Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is loving an animal supposed to be heart-wrenching?

Every once in awhile life gets in the way of writing. And it makes you stop and think about stuff other than... well, writing. Last week my neighbour called. She works nights so we don't see each other as often as I'd like. She's one of those special people, the kind that would give you her last loaf of bread or cup of coffee. A genuine person. Someone I liked right from the start.

I knew as soon as I heard her voice that something was wrong. She asked if my husband was home. He wasn't. I said, "What's wrong?" then waited for what I knew would be bad news. There's a voice that people inevitably use when they're hurting. Even if they try hard not to, you recognize the pain. I've looked into the face of someone smiling and seen it.

But this was over the phone; that's how clear her pain was.

"Cajun can't walk."

"Ah, shit." Not exactly the comforting words I meant to say.

Cajun, a beautiful Louisiana Catahoula Leopards, who acted more like a cat than a dog, had been ailing off and on over the winter. Her legs had given her trouble, and I hadn't seen much her during the Spring. For years she'd been coming over to flirt with our dog; for the past 5 it had been Bandit, who was tied up because he didn't know the words: Stay home.

Bandit had a major crush on Cajun, so much so that I think she relished taunting him. She'd park herself just outside the range of his 50' run & smile seductively; I swear. Sometimes, while he had his leash stretch so tight his eyes bulged, she'd wave her butt in his face, then stroll off as if she had better things to do than waste her time with a virgin.

For years, we've been counting on Cajun to keep tabs on the neighbourhood. She'd confront a bear, cougar, fox, without hesitation. Yet, children could climb over her or under her without fear. Many visitors would remark on what a gentle dog we had. We'd answer, "You obviously mean our neighbour's dog, Cajun, not our rambunctious Syberian Husky, Bandit?"

Cajun's mum said. "I think she's had a stroke. I need some help getting her into my truck." Then her voice cracked.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. In my mind's eyes I saw Cajun struggling to stand. She had a sense of grace about her, and so I knew not being able to stand would have caused her great embarrassment and fear.

I felt helpless. No husband meant the two of us would never get her in the truck by ourselves.

My neighbour said it was okay, she'd call another friend. I added something about, "I hope Cajun's okay", but even then I sensed the worse. I hung up feeling hopeless. Then I did something strange. I cried. I tried going back to work, reminding myself that Cajun wasn't our dog. Sure she thought her yard and the two between us belonged to her, but she never ate here. Though she did stay the night once. We experience a lot of electrical storms during the summers; Cajun hated them. One night when her mum was working graveyards, Cajun was outside enjoying the late evening sun. Our son usually went over just after dark and let her into her house. Unless it had been an especially hot day. Then she'd stay out and sleep under the stars.

This one particular night the storm hit fast and hard. The thunder was so loud, I was sure the windows would break. Cajun came to the balcony door and worked the screen door open with her nose. I heard the noise and peeked over my bedroom loft in time to see her curl up on the floor beside our son who was asleep on the sofa bed. When I looked down the next morning, there she lay on the bed with her legs straight out and her back pushed up against our son's, who by this time was pressed up against the window. Neither one of them had seemed to mind sharing the bed.

The day after Cajun's stroke, I called my neighbour, but she wasn't home. I paced, then finally walked out to the road to see if her truck was there. It wasn't. On the way back to the house I decided that was a good sign. And it was until our son reminded me that she worked afternoons. It was another day before I found out from our other neighbour that Cajun had passed on. That evening, Cajun's mum emailed to say she'd been with her when Vet gave her the final injection.

Gads, even as I type this I'm getting emotional.

What is it about pets that makes us feel so vulnerable? I've lost my fair share of companions, and during all those times I've wondered if it's some cosmic joke that the average age of a dog is only 14 years. I look at my mother-in-law and worry that something might happen to her dog before my mother-in-law passes. She's 92 and still raring to go. Her small dog is 5. Cajun wasn't our dog, but she was special. Like a neighbourhood mascot. Seeing her stroll through our yard was as common a sight as watching the leaves turn every Fall. It was a vision of comfort and ... I'm not sure what. I'm still trying to remind myself that she wasn't our dog.

We bring these lovable little creatures home, then if we're pragmatics, (as I seem to be turning into) can only hope for a decade of companionship before it's time to say goodbye.

It doesn't seem fair.

This is the closest photo I could find that resembled Cajun.

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