Adapted from Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man . Copyright © 2012 by Brian McGrory. To be released by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House Inc., on November 13.
WE SAT ON THE FRONT STOOP trying to hold on to the moment: me wishing for the world that I could push back time, Harry, my golden retriever, sprawled in his usual spot next to the faded pot of impatiens, his front paws dangling over the top step. I was leaning against him, absently rubbing his furry ears.
When Dr. Pam Bendock arrived, clutching a brown paper bag, Harry thumped his tail and struggled to rise, then remembered that his bones were too weak and his muscles too sore. She began to speak but realized there was nothing good to say. So she leaned down and kissed his forehead, and I said, “If you’d like to head in, we’ll be there in a moment.”
In those few moments, Harry gazed forlornly at the world before him — the century-and-a-half-old side street where we lived, the brick town houses that lined it, the sidewalk from which his friends and admirers so often approached, schoolchildren and neighbors and workmen who always had time to talk. It was a nice world, a soft world, a generous world — Harry’s world.
“Come on, pal,” I finally said, standing up, my voice starting to crack. He pulled himself obediently to his feet, heartbreakingly so, his gaze falling downward as I held open the heavy door and gently guided him inside.
Harry was a month shy of his 10th birthday then, the most intuitive and wonderful creature that I have ever known. He was, to the end, as smart as ever, as kind as he had always been, as knowing as any living being I had ever met, my constant companion on foot, in the car, at home, in stores, in parks, never on a leash, always getting my jokes and playing more than a few himself. We had battled his lymphoma hard these last five months, battled it with steroids, chemotherapy, a new diet; any straw of hope, glimpse of a prayer that we could find, we tried. He hated it, every bit. He’d flop under my legs in the waiting room of the oncologist’s office in suburban Boston and force me to carry him into the treatment area when his name was called. Finally, the stern oncologist told me there was nothing more she could do.
We spent much of that August at a rented house in Maine a mile or so from the beach he loved, and Harry made the most of every minute. He padded slowly along the sand, waded gloriously through the cold surf, and slept soundly in the shade of the wooden back deck as I pecked on a laptop beside him. When I picked up my keys, he didn’t even look at me with a question about whether he was coming, he just sashayed over to the car.
He still loved his morning walks, his evenings on the stoop, his time under the coffee table as I watched the Red Sox make an epic run toward their first World Series victory in 86 years. All the while, he was fighting intense bouts of stomach pain, but he refused to surrender, to give me a sign that it was time to go.
“Harry, it’s OK if you want to give up,” I would tell him softly as he moaned in the dark of the night. But no, he didn’t, or wouldn’t, not until the Sunday in the middle of September when he refused to go out for his last walk of the night and hung his head so low that his nose just about scraped the floor. He slipped into my study and slept alone under my desk, his breathing labored when I got up in the night to sit silently with him.
He appeared even weaker and more dejected the next morning, so I called his veterinarian to let her know it was time. I had vowed not to keep him going on my account, and another day would have been cruel. Dogs don’t fear death, I convinced myself. They don’t even think of it. It’s just what comes at the end. I was adamant that his last hours would be as natural, as dignified as the life that had led up to them.
Inside, Dr. Bendock had unpacked the blue solution and needle and waited. Harry stunned me by picking up a stuffed toy and tossing it around for the briefest moment, showing off for the vet on whom he had always had an obvious crush, until he collapsed on the floor in his favorite spot beneath the bay window with a raspy sigh. He lacked the strength or the will ever to lift his head again.
After some long, silent moments, I nodded, and Dr. Bendock brought over the syringe. I placed my face next to Harry’s as she rubbed fluid on his leg. “Not yet,” I said softly, and I told him I loved him, familiar words by now, that he was the best friend I would ever have, which was also old news, and that I wouldn’t trade one minute of one day with him for anything in the world. All of the thoughts fit together into an irrevocable truth.Continued...