Real Life

Owner of a Broken Heart

Okay, so that’s not what it’s really called.

Not the name, but those words are in the lyrics …

This song (how is it possible that it’s 41 years old?!) came to mind this morning as I think about the tear-filled evening I spent watching anime last night. It’s been two weeks since I got up and saw how my sweet big boy (dog) Woola was struggling, his wavering steps in the door of my office, how hard he seemed to be … trying to do everything. My heart is still so sore from finding him the morning of 8 January, laying in the hall across from my office where he’d fallen, his mouth and eyes partially open, surrounded by waste as his body gave up its last. I’d heard a thump around two or so that morning and suspected it was him but couldn’t bring myself to get up and see.

I went out there at about six. The hall was dark, but I could see his shape from the light over the stove that shined toward me. I turned on the light and there he was.

I miss him and have wondered what I missed — what clue was there that he was sick that I either looked over or ignored out of fear. It’s a total guilt trip, a selfish one at that: had I discovered for example that he’d had cancer, I don’t have the funds to handle that. I would have had to take other measures, which would have been worse in a way for my psyche.

See what I said about selfish …

Woola’s brother died last year. My neighbor-friend was his human mom and I was devastated when she told me that (at least I think I remember this …) that he’d taken sick and then was gone. I tried to justify (read: think of myself as a ‘better dog mom’ for a while. Yeah, I know how wrong that is) that it was because he was an always outdoor dog.

I thought my boy just had a skin condition. He’d been itching or so it seemed for months. I tried the vet-prescribed shampoo, changed his food a few times, put booties on him, and kept him in a cone for a long time, but nothing seemed to stop him from chewing on his legs and feet. His eyes would run when he came in from doing his business in the grass and he’d run to scrub himself against the edge of the couch, so that seemed to confirm what I was thinking.

But one day, it looked like his feet were swollen. He wasn’t limping or trying to stay off his feet, so I thought it was my imagination. When I took him and Sputnik, my girl, to the vet for their annual shots a couple weeks before he died, the vet noticed that one of his front toes (why can’t I remember which foot?) had a lump. ‘I don’t like the looks of that,’ he’d said, ‘but let’s just keep an eye on it. Let me know if it changes.’ He hadn’t said more but we’d gone on to talk about the itching. He’d given Woola some pills and told me to report back after he’d taken them all over the next couple weeks.

I had to take Sputnik the next week for dental work and dutifully reported that the pills were sort of working. I also said the lump on the toe hadn’t changed and Dr. Smith said we’d leave it alone then. What I hadn’t said was that before I’d brought him into the office that week before, he’d thrown up like three times outside the vet’s office. It was a copious amount of food, more than he could have eaten in several days. He’d been going to the bathroom regularly, so I figured it had just been nerves. I had fed him before we came to the vet, after all.

But when I went into the room where both dogs hang out that Sunday morning two weeks ago, he’d thrown up overnight. There were about three piles around the room. Seeing him so weak and knowing he’d been sick overnight was overwhelming.

And then he was gone.

In my teary moment last evening, I went looking at the pet adoption site. I saw a dog, a boy of about two years, and I saved him in my ‘favorites’. He reminded me a wee bit of my precious boy Woola. My husband had suggested I think about getting another dog. After all, Sputnik is eleven. I have thought on it and even as we had that conversation I said I didn’t think I could go through this again.

I closed the adoption web page and started looking at custom stuffed animal websites. I found one where they use photos of your pet and create plush stuffed animals, tee-shirts, mugs, magnets, and all sorts of things. The plushes even have a compartment in the bottom where you can put a keepsake, like your pet’s ashes.

I knew I couldn’t have Woola’s ashes but I have his collar. I imagined having a plush that looks like him that I could put the collar on.

I uploaded the photos they require for the job but couldn’t complete the process of purchasing. My heart is broken. I wasn’t sure I could look across my office, bedroom, or the couch to see a miniature of him. It’s just too hard, too raw.

I left the purchase in the website shopping cart but am thinking I might delete it, but I just don’t know.

Andree Koehler is a writer and academic. She uses several noms de plume, so you never know who she'll be when she arrives at the party.

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