May 15, 2006
I still see his ghost out of the corner of my eye, curled up on the floor, asleep. And I still hear his phantom footfalls, softly padding behind me. But mostly the house just seems really big, and silent, and empty, now that Mr. Jones is gone.
He first came into my life as a six week old ball of fluff. I had bought him a little yellow rubber ball with a bell inside it, and the first time I rolled it at him he ran and hid under the couch. But before long he was 85 pounds, and the yellow rubber ball was his favourite plaything. For the next fifteen years, it was Mr. Jones and me against the world. Women would come and go, my kids would come and go, but Mr. Jones was always there, by my side through thick and thin.
During my darkest hours, it was Mr. Jones I went to for a hug. You could wrap your arms around his neck and bury your face in his thick fur, and he would lie still, and absorb your anxiety like a sponge. A soft, warm, furry sponge. He would never squirm and try to get away. He would take it, like a true friend.
When elation was the order of the day, Mr. Jones was the first one I would share it with. When I whooped and cheered, Jones would bark with excitement, and the two of us would dance together around the house. He shared my joy as if it was his own, once again, as only a true friend can.
Mr. Jones was a great guy to watch a movie with and share a bowl of popcorn. Popcorn was one of his favourite things in life, and when he saw me getting the popper ready, he would go nuts, barking and prancing like a goof. When I threw a piece of popcorn in his direction, and it came anywhere near him, he would catch it in his mouth. He had amazing reflexes. We watched a lot of movies together, and went through a lot of popcorn over the years, Mr. Jones and I. He really was, in every way, the best of friends.
His last day, Monday, May 8, did not start well. He woke me up at 3:00 AM. He was whining, and Mr. Jones never whined, so I knew something was really bothering him. I jumped out of bed and found him in a sitting position, straining and struggling to stand up, but his back legs just wouldn't work. I lifted his back end up for him, and discovered why he had been whining. He had soiled himself, and had been sitting in his own feces, and unable to move. And as I was cleaning him up he turned and looked at me with the saddest, most forlorn, pleading look in the world that said, "Can't you do something?"
The poor old guy could barely walk any more, and his bodily functions were now largely beyond his control. So with eyes brimming with tears, I phoned the vet. It was one of the most difficult phone calls I have ever made. I almost didn't get through it, having to stop and choke back the tears more than once.
I didn't want to put my old friend through the trauma of a trip to the clinic in town, so I arranged for the vet to come out to the ranch that evening at 5:00. When I hung up the phone, I sat down on the floor with Jones, and stayed with him for the next hour or so, talking to him, and stroking his fur. It was a very long day. All I thought about was Jones. All we'd been through together. And was I doing the right thing? Was it too soon? Or should I have done it sooner? It was a very long, sad, stressful day.
At 5:00 I had everything arranged, but the vet didn't show up. The next two hours waiting for the vet were the longest two hours of my life. Waiting for the grim reaper to come and take away my dear old friend. But as anxious as I was, Mr. Jones was in the best of spirits. I carried him outside, and got him up on his feet, and he went trucking (in his limping, staggering way) off into the trees! Walking had become so difficult he usually didn't venture more than a few feet from the door of the house any more. But now he was exploring, following his nose, seeking adventure, just like the old days. And I followed him, glad for him, happy to see him acting like a normal, healthy dog, one last time. He fell over once, and I had to lift him back up, and he went right back to trucking along again, as if he knew. As if he knew it was his last chance to be a dog, and enjoy the profound doggy joys of sniffing your way through the magical mysteries of the woods and fields.
It was the longest walk Jones had taken in a very long time, and when we got back to the house at about 7:00, he was wheezing like a locomotive, and barely able to stand, and that's when the vet finally arrived. He was very apologetic, and started talking about emergency calls, and cell phone coverage, and God knows what, but I didn't really hear him. All I could think about was that I only had a few more minutes with my best friend.
As I hugged and petted Jones beside the vet's truck, I heard him say something about giving Jones a shot of sedative to make him sleepy. Mr. Jones never even noticed the prick of the needle in his rump. Then I picked him up, and carried him up onto the back sundeck.
It was an exceptionally beautiful Cariboo evening. I had Mr. Jones lie down, and I stretched out right beside him. I hugged him, and stroked his forehead, and gently tugged on his ears, the way he liked. And as we sat in the warm glow of the setting sun, looking out over the meadow, Jones lowered his head down between his paws, and began to nod off to sleep. It was the most beautiful, peaceful experience in the world. He never even noticed the vet administer the final injection. He was already fast asleep, happily dreaming his doggy dreams, with a look of complete contentment on his face. It was so profoundly peaceful, and comfortable, sitting there in the sun, I couldn't help but be grateful, and think that this is exactly how I would like to go when my time comes: to fall gently asleep, overlooking a meadow budding with fresh spring grass, bathed in the warm glow of a Cariboo sunset, beside someone I love.
I buried Mr. Jones on a small rise, in a grove of pine trees, overlooking the meadow where he used to play. I dressed him up in his best collar, and laid his favourite toy, that same little rubber ball I had bought so long ago that had somehow lasted all these years, beside him. I can see his resting place from the deck, and it comforts me. I know his spirit will always be near.
I've been working hard at choking back the tears over the last few days, but I'm going to let them come now. It's the least I can do, for such a friend.