“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger A. Caras
Part 3. The final act. If you are one of those people who cannot read a story where a dog dies, I commiserate with you, and caution you that this is one of those tales. I’ve written about my pets throughout this blog, and about Amos in particular in part one, part two, and a guest blog post. He died on October 4, at the age of 13. It hardly seems possible that I’ve lived without him for nearly 2 weeks.
I moved into my first and current home at the beginning of May 2008. The following week I applied to adopt a dog from Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota. I’d had my eye on Amos and a couple other dogs for weeks, but once I had a home visit and was approved to begin meeting dogs, I had second thoughts about Amos. He was under socialized, morbidly obese, and just finishing treatment for heartworm disease. He was a wreck of a dog and I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of helping him. But his foster mom called me and asked me to just come meet him and see. So I did.
Never having adopted or even owned a dog, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one of the adolescent daughters in the foster home answered the door and escorted me to the master bedroom, where Ann, Amos’s foster mom, sat leaning against her bed with her golden retriever, Logan, next to her. She was a very experienced foster mom who later told me she wondered what I would think of having to come to her bedroom to meet Amos but he was too scared to be anywhere else. He was lying on a dog bed against the wall – obese at 109 pounds, panting heavily, and with a beautiful coat except for his shaved back. He was so overweight the veterinarian had to shave him to find the correct spot to inject treatment for heartworm disease. Not knowing what else to do after introducing myself to the family, I sat down cross-legged on the floor a couple feet from Amos. He heaved himself to his feet and lumbered over to me, placed his nose against mine and licked my chin. Then he plopped back down on his dog bed as Ann began to cry, telling me, “He doesn’t do that to just anybody.” We talked for an hour as I petted Amos and he fell asleep, drooling on my leg.
The following morning, I was in court waiting in the hall for my next hearing when my friend and coworker Jason sat down next to me. He had heard about my meeting with Amos from our friend Jill. “So it’s a love match?” he asked.
I hemmed and hawed. I was scared as hell this dog would require too much of me, but the rest, as they say, is history.
At the end of May 2008, Amos moved into my home and Jason came to visit. Really, his visit was also our meeting for trial preparation, which normally would have been held in our office, but he agreed to come to my house so I wouldn’t have to leave Amos alone that first weekend before an intense week of trial. So we finalized our strategy and discussed witnesses as I fed Amos peanut butter on a spoon in an attempt to lure him out of the corner of my living room where he was hunkered down. We knew our case was a loser – sexual abuse where our client left his DNA behind – but we fought like hell. Jason and I talked by phone one night that week about the next day’s witnesses.
“I hope Amos turns out a lot better than this case will,” I told Jason.
“Me, too,” he replied. “Amos has you so he has a chance. Our client was lost a long time ago.”
I knew Amos was getting closer to the end this past month. For a big dog and his breed, 13 is a very respectable age. Still, watching him struggle to get up the steps and groan in pain when he laid down or rolled over, was hard to endure. He had bad hips, exacerbated by excess weight and years of inactivity as a backyard breeder’s stud dog in his early years. All the walks, supplements, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, massage, essential oils, and pain medicine I gave him over the years couldn’t change his history. And then one night right before bedtime, his back legs simply gave out and he couldn’t walk. As calmly as possible, I pulled the car out of the garage and knocked on my neighbor’s door to ask for help because I couldn’t lift all 85 pounds of Amos by myself. My neighbors kindly helped put him in the car and drove me to the emergency vet, which was very busy, but quickly made a room available for me and Amos.
My neighbors came in to say their goodbyes with tears in their eyes. They had grown to love Amos, too. “He sure did love his walks. And his treats,” Tom said.
I smiled because in the last couple years Amos did love his walks. But the entire year it took to teach Amos how to walk on a leash was probably the most frustrating experience of my life. Somehow, though, he came to look forward to our short jaunts around the neighborhood, peeing on the neighbors’ lawns, saying hello to other dogs, resting his hips with a short sit, and nudging my hand to prompt quicker treat delivery.
