“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Karas
At the end of April, a few days before we were leaving for vacation in Colorado, my friend Eric mentioned his dog, Argus, started limping. Since Eric was going on vacation with us he wanted to get his Argus into the vet before we left. His regular vet didn’t have any openings but fortunately he found one a little further away that could see him on a Sunday. I texted him after the appointment asking how it went and he didn’t respond. A delayed response is pretty normal for Eric but this felt ominous.
Five years ago, I was feeling pretty tender after losing my beloved dog Biscuit and as an antidote was browsing the local shelter’s website for available dogs. It was a Friday afternoon and all of a sudden a dog that was a yellow lab/golden retriever mix popped up – so new to the site he didn’t even have a picture.
As soon as Miss O woke from her nap, I scooped her up and we went to the shelter. The dog had just come in, they thought he was 2-3 years old. He’d been adopted out from a shelter and then returned two weeks later because he was too high energy. I knew that with a 1 ½ year-old child that I couldn’t adopt him but I filled out the paperwork to put him on hold in case Eric did. Many years prior when Eric and I dated (before we become just friends and it’s not just a phrase but it works for us), he had a yellow lab and I had a golden retriever. His lab had died at a ripe old age and he hadn’t yet gotten a new dog.
Eric came down and visited the dog the next day with us. When he jumped at the opportunity to adopt him, he was surprised to find that I’d already filled the paperwork out. It started the joke that I adopted the dog for him.
Argus was high energy and full of surprises but he fit with Eric. Argus would find a way to lie on the couch no matter how many stools or chairs Eric put up there to keep him off. So Eric came up with a plan to put a towel on Argus’ side of the couch where he could lie – but that just meant Argus laid on Eric’s side. Have you seen that Internet meme where there’s a couch with three dogs on it and a man sitting on the floor in front of it that says, “It took a lot of training but finally he learned”? That was a perfect description for Eric and Argus.
A few months ago Eric ordered take-out Indian food. He put the Naan bread on the table when he stepped into the kitchen for a moment to load his plate and came back. There was “non” bread anymore and Argus didn’t even look guilty.
Miss O thought she could practice training dogs by working with Argus. Which worked pretty well when Argus felt like complying. One day we right behind her as she walked Argus until he saw some dogs ahead and pulled off like a shot, Miss O hanging on to the leash as he pulled her along on her butt down the sidewalk for 50 feet.
Eric called me the day after his vet appointment. The vet found cancer all through the leg and it had already spread to the lungs. Treatment meant amputating the leg and a lot of chemotherapy and the vet was pretty clear it still wouldn’t likely work. Eric had to make the decision to put Argus down. He said it took 90 minutes from the beginning of the appointment to the end.
Hot tears spilled on my cheek as we talked about Argus and saying good-bye. It didn’t feel like he was old enough to have to go. Where were the golden years when he mellowed out? It’s taken me three weeks to write about this because my ache for my friend and this beautiful dog is too close to the heart.
But then yesterday I listened to a Ten Percent Happier podcast with New Yorker writer and author of Lost & Found Kathryn Schulz and it helped me find the words. She observes that it’s funny that we use the same word “lost” to describe the hat we misplaced and the people we love who have died. She added that we grieve in proportion to the way we love them which I take to mean that I wouldn’t have spent six paragraphs describing my hat like I just did with Argus. But she eloquently described the bafflement we feel when we’ve lost our keys and when we’ve lost someone to be very similar. Even though the time and way we’ll grieve will be different, the feeling of “What? I just had them in my hand!” is the same incomprehension.
I’ve been writing about the long good-bye for my daughter and her friend that is moving in three months and then this too short good-bye snuck up to show me the opposite end of the spectrum. It turns out that all good-byes feel hard. But I find solace in to knowing that good-bye started as a shortening of “God be with you,” I find comfort in wishing God be with you to Argus.
P.S. If the name Argus (or sometimes spelled Argos) sounds familiar, Eric named him Argus after Odysseus’ faithful dog. When Odysseus returned from his 20 years at war and wandering, Argus was the only one that recognized him. He lifted his head to see his master one last time and then died.