When the Wasband and I got married, we had two dogs. One was a Rottweiler-Chow mix and the other was a Husky. We also had two cats. When we moved from Colorado to California, it was in an R.V. with the two boys, the two cats, and the two dogs. I have never stepped foot in an R.V. since. It was three days in an R.V. with my entire family and most of what we owned. I felt I had been tricked into camping. And I do not camp. That’s another chapter of my life. This chapter is about my white dog Kimba.
The two dogs and the two cats that we moved to California with all lived long pet lives but of course, eventually died. The kids were sad but were young and now, they don’t recall much about that first set of pets. We eventually ended up with three more dogs and another cat. Kimba, a huge white mix; Atticus, an Australian Shepherd; Tommy, a Bichon; and Veronica the cat. Along the way there were also assorted hamsters, rats, and amphibians. When Max was in third grade, he wanted a hamster and promised if he could keep it in his room, he would take care of it. He got Lightening the Hamster. He had her for over a year before she died.
We buried Lightening in the back yard in a Tupperware container, in his garden, between the snapdragons and the beets. Max was distraught. He laid on top of her grave until it was dark, crying. He asked me, “Mom, when we move, can we dig her up and take her with us? I don’t want to leave her.” I said, “Honey, I don’t think we are ever going to move.” Besides Lightening, we’ve buried two rats, two extra-large goldfish, and another hamster. Not a great selling point that I have a pet cemetery in my backyard.
When the Wasband and I divorced, as I have already mentioned, I ended up with the house and all the (living) pets, per the settlement agreement. It took my breath away, trying to make ends meet and support it all. Every morning three dogs clattered down the stairs with me. While my coffee brewed, I filled water bowls and food bowls. I cleaned up the backyard in my yoga pants and DU t-shirt. I cried. It seems like I cried for two solid years, every morning. Then I would make my coffee and stop crying because it was time to get ready for work. My girl, my big white mutt Kimba, would follow me, every step I took. She would lie outside the bathroom door while I showered and got ready.
She would lie in front of the closet door while I selected an outfit for the day and carefully stepped over her to avoid getting fur on my clothing. She would follow me back downstairs and I’d give her a last peck on the head before I left. “I love you, old girl,” I would say. “Wumpf,” she’d reply, and arrange her old, tired bones in front of the back door.
I knew she was getting old. It was harder and harder for her to climb the stairs. She had various infections and old lady dog issues. I would lie on the floor at night next to her and listen to her precarious breathing. And then one night, after a friend had been visiting, I went out into the backyard and she was lying in her favorite spot. And she had stopped breathing. My sweet old girl was gone.
And I had a 130-pound unresponsive white mutt in the middle of my yard at midnight on a Friday night. I called Shane. He came over after his job at the movie theater and helped me say the Mourner’s Kaddish over her, wrap her up in a sheet. We sat with her and cried. I said, “I need help moving her tomorrow. Can you help me?” He said, “Okay, call me and I’ll come back if you need me.” And I was alone, with a giant dead white dog.
That night I sat with my big girl in my backyard. All I could think was, well, I can’t put her with the rest of the pets in the pet cemetery. And I don’t want the neighbors wondering what I’m burying now. I have to figure this out. I never thought I’d have to deal with a huge dead dog in my yard. On top of dealing with the fact that she had been my constant and loving best furry friend for the last 12 years, I had to figure out what to do with her body. I had no master plan for that.
The next day, I found out that a local vet hospital would take her body and help me with a cremation service. But I had to get her there. I rolled my wheelbarrow into the backyard and tried to push her into it by myself. It wasn’t happening. I ended up on the ground next to the wheelbarrow, sobbing. I called Shane. He said, “Mom, can’t the vet come over and help you?” I said, “Shane, it’s Saturday. Vets don’t make house calls. And I can’t lift her by myself.” He came over, and brought Max.
They helped me pick up their dog and put her into the wheelbarrow. We wheeled her around to the front of the house and loaded her into the truck of my car. Then my boys crawled into the trunk of the car with our sweet gone girl and cried and said goodbye to her. And then I closed the trunk and drove my dog to the 24-hour vet service. The entire time I was thinking, this will be the day that I get fucking rear ended. And my trunk will pop open and I have this huge dog wrapped in sheets in there. Like the fucking dog Mafia.
I finally made it to the parking lot of the vet service, I walked into the lobby and told the girl at the counter that I was there to deliver my deceased dog and I burst into tears. She took all my information down. She asked me, “Do you want your dog cremated separately or can she be cremated with other animals?” I felt like saying, “I’M FREAKING JEWISH,” but then I realized I was getting my dog cremated so I was basically a hypocrite. And I said, “Separate, please.” She told me to go and wait in the parking lot and there would be some helpers to come and get Kimba’s body. And then she got on the loudspeaker and said, “Need assistance for deceased dog in the front parking lot.” Great. I was a deceased dog owner in the parking lot.
I waited by my car and two young girls came out with a gurney. We extricated Kimba from the trunk of my car and I took her collar and said goodbye to her. I went back into the lobby. The young girl who had been helping me came back and gave me a brochure about urns and told me it would be $167.00. I gave her my credit card and she told me they would call me when Kimba’s ashes were back. And I left my girl and came home.
And it occurred to me that for $167.00, my kids could put me in a dog suit and take me to the 24-hour vet and dispense with some expensive burial costs. I don’t know that it would be entirely legal. But it would sure be expeditious. Just a thought. I mean, I don’t really care what happens to my body after I am gone. I know that I needed something back when my dog died, a box with her ashes and bones. How different would it be for my kids to have a small box with my ashes and bones in it? Except it would be weird for them to have it on their mantle with a little plaque that said, “Mom.” They would probably be judged for that. Better to have them put me in a coffee can and dump my ashes into the Pacific Ocean, that’s Plan A.
The Sunday after Kimba died, I took my car and traded it in. There were other reasons but to be honest, I couldn’t deal with having the car that I had driven my poor sweet dead dog around town in. When I got the trade in value for the car one of the items noted was, “Pet smell.” I refrained from telling the salesperson that for about two hours, I had been a dog coroner.
Pet smell. That smell was my girl’s soft white belly that I cried into night after night, when she took her place at the foot of my bed. That smell was there when my sons came home and collapsed onto her, hugging her neck. That smell was the companionship of years of unfailing, unwavering, nonjudgmental, pure love.
Her vet used to say to me, “I’m not sure if she is a complete mutt or maybe some rare purebred dog.” I never knew what kind of dog she was. I just called her a white dog. She was my white lion. I still wake up and look for her at the foot of my bed, keeping me safe from my own nightmares. She stayed with me long enough for me to survive the aftermath, the divorce, the hardest part of learning to be alone. And for that, I will always be grateful to my old white dog.
Lessons of Old Dogs
Old dogs do not worry that
Their fur is graying
That their walk is slowing.
Old dogs await the noise
Of your key in the door-lock.
They do not care that the evening mile
Has become once around the block.
Old dogs are not afraid
To fall or fail
To be tired or sad.
Old dogs are not afraid of love.
Old dogs are not afraid of death.
Dog years do not allow for such fears,
only human years do.
And so we are given old dogs.