Tom and Jenny offered to stay but I said we’d be okay alone. I wanted time to be with Amos and say goodbye. As we sat on the floor of the exam room, Amos panting and me petting him as I reminded him of the story of how we met, he rested one of his big paws on my leg. Even in his own anxiety he was comforting me. It reminded me of the time several years ago when we had a wicked thunderstorm. Amos was terrified of storms, usually panting and pacing until he hunkered down into a safe spot. That evening was no different. I laid down on the floor nearby in the dark; the storm was raging and had knocked out the power. I reached out my right hand to rest on him to offer him comfort. As I did so, he reached out his front right paw and rested it on my shoulder. Always thinking of me.
After he was gone, one of the hardest things was knowing I would never touch him again. I have come to understand this year in massage school how much I enjoy touch, both giving and receiving. Some part of me had known it for years but directed it into my pets. Never again will I feel Amos’s soft curls, silky ears, and inordinately large paws. It was so hard to leave him in that room.
The next day I wrote Amos’s obituary to share with friends:
AMOS LEE REGENOLD 2003-2016
Amos spent his early years in a kennel as a neglected stud dog of a backyard-breeding operation. Upon surrender at age 4.5, he was morbidly obese and sick with heartworm disease and nearly died. But his foster family nursed him back to health with love and patience. In May 2008 he was adopted into the Regenold family, where he slowly learned how to be a dog – playing fetch, walking on a leash, and barking at noises. A year later his sister Charlotte joined the family and taught him the joy of squirrel and rabbit chasing. Amos became an avid snuggler, ball chaser, and crotch sniffer. In his later years, he came to love his walks, rolling around in the grass, and barking to announce his arrival in the backyard. He tried to befriend every dog he met. Being a golden retriever, Amos loved all food, but especially apples, peanut butter, and hot dogs. In the end, his spirit was still strong but his back legs were not, and he left this earth with his mother at his side on October 4.
Amos leaves behind 2 sisters, 2 brothers, and a mother, as well as many friends and neighbors. The family asks that the next time you are adding a four-legged member to your own family, consider the ones who may take a little more work but will lovingly transform your life one tail wag at a time.
Rest in peace, my beloved boy. An eternity with you would not have been long enough.
And the day after that, I created a photo collage to celebrate Amos’s life:
When I texted Jason about Amos’s death, he responded, “The two of you were quite a pair when you met. Mutual salvation…and devotion.”
Oh God, yes. Exactly that. Somehow Amos and I healed each other’s broken places. He didn’t know how to be a dog and I didn’t know how to be a human being. Somehow he lost weight, learned to love walks and fetch, people and dogs. And I went from a lawyer with no life outside work to a woman who walked away from the law to build a new life, supported by a community of friends.
When I shared the photographs of Amos with friends, one said, “Oh my goodness how he loved you!” while another said, “Amos was gaga over you.” Amos loved me extravagantly. His chocolate brown eyes were always gooey with love for me. He enjoyed other people, but for him, I was the sun, the moon, and the stars. A few days after Amos died, I was reminded of a friend saying to me once, “You don’t deserve Amos.” She was referring to her opinion that dogs are really too good for us human beings.
For the first time I thought to myself, What if I did deserve Amos? What if I did deserve to be loved so extravagantly?
I loved Amos lavishly, in my own turn. I couldn’t pass by him without touching him, petting his big head. Every morning I rested my heart against his for just a moment to feel that exchange of love between us. Before each walk, I looked into his eyes and told him, “You’re so famous ‘cause you’re Amos.” (You know the silly things we say to our pets.) And after each walk, I kissed him and told him how wonderful he was and that I would love him until the end of time. Sometimes I would hug Amos, and while I fervently agree that you shouldn’t hug most dogs because the gesture doesn’t translate well, Amos was an exception. He leaned into my hugs, or if he was lying down, he would wrap one foreleg around my neck to hug me in return as he delivered sloppy kisses.
I’m beginning to believe it is possible to deserve to not only love, but be loved, so extravagantly and devotedly. For me and for you.
Amos taught me that.
Question for reflection: When you allow yourself to feel how much you love someone (anyone) in your life, what would it feel like to allow yourself to be loved that way in return?
© 2016 Rachel Regenold