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  • Hannah Grabenstein

Death of a dog

Well. When I began drafting this, what seems like days ago but was really this afternoon, before the bad news and the worse news and the hours in a state Senate Judiciary Committee and the waiting waiting waiting into the late evening for edits on my draft, and the soon to be too cold walk away from the state capitol, down the block to my car and the somber, quiet night ahead of me - way before all that, I thought we had a few more months with the damn dog. Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve said goodbye to Jed for good.


I think the reference in the blog title might be a little obscure for those who hasn't obsessively read essays by E.B. White, so by way of explanation, here is the reference. White's essays are prescient and poignant, and though it will come as no surprise to owners of his collaborative "Elements of Style" with Cornell English professor William Strunk, they are also impeccably written. I recommend them all.


I thought this essay would diverge from White's in that at the end of his, the pig dies. I don't know what will happen at the end of mine, but I think the dog will die too. Right now, the dog is still alive, or was a few hours ago when I called home to confirm the bad news. When I started this, all the way back at 2 p.m. or so, we thought the dog would live. I wrote that the essays would be different. Such is the weight of a few hours, and the power of a delete button.


Last night, I called home as I was leaving work, a habit I began when I moved to Arkansas. When I lived near my parents, I saw them once every week or two, and would call every so often. But when I left, I realized I missed the intimacy I had with all my close friends and family back home, so I called my parents nightly, like a security blanket. It’s a comedy routine at this point; even though my dad always answers “Hi, Hannah,” because of caller ID, I always say, “Hi, it’s Hannah,” like you did in 1999 and you knew the person you were calling wouldn't immediately know it was you.


So I called home last night, and my dad was audibly upset. He explained that Jed had randomly lost function of his back legs, not even two hours after he’d been fine on their evening walk. My mom and sister had taken him to the vet. We would see what would happen.


And ungodly amount of money later, the emergency vet said his blood work looked good, the x-rays were good - and because he was walking again, he was sent home assumed to be fine. This morning, according to my father, he listed and didn’t walk well, but it was possible he had vertigo, an ear infection, was recovering from a stroke, who knows. He’s a dog. Who knows?


But I suppose he took a turn, as they say, which in this case meant he began breathing laboriously. He stopped walking around, couldn’t pick his head up. He’s in pain, I guess.


Here’s where I can’t really keep it together. If he goes, that makes sense. He’s old, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I've been preparing for this damn dog’s death for 10 years. I distinctly remember one time he was sick and I worried throughout my weekend play rehearsal, thinking he was dying. The most recent time I was in a production was my senior year of high school. The absolute latest that could have been in my life was when I was 17. I have known in my heart of hearts that Jed was dying about sixteen thousand times since then, but sometimes I guess I can maybe overreact a touch.


But to think of the dog in pain rips my heart to pieces. That’s not fair. And life isn’t fair, Hannah, no, it isn’t, but do you know what? We should try very, very hard to make things fair. And the only fair, just, right thing to do is to stop that pain.


I’m crying at my desk. Not even my desk. A rental desk, at the state capitol, where two other reporters and I clack away, them, presumably, on stories, me on this poor-girl's therapy.


I could eulogize Jed, I guess, but here, at the end of his life, he’s kind of a nuisance, whining, incontinent, snoring, grouchy.


I guess there’s this. He used to love to chase deer and to run around the house and fetch. He ate so many things he shouldn’t have - Chanukah chocolate which it turns out, doesn’t contain much real chocolate, deer excrement, god knows what else. He was attacked by a bigger dog once and he was on drains and with a cone, all shaved and small and dyed green from the IV, but he was back to normal soon. He's missing so many teeth. He’s so nimble, even so old, jumping from the arm of one couch to the other, though he falls more often now, and apparently he’ll miss steps in the dark of the early morning and tumble down into the wall. He hated when we got Otis, just abhorred it, but has since learned to tolerate his adoring younger brother. Wow, he was a puppy once. I forgot that, but yeah, he was, a little ball of fluff who we begged for and went to “just look at” and then somehow we were driving home with a puppy in my 12-year-old lap.


I think there’s not a lot left to say. There’s real human suffering and death around me - an acquaintance died of liver cancer on Sunday. We just all heard about Alex Trebek. There’s more, but it’s not mine to share.


I will say this: I have noticed a human tendency to want to “celebrate life” instead of mourn death, and I will never understand that. Celebrating life is what life is for. Grieving, remembering, crying, feeling those deep awful slicing bleeding feelings is what death is for. They are gone. You had them, and they’re gone, and you keep going, somehow without them. This is not just about the dog, whom I love with my whole broken body and heart, but about this thing I fear and can’t understand and which has consumed me for as long as I can remember.