Two days before I left for the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the dogs, Aluco, came in to the house and lay silently on his bed. He hardly moved, even when I sat right next to him. A wary dog, he usually shifted away, his eyes betraying both longing to be close yet fear of being hurt or abandoned, like he had been before.
I know what that's like.
The day before this, Aluco had been his typical self, so it was a puzzle. I usually think that illness is temporary, maybe because I like to live in denial when it comes to pets. But J knew something was wrong, and he took Aluco to the vet. There he found that Aluco's heart was enlarged to a strange shape and a bloody fluid surrounded it. Two days, maybe three, the vet said. J made the call that I would have been unable to make. The vet said he would come over at five.
How to describe those hours? My heart broke as I watched J sitting on the porch talking to the dog he had rescued when nobody else wanted him. "You know I love you," I heard J say to Aluco. This was a dog that, when taken from a hoarding situation, had to be moved from his pen with a noose and a stick. This was a dog who bit out of fear, who had to be tranquilized to be put in the truck for the first time. J slept on the porch with him for the first weeks, and gradually Aluco grew to be a dog that knew what love was for the first time.
I know what that's like.
In the afternoon, Aluco perked up a little. He walked around the yard. He sat in his usual place in the trees, the place we called the diorama because it always looked like a wolf sitting in the forest when he sat there. When the vet pulled up, Aluco walked over to say hello.
I think I would not have been brave enough right then. I would have said, let's wait a few more days. But this was J's dog, and he knew the right thing to do. Aluco sat by J as the vet tranquilized him, with J petting him the whole time. Then it was time for the final needle.
After it was over, and we took our sweet dog to the place where we bury all of our pets, a place by the river, it was hard to imagine that he was gone. Losing a pet is gaining a hole in the heart. Animals are purer souls than all of us. They teach us what love is all about. They show us the kind of person we could be, if we were brave and true enough.
I saw a lot of myself in Aluco. Scarred from the past, I didn't want anyone to come closer than an imaginary line that I drew. I wanted to let someone in, but the gap seemed too big, no bridge I trusted enough to cross. What if it was like before, I thought. Easier to believe that no relationships ever worked out, that I was impermeable, that life was better on my own.
I was wrong.
Aluco taught me that. He showed me that no matter what haunts you, you can learn to trust that you won't be abandoned, that there is a place for you by the fire, that even if it doesn't last forever, loving someone with all of your bruised and broken heart is worth it.
We'll miss you, sweet dog.