One of the cruelest juxtapositions in life is that our ability to love is equal to our capacity for pain. It’s a horrible balance sheet. We build up love, and on the other side is the potential for hurt –just tallied, waiting for its own inevitable retribution. And so we love, and wait for doomsday — always sugaring our perceptions with hope that the end won’t ever come. But to love means at least having the capacity to lose, and the more we love, the more chances we have to hurt.
We had to put our big old dog to sleep tonight. Farley weighed, at his largest, 166lbs. He was some kind of Newfoundland, we think, but we’ve never been sure. Farley was adopted after my parents’ insanely vicious but total wonder-dog, Orph, died of some fast metastasizing horrible cancer.
They were terribly sad, so the Rev decided she’d solve the problem by going to the Humane Society and adopting a puppy. What she found was two pups who weighed 26 and 28lbs at 8 weeks that the organization was trying to pass off as Labs. They were black. The similarities ended there. She brought them home and named them Fergus and Farley. Dad was unimpressed for all of fifteen minutes, after which he decided they were HIS pups and that he was going to train them to pull a cart and be working dogs. They pulled the cart twice. They weighed at least 100lbs a piece at 10 months. They were enormous dogs – so tall that their heads were higher than the counters in the kitchen. One Thanksgiving, the Rev turned her back for a SECOND and the boys liberated the turkey. This is MY Mom (an imperturbable force of implacable determination) we’re talking about, however. She saved the holiday (and possibly the world) by wresting the bird out of their gigantic jaws, rinsing it off in the sink, and feeding it to us – somewhat worse for wear. The drumsticks didn’t make it.
They were graceful dogs, though, super strong and agile. Dad tells stories about the boys climbing sheer cliff faces with absolutely no effort. As a MAN’s MAN, Dad didn’t want to get them neutered, until one day they knocked him down directly under an electric fence and started simultaneously humping his head. Two days later, the boys lost their, well, boys.
Fergus died first. He grew so fast that his spinal cord got too big for his vertebrae. He became effectively paralyzed at 140lbs. There was really nothing that could be done, aside from an extremely invasive surgery, titanium pins, and years of rehabilitation which only had about a 10% chance of giving him any relief. My parents had to let him go.
Farley, however, was the smaller brother – and grew relatively normally for a puppy his size. Remember, Farley weighed up to 166lbs. He was an immense dog. He hung on for 14 years, a ripe old age for a dog his size.
Tonight, I came home from watching my nephews, and Farley was clearly a mess. He was panting heavily, hadn’t eaten his food, had a hard time getting up, and couldn’t put any kind of pressure on his right rear leg. When he walked, you could see that his back was out of joint, and that his hip was no longer tracking. He was dying. You could look at him and know it. The final proof came for me, when he limped and dragged himself out of the house, and got as far away from us as possible, hiding near the back fence in a bush. I told my parents to call the vet.
We found an emergency vet in Corpus, boosted the dog into the old red Ford Mercury that brought him to Texas (HIS car which he valiantly tried to leap into as he had for years), and the Rev and Dad took off.
When the Parental Units rolled into the vet’s, it was pretty much immediately determined by everyone that it was time to put our boy down. The vet said, “Poor old guy. He’s lost his hips.” And then it was over for Farley. Mom said that he was gone before they even administered the full dose of euthasol. She said she thought his heart was going anyway. He went gently into that good night, and he died with dignity. He was a good dog.
We already miss old Farles. Daddy was out in the garage-cum-music studio this morning playing sad country ballads on the electric guitar, maybe singing to his departed friend. I listened to him for awhile, but those ancient slow songs poked the grief beast that’s nestled inside me, and gave it an opportunity to pounce. I had to go back in the house.
I think the secret to dealing with loss (which you learn early on that you must do in order to be able to love good and hard) is gratitude. The idea is to be thankful through every second of your sadness that you had the opportunity to know someone so amazing, or to experience the depth of emotion that you did, or just to have an adventure that you might otherwise have missed. I’m so grateful to have known Farley. He protected me from horrible might-be-rapists at the lake (no one wanted to fuck with 166lb dog), he snuggled with me on cold days, and he was always around to eat any scraps of food that I might not want. He could snorf a piece of popcorn into his mouth from 5 inches away, and he was tall enough to rest his head on my shoulder when I was sitting down – which he would often do when he wanted some affection or a peanut. He made me a better person in that ineffable and totally doggy way.
And this most of all: he was a good friend. He was pack.