Somewhere in the first hour of every morning I burst into sobs. How long has it been now? A month?
He was a presence. He was with us for 11 and a half years. Then he wasn’t. Our beloved yellow Lab has died. Our dear sweet Floyd is gone. Great pain took hold of him for at least 24 hours. Now it won’t let us go.
Emily Dickinson observed, “Dogs are better than human beings, because they know but do not tell.” True. What’s worse, however, is that Floyd did not tell us he was in trouble. He was a stoic until the end.
On Wednesday evening, Feb. 6, his hind legs gave out and he began trembling. Dr. Kirsten Sauter met us in her My Pet’s Vet parking lot, put a stethoscope to his chest and told me his heart was in arrhythmia. Bless her soul. She called the Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists, the pet emergency room in Bourne, and booked me on the last ferry of the night. Off we went on a heartbreaking final journey.
He barely survived the night at the emergency room. Whatever was going wrong was progressing rapidly. By morning he could no longer use his hind legs. They said he needed a neurology exam and an MRI, so Paula and I drove him, heavily sedated, to Angell Memorial in Boston. On the way, we took turns being with him in the backseat, soothing his head, rubbing his silky ears — actions that used to calm us down, hoping now we were doing the same for him.
The neurologist at Angell said Floyd was in serious pain and serious trouble. Either he had a ruptured disc in his neck or spine, or possibly had cancer, since there was a suspicious lesion on a back leg. Floyd’s prognosis in either case was grim. And to our shock, the doctor told us Floyd was old! Not to us! But for his breed and build, the doctor said, 11 and a half years is the average life span. He was trying to tell us something very hard to hear, harder still to act on.
How can you make a life-and-death decision when your heart is breaking? And yet, “quality of life” finally means something. So does the concept of being humane. What good is he to himself if he has lost much of his dog-ness? Supported by the medical staff, we made the horrible decision to put him down at 5 p.m., Feb. 7.
It was all too sudden, too fast. How could he have loved his morning walk, chased a neighbor down for an expected treat, and that night...this! We were stunned. It was as if he had been hit by a car. The crying came in rivers. We know we will get through this. People do. But he was such a great dog — we are devastated.
We paced our house that night between breakdowns. The rooms filled with an unbearable silence. Time meant nothing. We finally collapsed from emotional exhaustion. Distant foghorns, muffled alarms repeated in the night, sounded as if the Island was crying for him too.
Nancy Aronie recently wrote in these pages that we must learn to grieve and feel the pain. She is wise, she is right. As shock turned to pain, then grief, then loss, I felt I couldn’t breathe unless the dam burst. A big love has left a big hole. Paula says we feel that hole because there’s all that love and what used to lap it up is gone.
My days are punctuated with heaves, accompanied by a doleful soundtrack of “Oh Gods.” It’s hard to concentrate when you’re walking through aspic. Everything tastes like tears.
Floyd was an extension of me. He was my shadow. How can I be alive when my shadow is gone?
But the very next day, the Island community spirit kicked in. Friends began consoling us — in droves. It has been greatly appreciated.
Floyd’s death hit us hard perhaps because he was the only dog of a childless couple. We had talked about getting a dog for years. Why not? I got along with every dog I met. Paula needed a little more persuading.
Then 9-11 happened. Life showed itself to be capricious. And there was a litter of yellow Labs in West Tisbury. Floyd was the runt. But not for long.
He came home with us at nine weeks old. He was easy to train. He would bark in Spanish if he knew the act would be rewarded with food. Always calm, never destructive, Floyd was no Marley. I walked him twice a day and lost 22 pounds in the first year. I was a zealot for responsibility.
Floyd made us laugh. Ask him if he’s good, ask him anything where your voice goes up on one hard syllable, and he’d cock his head, give it a jaunty tilt as if trying to get your meaning.
To me he will always be a boy in a dog suit. Yet he was also the strong, silent, independent type. The John Wayne of canines.
The books say dogs don’t like to be stared at. He obviously didn’t read those books. We had staring contests. If he initiated the stare, it was for one of three reasons. It was his way of saying time for play (“like I grab a toy in my mouth and you chase me around the house pretending you want to get it from me”), or time for food or time to go outside for important business. If you didn’t respond to the stare properly, he gave you a look that said: What do I have to do? Bark? How trite!
We were so lucky to have had him in our lives. And we are so lucky to live here where our memories of him can mix with love and moral support.
From time to time, my loving wife holds me and sweetly apologizes for not having silky ears.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.