He was not a perfect dog, by any means, but he was the ideal pet for our family. He came to us as a 5-pound roly-poly puppy and clawed his way into our hearts and home. His recent death has left a gaping 88-pound hole in our collective hearts.
We knew his failings and came to love them. His quirks were many: his love of freshly grated Parmesan, his ongoing feud with the two fat raccoons who lived in the storm drain near our house, his insistence of sniffing each blade of grass for long minutes before raising his leg, his wariness of silly sounds like the crunch of a twig underfoot and his unrelenting begging for that last piece of cookie. He had habits we found endearing too. His love of wrapped presents, trips to Putah Creek, the joy of endless sunbathing in our backyard and his devotion to his many stuffed animals.
We loved Duke because he had the knack of making each member of our family feel as if he/she was the center of his universe. He gave us undivided, focused attention. He was the ultimate actor, assuming a different role when he interacted with each of us.
He was my youngest son’s playmate, his best bud and best friend. The Klein family story goes that when the boys and their dad went to pick out a puppy from a litter of Redbone Coonhounds, they all noticed the smallest one, but were leaning toward taking home one of the larger athletic puppies. Until…my son looked down and saw the small puppy sitting on his shoes. Apparently Duke picked us! How lucky we were.
Duke was my oldest son’s faithful companion, the one who took him for his first training sessions. Duke loved my son’s pickup truck almost as much as my son. It was hard for Duke to watch my son drive off to college but he gave him a warm welcome every time he visited.
Even before we knew my son’s then-girlfriend would become his wife, Duke welcomed her into our family. He recognized goodness and beauty when he saw it. He enjoyed the long petting sessions he had with her. His final petting session with her gave him so much joy. I’m lucky to have such a compassionate daughter-in-law.
My husband was Duke’s boss, his main man and his true “dad.” They bonded over hours and hours of walking. Every walk, even the one two days before his death, was a joy to Duke. Duke may have missed saying a final good-bye to my husband but that day they spent together was the perfect farewell.
That leaves me as his cook, chauffeur, constant companion, groomer, evening walker and general dogsbody (pun intended). For the past three years we have been together almost 24 hours a day. His wise brown eyes were always following my every move. He sat at my feet as I wrote each day (or attempted to) and I know he is watching me right now, wondering what was on the computer screen that was making me sob so uncontrollably.
I know Duke depended on me for everything: from opening the door (a hundred times a day), to filling his water dish, to taking care of all his needs and so it made complete sense he would depend on me to make the final decision of his life. It was incredibly hard to do (especially since my husband was away), but I did because I knew Duke would want my help to ease his pain and discomfort. After all, that had been my job for the past nine years and I couldn’t quit now.
Being a word geek I, of course, turned to stories and poems to help deal with his overwhelming loss. I hope you don’t mind if I share them with you.
The first is a story from Hindu mythology about a king and his love for his dog. The other is a poem that dispelled any doubts I had about what I had to do to help him on his final journey.
So honor Duke’s memory and go show some love to your pet, eat a vegetarian (vegan) meal, hug your vet!
The Story of Yudishstra and his dog
According to the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers had finished winning back their kingdom and were now on their final journey. Yudishstra, the eldest Pandava, led the way up a mountain, followed by Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva and their common wife Draupadi. A dog also accompanied them.
Along the way, one by one the brothers and Draupadi fall down and die. Finally only Yudishstra and his dog were left and they continued to the top of the mountain where he was greeted by the god Indra. Indra welcomed him to enter his chariot to ascend to heaven. Yudishstra and his dog started to climb into the chariot but Indra stopped them, saying the dog was not welcome. But the king was adamant that the dog accompany him.
“That is impossible,” Indra said. “All cannot attain heaven. The dog is old and thin and has no value.”
According to one version of this story, Yudishstra replied, “In that case, I do not want to go to heaven. The dog was my faithful companion on earth and I cannot abandon him now. It sought my help and gave me unconditional love. The pleasures of heaven mean nothing in comparison to the grief of losing my beloved companion.”
Even though Indra pleaded with the king, Yudishstra stood firm until the god relented.
The Last Battle
If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.