It’s been three weeks since Phoebe died. And, since we walked everywhere, miles and miles, people knew her far and wide. Every day someone I haven’t seen for awhile, or someone I didn’t even know we knew, will ask, “How’s Phoebe?”
Sometimes I respond pragmatically: “I had to put her down this month.” Or, if it’s someone who met us from the get-go, my throat tightens, I clutch my fist to my chest and fold into a scrunchy face. Best of all, though, thus far, is when I lie, “She’s fine, thank you,” and keep walking.
I remember when Phoebe and I first met. It was at Boxer Rescue.
Boxer Rescue works sort of like a matchmaking service; you give your requirements and wait in a sitting area as they bring out likely candidates, one by one. The first guy was a black and white boxer, nice chap, docile. They brought out another, and another. No, no, not quite right…
Then a van pulled up to the shelter and out popped Phoebe. She had just been returned after an unsuccessful adoption, and they were trying to hurry her through the waiting room.
“Is she upset?” whispered the shelter manager to the handler.
“She’s really mad.”
“Wait!” I said.
Because Phoebe was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen.
“Wait,” I said. “I’d like to walk her around the block.”
The manager and handler whispered some more, then leashed Phoebe up, and I walked her. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a breed rescue before, but they are situated in industrial areas, surrounded, alternately, by places that sell broken car parts and then other breed rescue facilities. Phoebe lunged at every fence we passed.
Oh no, I thought, no. The dog I’d loved most in life had had a horrible temperament when it came to other dogs, and I just couldn’t see going through another decade of fights and bites.
We got back to the waiting room and I said I didn’t think she would work for me. But a family had entered, with several kids. And the father took Phoebe’s leash and said to his wife, “This, Gracie, is one beautiful dog.”
Phoebe sat perfectly still like a statue -- staring off at some point in the distance, as though none of us existed.
“Alan, I don’t know … she’s so big … and, I don’t know…”
I realized something, suddenly. “Phoebe,” I said to her. “Phoebe.” Just that. And she looked in my eyes.
The father said, “Gracie, I like her.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and took the leash from his hand. “She’s mine.”
Some people have said to me, “Oh, losing your dog is like losing your child.” I disagree. My dog is not like anything or anyone else. We have a dog to human relationship; we look after each other in unique and lovely ways. We reach across the spectrum of species and somehow find agreement, trust, and affection. My dog is my dog.
Or more precisely, of course, my dog was my dog – though I’m not entirely able to face that yet.