God, I don’t want to write this post. I would rather be doing anything other than writing this post. But I have to get it out of me and move past this horrible Stage 1 of grief for the sake of my sanity, my sleep, my little boy I need to be present for.
Our Big Brown Dog is gone. I have had pets before, loved them intensely, and lost them for various reasons, usually old age. The loss of this one goes so far beyond the pain of the others, for various reasons. But mostly we just weren’t ready for the shock of him leaving us so soon.
A few weeks or so ago, I noticed he just wasn’t that enthusiastic about his food anymore and was losing a bit of weight. He was still eating every day, so I didn’t think much about it. He was still very active, going on hikes and long walks with me, and of course, always engaged in his favorite activity of squirrel-chasing. But he seemed a bit down, and I chalked it up to his being lonely without another dog in the house. We adopted a second dog, and within the first two days, it was apparent she was not a good fit. Rufus watched her like a hawk, especially around McLean, and seemed to be extremely territorial with her when he has never been like that with other dog visitors in our house. The other dog lunged at McLean threateningly when he crawled too close to a toy she had claimed as hers. Then she full-on attacked Rufus over another tennis ball toy in the backyard and a horrible fight ensued. Derek managed to break it up with the garden hose on full blast, but she got Rufus pretty good. His ear and cheek were torn up and bleeding profusely, and I took him to the emergency room vet, planning to take the new dog back to the rescue guy when I returned that night.
Over three hours later, the vet told me my dog’s wounds were going to be fine, but that he was in kidney failure, and had been for some time. He would have to stay overnight to get fluids into his system and flush out the waste products from his bloodstream. He ended up having to spend three nights and four days in the hospital, hooked up to an IV. I visited him every day and walked him, promising him I would return for him when it was okay to bring him home, but he didn’t understand. The staff told me he cried inconsolably for hours after McLean and I left.
When we brought him home, antibiotics, antacids, special dog food, etc. in tow, he was ecstatic, and we had hope that after some much-needed rest and ridding him of the kidney infection, he could lead a normal life and we would monitor his kidney levels. But it wasn’t to be.
The first few days, he slept a lot, ate a little, and was just generally happy to be home, following me from room to room. Then a few days later, he refused to eat anything. I tried every food imaginable. He never peed in the house. He never cried or complained. McLean kept going into Rufus’ bed and laying his head on Rufus’ head in sympathy. He didn’t understand why Uncle Rufus seemed so sad.
The unbearable heat and smoke in the valley were taking its toll on our cabin fever, so I took McLean to the mall to play in the little kid play area. We came home an hour or so later, and Rufus was curled up in his bed, and he was gone. I think he waited for us to leave so I wouldn’t have to see him die. Because that’s the kind of dog he was.
Rufus was so much more than a dog to us. He came into our lives so serendipitously. You know how everything happens for a reason? The only reason I moved into that tiny little apartment in the middle of Crack Den, Venice, was to pick up Rufus. He was the first big thing that Derek and I did together. We shared and loved and adored Rufus before we even shared living space.
The day we moved out of that place before taking possession of our new home in Encino, Rufus had been in the backyard while our stuff was being moved out of the apartment. When I brought him in so the landlord could inspect the place, Rufus sniffed every corner of the empty place and cried hysterically. He knew we were leaving, but he thought we were leaving HIM there, too. He cried and howled and stayed glued to my side until I finally loaded him and Babe into the car to make the trip over the hill to our new house. He was so excited in the new place, he could hardly contain himself. He loved his new house and yard so much, but mostly he just loved that he was with us. As long as he had us nearby and knew we were okay, he was okay. But if I cried, Rufus cried with me and it killed him if he couldn’t fix what was wrong.
One day while walking him and Babe in our new neighborhood, this older man in a nice car stared at us as we walked down the street, turned his car around and stared at us again. I was getting creeped out when he finally pulled over and asked what kind of dog Rufus was. “I don’t know,” I answered. “He’s a rescue.” The guy looked wistful and sad. “I had a dog looked exactly like your dog,” he said. “Bull mastiff. Had that dog fifteen years, and it was the best dog I have ever had in my life. Broke my heart when he died. I hope you know what you’ve got there.” I reassured him I did, that he was an awesome dog and we loved him very much. But I had no idea how little I appreciated him.
It sucks how guilt plays such a huge part in the grieving process. When I was pregnant with McLean, Rufus figured it out when I was a couple months along, and frequently would sniff my belly area and then look at me and whine excitedly. In the beginning it was cute, but as my pregnancy (and hormones) progressed, Rufus became more protective and anxious, following me not just to every room, but to every part of the room I was in. I couldn’t take a pee without him supervising, and as everyone knows, you pee about ten thousand times a day when you are pregnant. I became so annoyed with him. I was hanging around the house more than I was used to, very sedentary, taking up so much more space than I was used to, and here was this big dog constantly underfoot. It was like he couldn’t wait for that offspring to pop out of me so he could play with it, but my god it drove me nuts! I remember that still, very small rational voice in my head telling me “Someday you are not going to have this dog anymore, and you are really going to feel like shit for being impatient with him.” But I didn’t listen. And it’s things like that that I think about now that he is gone.
Coming back to the house is a dreadful experience now. It’s like my own home seems an unfriendly place now that there is no Rufus on the other side of the front door, butt wriggling, happily whining that I am home safe and sound, making me feel like the biggest, most important person in the universe.
It sucks having visitors come to the door now, too. He would growl and bark with suspicion, until it was determined that the person was a loved one, and then he couldn’t wait to shower that person with the warmest, most loving welcome imaginable. He was overflowing with happiness and love for friends and family, but all intimidating “Don’t Even THINK About Effing With My People, Jacko, You Just Keep Steppin’” to all others – salespeople, gardeners, UPS guy, etc. He had the absolute best radar of a person’s or another dog’s intentions I have ever seen. And if you were planning on hurting one of his loved ones, well, you would have to go through him first, bitch. I no longer feel safe. And my house doesn’t feel like a home.
I feel like vomiting a lot and I don’t sleep well at night. I can’t stop thinking about him and how he probably was suffering toward the end, but was being brave and still proudly doing his job. It kills me that he died alone, and that I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye, rub his beautiful, soft ears one last time and tell him that though I didn’t tell him nearly often enough, I have always loved him and always will. It kills me that when we buried him, I had to cover up his sweet, handsome face that even in death looked sweet, like he was only sleeping. I can’t imagine the pain of this ever becoming less, much less going away. I have moments where my higher self reminds me that we were so lucky to have him for the time we did, because he has changed us for the better. McLean got to have him for his first dog, a big meaty hunk of a hound who was so excited to welcome him into the world, would have died for him and never got jealous of him, though he had every right to.
It’s hard for Derek and I to comfort each other right now, because neither of us can be strong for the other. We are struggling with the same painful loss.
There’s some quote that goes something like this: “Every day I strive to become the person my dog thinks I am.” That’s what I’m taking from all this. I’m sure we will have other dogs in the future, and they will be wonderful, and I am going to strive to be that amazing person that Rufus saw in me. And somehow go on and accept that our pets are not meant to out-live us. It sure hurts when they go, but it is inevitable.
And that’s all I have to say about that.