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Reflections on the death of a pug

Neil Newton: Author of the The Railroad on Amazon

The Railroad on Facebook

Over twelve years ago I bought a pug puppy for my stepson. At that time, being the kind of person I am, I considered the fact that dogs don’t live as long as we would like. I had learned as a child that having a dog with you for ten years or so was natural and I saw it as the price you paid for having a pet in your life. Every few years I would remind myself of this disturbing fact.

We had bought this particular pug because he was the runt of the litter. When the breeder took us out to her garage to introduce us to the litter, all of the puppies had run forward, seeking attention. All but one. This particular dog hung back and looked at us, unsure whether he wanted to be involved. He was tiny in comparison to his brothers and sisters. That was the moment we picked him. This was not a conscious decision but, somewhere at the back of mind was the idea that his size would give him a longer life.

I was right, though I can only estimate that two plus years were added to his life. In the process our pug scratched his eye and punctured it. Twice. I learned that dogs have dry eye and are not given the intelligence to stop them from damaging themselves.

By the time he died he was mostly blind and deaf. But there was as strange footnote to his life. We have a running joke in our family that we have a silent beacon on our roof that calls to stray animals and instructs them telepathically to come to our house where they will be brought into our canine and feline fold. For those of you who have joined the “animal hording” persecution squad you will horrified to note that, at one time, we had five dogs and five cats. This number has fluctuated over the years but, for a while, that was our head count. All of them, except for out pug, were rescue animals. While we made an attempt to find some of their owners, it came down to a choice between dubious burden of increasing the members of our family or the probability that these animal would die with their demise on our heads. Tough choice.

Well tough choice for those lacking even a touch of a conscience.

One of strays, the latest in fact, was a dog of unknown breed. He was stocky, had wiry hair and had a long snout with a line of light fur leading down to his nose. We called him Oy (as in “Oy, another stray dog!”). At first we wondered about him; he seemed to fall in love with our pug. He would lick his ears that were constantly afflicted by sock ear. He would keep tabs on him, making sure that he was okay.

I come from the cynical set. Movies about animals acting like humans have always set my teeth on edge. I liked Milo and Otis but forgot it quickly. I watched Oy and our pug and thought their friendship was simply some biological oddity caused by genetics. That thought satisfied my sense of reason and rationality.

One morning, recently, our pug had a stroke and he could move only a few parts of his body. We all held him as he tried to adjust to his new situation. He was oddly calm and seemed more confused than anything else. Within an hour he had slipped into a coma. Minutes later he died with more dignity than I felt a dog would have. He was a class act.

I hadn’t considered what effects his death would have on Oy, who had only been with us for a few years and had missed most of our pug’s life. I learned a lesson in the value of reason; suddenly Oy, who was always upbeat and loved to go outside to roam the back yard, suddenly had a major shift in his personality. If he was human he would have been described as dissociative, vague, confused.  The common wisdom held by the rest of my family was that Oy was pining. That didn’t work for me: I felt it was a bit too mystical and too Disney. But as the days went on I watched a dog who seemed like he was no less than stoned and dazed. Before long he stopped going outside. He lay on a blanket with two other dogs and he barely raised his head.

I let it go; there were important things to worry about; there always are. And then the day came, only a couple of weeks after we lost our pug that my wife came to me. Our granddaughter was with us so she spoke in code to spare the little girl the sadness of the news. With her eyes wide my wife walked up to me and told me “Oy is D-E-A-D”.

I was speechless. And so I found a strange corollary to the pain we all experience with the repeated loss of pets throughout our lives. I thought of Milo and Otis again having, as it did, a pug in one of the leading parts. While I can see that movie for the fantasy that it was, I wondered about animals and their natures. I have always considered dog’s behavior to be mostly hardwired, an unavoidable manifestation of genetics. Now I’m not certain.

Our Pug (named Booda by our son over twelve years ago) finally met the end that I had dreaded for so many years. In his classy gentle way, his death was not horrific but quiet and dignified. But the reality of his death was magnified by watching Oy deteriorate, like a bereaved family member. It oddly widened my of what reality is and what holds value for me. Smaller things hold values, a fact that it has taken me years to accept due to my overblown sense of myself.

I can only reflect on a line from Shakespeare; there seem to be so many truths that are illuminated in his writing: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

My wife recently said, sadly, that Booda and Oy are together again. I didn’t exercise my right to be “reasonable”. I simply accepted it.

Neil Newton: Author of the The Railroad on Amazon

The Railroad on Facebook

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