My dog is dying. Her hind legs have become unmanageable, unruly. She can no longer hold her water through the night. She pisses in places that offend her dignity. Her body has become more rebellious than her will to control it. Her life is accelerating relentlessly toward its ending.
To watch her suffer would be painful but to hasten her end, unbearable.
Our lives have been entangled for 16 years. Since we waited for her arrival in summer, in South Florida, in the heat and humidity, waited day after day until the temperature fell to a range safe for her to fly. Since she was a compact bundle of black hair and sharp white teeth streaking around the foredeck and occasionally falling off, falling into the foul water sluggishly ebbing and flooding through the canals of a sailors’ ghetto. Since she chewed my freshly varnished bright work and I chased her around the deck, threatening to pitch her overboard intentionally this time, stubbing my toe on a cleat, adding injury to insult. Our lives have been entangled for a lifetime, her lifetime, a lifetime almost run.
Together we have seen life threatening disease, injury and loss. As well, joy and comfort. Her passing will be a deep wound but I beg a non-existent God that it will be swift, and soon. To watch her suffer would be painful, like drawing a shard of broken glass across my skin, but to hasten her death would be unbearable.
My mind is a simple thing and easily fooled. It can’t tell the difference between something thought and something lived. My dog is still alive but thinking about her death is like living it. The sorrow, the sense of loss, the tears are the same.
Portuguese water dogs have a unique, escalating bark. The third stage is like an ice pick driven through your ear drum.
She’s a Portuguese water dog, a breed we thought appropriate to live onboard a boat although she doesn’t deign to wet her head. Perhaps it was the number of times she fell overboard or the times I threw her overboard, hoping to cool her in the summer heat. South Florida in summer isn’t the place for a black, waterproof dog.
We lived onboard a boat in summer in South Florida, a boat with only one air conditioning unit, a swamp cooler squatting on the hatch over a cabin amidships—two berths stacked like cord wood—with Mizzen in a crate on the cabin sole. I had to sleep in the lower bunk with my hand resting on her crate to keep her quiet, to reassure her I was close throughout the night, or she’d bark. Her bark was like an ice pick driven through your ear drum.
We lived onboard a ketch and named her after a mast because it had fewer syllables than spinnaker and seemed less pretentious than top’sl. The meaning of the word is no longer commonly known, rather like the word grok. We might have named her Grok which has only one syllable but it suffered the same liabilities as top’sl and sounded too much like grout.
Water dogs have a unique, escalating bark. The first stage is deep and threatening, the second alarmed or excited, and the third is an ice pick that will shortly leave you deaf or insane. Water dogs can bark all day without remitting. The kennel attendants as Disney World can confirm. When we came to claim Mizzen at the end of the day, they seemed shell shocked and stuporous and suffering from survivor’s guilt.
I think she enjoyed watching him gasp like a fish on a dock. Retribution!
The deep, defensive bark she mostly reserved for mail carriers. For a time we lived in a house with a plate glass window beside a front door with a mail slot. Mizzen was left home weekdays to guard the house. Each day she watched the mail carrier approaching from a distance and then rattle the metal mail slot, trying to get it. We often found teeth marks on the first class mail scattered around the front room. There was bad blood between her and the Post Office.
I was once home on a weekday with Mizzen off leash in the front yard when the mail carrier’s rounds intersected with fate. Mizzen saw her first, across the street and down the block—her ancient enemy. She charged with unmistakable intent. I’m not sure she would have done harm, she’s never bitten anyone except in play, but the mail carrier was forearmed with pepper spray. I spent the next 30 minutes rinsing it from her eyes.
She made no distinction between FedEx and the USPO. I took her to work with me at Hall of Fame Marina. She slept curled at my feet when I worked at my desk, unconcerned with the public coming and going, except for FedEx deliveries. Then she materialized from behind the desk and delivered a single, deep, menacing bark that would retract the delivery man’s testicles like a snapped shade. She never approached him, never bared her teeth, and it was never more than a single bark. I think she actually enjoyed watching the FedEx guy gasp like a fish on a dock. Retribution!
She will not survive life.
No one does.
She has survived to the old age of 16 despite the odds. She’s survived a dreadful disease transmitted by the Lone Star Tick, vehicular hit and run, breast cancer and toe cancer and liver disease. She used to be terrified by the sound of smoke alarms but now she’s nearly deaf. And, of course, her hind legs have rebelled against central control. They slide from beneath her when standing on tile or hardwood until her belly meets the floor.
She will not survive life. No one does. I understand that intellectually but it doesn’t reach my heart. I’ll miss her most at 4:00 am when I wake and she’s not lying on the floor at my side of the bed.