Friday, my sister wrote a sweet post about my dog, Harry. Aside from a few minor mistakes in some of the details of Harry's arrival on my doorstep, she got it right. Harry most definitely had the life and was treated like a prince. Lived in LA and the West Village, vacationed in upstate New York and the Hamptons, and for years was the office dog, always with lots of love - and crumbs of food. He had it better than a hell of a lot of people.
He was a sweet, quirky dog. Although he was in a little body, he always had a big personality and an even bigger heart. He clearly had stamina like no other - 18 years. And he could have lived longer. But what we're allowed to do with dogs, and not people, is decide when life isn't really living any more, but just getting through the day. Harry was leaning towards the latter - and probably for far longer than I wanted to admit. But death is pretty fucking final. And it's not so easy to make that call for someone who won't tell you if that wag of his tail means he is happy and wants to live or his inability to find me in the apartment was causing him serious amounts of anxiety and unhappiness. I know it would have been hard to make the call at any time, but since my mother died only 6 months ago, I think the indecision was a bit more pronounced. After two cancelled appointments to "put him down," I called in my sister. Since she and I went through my mom's tragic ordeal together - her consistently more accepting of the inevitable - I had to have her "make me do it." I made the third appointment knowing she would be at the vet waiting for me - so theoretically couldn't not show up...
In all the years I had Harry, I can't count the number of times people referred to Harry as my child, me the mother. It's a weird dog person thing. It always annoyed the shit out of me. I loved Harry to death (literally, it seems), and he was a definite member of the family - but he was a dog, not a kid. Never going to be able to talk, to feed himself, to venture out on his own. Other than caring for someone, tending to their needs, and wanting for them to be happy, I never compared the two situations. Caring for a child is clearly way more intense and wrought with decisions never have to be made for a dog. But on the flip side, a dog is essentially two years old forever. Harry never said let me do that myself or I'm off to hang out with my buddies, can I get some cash.
So for 17 years, I've been planning life around Harry and his schedule. His walks, his feeding, my travel, and any last minute invites... it was all about Harry being tended to. It sounds like I minded - but I didn't. I adored him, and him me - unconditionally. It is what we love about our dogs. They are always there, happy when you come home, happy when you pet them, feed them, walk them - happy to follow you around the house. And I loved him for it. But 17 years of doing - and having - anything is a very long amount of time. That 18 pound dog filled the house in a way that made him feel gigantic. And now his absence makes the place feel vastly empty.
Walking into the apartment without him is as odd as knowing I don't have to get home to tend to him. Friday afternoon I stopped by my friend Christina's to visit with her and see her brand new baby girl. I stayed through dinner into the early evening - no need to rush home. Yesterday I took my friend Jane up on her offer to come out to West Hampton - because I could, for the first time in 17 years not having to decline a last minute offer because what was I to do with Harry.
It's all something to get used to. And I won't lie that there is some freedom to it. Especially as the last few years Harry's doggy dimentia worsened and his interest in me lessened. Less relationship and more resonsibility. But it didn't stop me from having a good cry on Saturday morning as I had to throw away his unused dog food and dog treats. His collar still sits on my counter - which, eventually, when I get around to it may be a bracelet for myself. And so too remains his dog bed. Couldn't seem to throw that out yet. It's like the seat for Elijah. I know he's not coming back - but a little reminder of what he was.