dog that had been rescued from a Mississippi trailer park. Believing that nomen est omen, my mother named the dog Paula Jones. (He that readeth let him understand.) She, a Shepherd mix who had a mildly sliced tongue at the time but no other signs of wear and tear, instantly took to the family. I remember walking into the living room the next morning to see Paula standing on her hind legs so that she could put her front paws in my dad’s lap as he sat down on the brick fireplace mantel, drinking his coffee. My dad kept repeating in a chuckle-like manner, “I like this dog.” Perhaps because of her early abandonment, she developed a very nervous, very sensitive personality. One time my dad yelled at her for some reason or another, and she camped out (cannot say hid because we could see her, and she could see us) under a chair for three days, slinking out at night to eat when she thought that nobody was watching, though my brother and I were spying on her with mischievous enjoyment. Another time, as Paula was triumphantly walking across the living room, one of our cats, Jackie Chan, who was then a kitten, leaped out of nowhere and smacked her on the rump and then disappeared in the confusion. Paula, as was her fashion, rushed away to lie down to mope. Though I would try to take her picture several times throughout the years, she seemed to intuit the intrusive device and would never look at me whenever I pointed a camera at her.
Because my family obtained her my last year of college and that period marked the beginning of my transition away from home life, most of the years of her life I have seen her only in visiting–and the two times that I had to live with my parents post-grad school. Still, I know that she has been a faithful watchdog for my family and has patiently tolerated the addition of other dogs and cats with resignation.
This past year, though, her dementia has really taken a toll on her so that she has spent most of her waking hours wandering in a glaucoma-eyed cloud. For the past few months, she has struggled with continence problems. The past few days, unfortunately, she has hardly been able to stand and has started to whimper. My family has decided soon to put her down, as keeping her alive in this condition would be only for the most selfish reasons.
The sorrow that comes with the recognition that a pet will die, should die, is one that may be more intense than the sorrow that follows the death itself. The sorrow that follows finds amelioration in a mixture of pleasant memories that inevitably intertwine themselves with the sense of loss. The future-oriented sorrow, however, carries with it a metaphysical horror–the dread of finitude. As I think about the impending death of Paula, I think about the friendships and the romantic relationships that have begun and ended during the span of her life. I think of the proclamations of love that I have made to various women, women with whom I now have nothing do, and I am sure that the feeling is mutual. I think of the friends with whom I once could not imagine ever losing touch, friends whom I now, were I to go back to social media, would not even bother attempting to find. I think of all the changes that have occurred in my family, both immediate and extended, in this eighteen-year period. I think, provided I live long enough, of the day that I will no longer be able to see my dad drink his morning coffee or listen to my mom give our animals their quirky names. (She is the one, in case you are wondering, who also named the kitten Jackie Chan.) I think about how my brother and I are now too far apart to spy together on moping dogs. Because of this, the fear of mortality, mine and others’, will be pushed aside, once again, by the usual distractions: work, hobbies, friends, romantic entanglements, drink, busyness, etc. , and I will continue to mourn the loss of pets, softening the blow of death with the cushions of pleasant memories.
I took this picture of Paula today. Goodbye, sweet girl.