On a wintery morning last November, I opened up my laptop and read the following post from the writer Jon Katz on his blog, Bedlam Farm:
Rose died on Friday evening, euthanized after a long and severe wasting disease that left her in pain and without spirit. She died in ease and comfort...her head resting on my arm.
I let out an unexpected and mournful sob which brought Scott running into my little office off the kitchen. Oh, no, I thought, not beautiful Rose, the nearly mythical Border Collie who inhabited many of Jon Katz' books. Not Rose of Washington County, defender of hearth and home, manager of sheep, donkeys and even geese.
I thought Rose would live forever. She was a dog in a book.
But, alas, Rose was not a fictional dog; she was Jon's very real companion, who was always by his side as he struggled to find himself in middle age, in the midst of personal crisis, as he tried to morph from city slicker to gentleman farmer.
She died alright, just as Jon was putting the finishing touches on Going Home, his insightful book on grieving the death of our beloved pets. And through Jon's blog, we, his community bore witness to her final hours on Earth. We were virtual mourners as he buried her high on the hill where she had sat for hours surveying her domain.
As I read the post, the emotions welled up inside of me. I looked down at my own lovely Golden Retriever, Hannabelle, who lay on the cool kitchen tile, breathing laboriously, grateful for any respite from her own wasting illness. And to the right, I saw Ming the pug, who, just that fall, had begun to have fainting spells to go along with her own rattling breathing.
As I wept for Rose, I also wept for them because I knew both cherished dogs were living on borrowed time. On that chilly November day, miles and countries apart, Jon Katz and I grieved together, he for a loss that had just happened, me for a loss that would soon come.
It was a beautiful moment, but it was also heartbreaking.
Hannah died in February, from cancer, and Ming died two months later from respiratory complications during dental surgery.
The week Hannah died was the week Jon Katz published his book on grieving. I read it the day after I said goodbye to my lovely Hannah and I read it again when Ming took her last journey down the Green Mile at the Pretoria Pet Hospital. I was comforted by Jon's words and his view that dogs come into our lives for a reason and then, when it is time, they go.
Their reward for their love and duty is a painless end to illness and suffering. That is a gift that we give them, however reluctantly and sadly. A dog's job is to shepherd us through our often difficult lives, without judgment. Our job is to let her go when it is her time.
This week, I ordered Jon's latest book, The Story of Rose: A Man and his Dog, his tribute to the Border Collie who helped him change his life. What an exquisitely written book about an exceptional dog. I read it in the rain under an umbrella in the side garden, with Gordie the old pug sleeping soundly under my chair, and Finnigan, the black Lab, the newest interloper in my life, dutifully taking up his post by the fence.
I read about Rose and I thought about Hannah and Ming. The dogs who saved me during my own difficult time, and I smiled. There is no room for tears, only for good memories and thanks.