Some years ago, my mother-in-law died, and a cluster of pictures arrived from my sister-in-law.
A picture of my husband as an approximate five-year-old caught my attention immediately. Pressed against his body was a rather large dog; shepherd mix, brown with white stockings, and glaring at the photographer with suspicion, even hatred. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”
“I didn’t remember him until now,” my husband was clearly rocked on his heels. “That’s Bootsie. I called him that because of his stockings. He was very protective.”
“What happened to him?”
“I don’t know.” My husband was trying to remember something, but coming up blank. “He disappeared, and I have no other memories of him.” He walked into his office, seeming upset.
Indeed. Before my mother-in-law died, she shared the family secrets with me; at least her spin. An unusually beautiful woman, she’d been shocked to learn that her homely husband was trying to have affairs with everyone in the neighborhood; gender and age didn’t matter. She ran away, possibly having a breakdown, and leaving her small son and older daughter to the tender mercies of a questionable husband. The protective dog soon
My husband wanted a dog, but I dragged my heels. Animals had given me much joy on the farm, but I also knew the heartbreak. Mouser cats had survived just fine on fresh milk and what they could catch, but dogs needed feeding and we were very poor. Using that as the excuse, and egged on by our mother, I think, my sometimes psychotic older brother had gone on a killing spree of half-grown puppies when our father wasn’t around. It still
stung. And I didn’t think my husband was up to losing another dog. But he nagged and nagged, and I gave in, as usual.
Wolfie was mostly a joy, but also a handful. Smarter than many children, he suffered separation anxiety when we went out for the evening, but quickly recovered, trusting us to return each time. Although he wasn’t technically my dog, I was the one he believed would help him out in a pinch. He furiously guarded my personal space when we were on walks, against people, curious cats (I always attract cats), and even friendly dogs.
At fourteen, his health began to fail; inoperable prostate cancer that had spread to his bladder and beyond. He pissed urine and blood in the house. I took him out several times a night, but he was still incontinent, and shook from the stress of it all. When I suggested euthanasia, my husband shut down, refusing to consider losing another dog.
I talked to a veterinarian friend, Al the Vet, and suggested disguising a lethal amount of sleeping pills in hamburger, but he was strident. “Don’t even think of that! You could make things worse.” Wolfie continued to suffer.
I began refusing to let people come to the house since the condition of our dog made them sick. Although my husband loved to give parties, he stubbornly put the continued life of his dog above all else. When I heard relatives were coming for Thanksgiving, and wouldn’t be deterred, I took the final steps. I went to the local vet alone and paid for a procedure. “I’ll be crying too hard to pay you when the time comes.” They understood.
Since the little American Eskimo dog had white fur, I went to a local nursery and purchased a White Fir tree for his marker. I took it home.
The next day, to my surprise, my husband accompanied me to the vet, although he kept throwing hateful glances in my direction. Wolfie wasn’t my dog, but he kept his eyes on me throughout the procedure, trusting me to make it work for him. I didn’t let him down, and he escaped from the pain.
As I watered the grave and newly planted tree, I cried, but also felt great relief. Wolfie was beyond his suffering. Maybe he was watching. Maybe Bootsie was watching too; he was a good dog, after all.
This is a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge for “a good dog.”