I went the first 38 years of my life without ever owning a dog.
Then, in 2003, Dixie came into our life.
I had always been a cat person. When Gena and I married, part of her dowry was Doremi, who became a part of my family until he died in 2001. Shortly after his passing, we got two new kittens, Simon and Garfunkel. We lost Garfunkel in early 2011, and we had to have Simon put down two weeks ago. That was hard.
But it was no comparison to today.
I am out of town, just as I was two weeks ago when the decision was made about Simon. But when I left home this weekend, I knew. Dixie, now 11 years old, more or less, was clearly not well.
In the fall of 2003, we knew that my parents' dog Smokie was going to come live with us for a while until my folks could move to Texas. Our family was at the State Fair of Texas, and we saw an exhibit hosted by the Humane Society. The kids (and Gena, no doubt) convinced me that Smokie would need a friend, and a big blond mutt the Humane Society folks had named Josie seemed to take a real liking to me. OK, she was crazy about our whole family, but I always knew she had a special affection for me... trust me on this one. We ended up signing the papers, and for the first time in my life, I was a dog owner. It took a day to handle the details, and the next day I drove to Dallas and drove her (now named Dixie by family vote) home to stay.
Dixie grew into a huge dog. I loved to tell friends, when they asked her breed, that she was "half golden and half pig." Despite her size, she thought she was a lap dog, leaping onto any member of our family who sat down. She was well behaved, loyal, loving, and friendly. She was all those stereotypical things I had always heard (and never really believed) about a family dog. I was smitten.
A few years ago, our family added yet one more pet, Sophie the dachshund. Dixie and Sophie took to each other immediately, a female canine version of Mutt and Jeff. Walking the two of them was an adventure and a pleasure.
About a year and a half ago, it became clear that the elderly Dixie could no longer jump up on our bed, but she seemed perfectly happy to sleep on the cushioned chair at the foot of our bed. A week and a half ago, she could no longer get on the chair, sleeping instead on the floor. Through it all, she was loving and seemed happy, if slower to get up.
By Sunday, when I left home, it appeared that her legs barely could hold her up. She would lie down to eat. Having no personal experience with this kind of thing, I did not know know for sure... but I knew. I did not use the word "good-bye," exactly, but I made sure to spend some time with Dixie before I left town. This morning, Gena and the girls took her to the vet. The word came back quickly - cancer. At least two tumors. At her age and weight, Dixie might well not survive any kind of surgery, and surgery would most likely reveal still more tumors. It would not be curable. The end was here. A painful death surely awaited unless our family exercised responsible pet ownership to end her suffering.
As I was out of town, it fell to Gena, who (with some logical help from the girls) made the right decision.
I won't see Dixie again.
As I say, I have always considered myself a cat person. I made fun of "Turner and Hooch" as a "silly boy-and-his-dog movie." I have lost cats before, one as recently as two weeks ago. This is different. I sit here, far from home in a Hilton hotel room, and grieve.
I don't believe that dogs have souls. I don't know if or how we will have pets in eternity. But I know that there is an empty place that I have never before experienced. I know now what it means to lose a dog. All those friends before who have gone through this with absolutely no empathy from me - well, now I understand.
August 21 will always be for me, with apologies to The Band and Joan Baez, the day they put old Dixie down. I am better for having known her, and I will miss her. That seems awfully silly for a grown man to say, but I am guessing that you dog lovers understand.