The distant voice of logic, somewhere in the back of my mind, tells me I am being foolish: he was a 21-year-old, 10-pound dog. Get over it. That voice is being firmly ignored right now. I have had relationships with many people that didn’t last as long as the 19 years I had with Frankie. My first marriage didn’t last 19 years. And though my relationships with people are probably more complex and multi-layered, they are also filled with mistrust and doubt. Nobody likes and accepts me for who and what I am as well as my dog did.
This wasn’t always the case – he and I got off to a rocky start. Back in 1997, I came home from work one night to discover an 8-pound killing machine at the door, full of fire and fury, ready to tear me apart for entering his new domain. After Lor collected him, the truth came out – he had been found abandoned beneath a truck in a friend’s neighborhood. Our friend’s dog was a little too big and too rough to coexist with the refugee. Could we watch him for a couple of days while our friend found his owners?
The original owners were never identified, a “couple of days” turned into 19 years, and Frankie became a part of the household. I resented him because Lor had chosen to take him in without ever talking to me about it. He resented me because he thought of Lor as “his”, and was not happy that I would move into his turf whenever I pleased. But, eventually, we reached a rapprochement and settled into life at opposite ends of the same house.
This all changed several years after his arrival. Unexpectedly, he appeared and crawled into my lap. And then proceeded to urinate all over me. I stood up, furious, and prepared to throw him out into the backyard, until I noticed that his back was bent almost into a bow, with his head twisted off to one side, saliva dripping out of his mouth.
Frankie was having a seizure.
His development of seizures changed the entire characteristic of our relationship. He and I were no longer jealous pack members fighting over the same resources. He and I were now allies in a common cause, struggling together against an implacable enemy who could not be defeated, whose attacks could only be survived, never defended against. Oddly, he and I fell into sync – if I had a seizure, one was coming for him the same day, and vice-versa. I sought him out for comfort just as much as he did me. Though he was never trained as a “therapy dog”, that is precisely what he became.
In 2011, he slowed dramatically. Grey began to appear all through his muzzle, he became listless, and he stopped eating. We took him to the veterinarian, who pronounced that his teeth were all rotting out of his head and would have to be removed. He was delivered back to us after the procedure, tongue hanging out of his toothless mouth (a trait he would have for the rest of his life), and the vet took “the tone” – that special voice a medical professional uses when delivering really bad news. He was old, the vet told us. He would probably not ever fully recover from this. Just take him home, and make his last days comfortable. We solemnly agreed.
Within 48 hours Frankie was bouncing off the walls, running around the house chasing our new dog, and cleaning out his food bowl every night, then begging for more. He put on weight, topping out at a chunky 11 pounds. He acted like a dog half his age.
Thus began the saga of Frankie’s immortality. At least once a year thereafter he would slow down dramatically, show evidence of serious medical problems, be unwilling to eat or move. We would tell the family that he was on his way out. And, every year, within 48 hours he would return to normal, baffling us all. We started referring to him as “Amarante”, after the seemingly immortal old man in John Nichols’ “The Milagro Beanfield War”. My brother once made the comment that the human race really needed to put some thought into what kind of world we would be leaving behind for Frankie and Keith Richards to live in.
Unfortunately, no one can throw sevens forever, and Frankie’s trip to the table stopped on Tuesday. We were allowed to spend some time with him, to tell him how much we loved him and would miss him, and he was able to leave this world sleeping, within our embrace. The vet’s office offered to cremate him for us, to send him home in a box or an urn, but I refused. If I could not be the one to ease my dog’s suffering, then I at least would be the one who laid him to rest. I dug his grave with my own hands, not even letting Lor help me, and I put him beneath the soil where he used to bask in the sun in our backyard. At last, he is at peace, even if his loved ones are not.
Though there is not a shred of teaching in my religious beliefs for the immortal souls of dogs, I have to believe that no one with a personality and soul like Frankie’s would not be granted immediate access to the afterlife. Pam Brown said it best:
“If there is a heaven, it’s certain our animals are to be there. Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them.”
Sleep well, my friend. We’ll see you when we get there.