I have waited weeks to do this, this thing, to write of a dog that filled 14.5 years of my life.
I remember getting him from the SPCA, the last puppy in a litter of puppies, taken from a dog hoarder one of 45 or more dogs found on the property. He cuddled against me, grumbling in his puppy way. Fuzzy soft, cuddly.
He slept on our bed, and by the window, looking out as other dogs passed by. He had a special bark for our friends’ dog BeeBop, “Wuu Wu Wuuuu”. Eventually he conquered the sofa by the front window, and much of his life was spent looking out that window as people and dogs passed by. A life of barking, annoyingly, and protecting our city home. He adored my ex husband. I remember that summer before the marriage ended, I was walking to meet my husband on his way home from work, and from a long distance I let go of Sancho’s leash and he ran to my ex, with such joy and abandon. I will never know the kind of heart that can leave this deep abiding love behind, I cannot explain it for me, I can explain it even less for this dog
There was a time when I was not sure he would be in our lives, the day I came home and found he had torn up every bit of linoleum in the kitchen, chunks of it scattered all over the floor. I spanked the dog that day, fiercely. And I cried, we were so poor living paycheck to paycheck to help support my ex as he went to school. I thought we could not have this destructive animal in our house, and it was only after the vet said that he would eat something that would one day kill him, that my ex finally began to put him in his kennel before leaving for work.
A smart dog too, he would pick up things I dropped, a trick I taught him, for a treat. Later, he would knock things off the coffee table, to get a treat. And at one point my daughter texted me, angry because I hadn’t been feeding the dog before I left for work, only I had been, dutifully every single day. He was just pretending he hadn’t been fed, so she would feed him again.
It was the Thanksgiving after the ex left, the year my life was torn into two parts, the before when I was innocent and idealistic and believed in true love, and the after where I was left, ghosted, bereft and broken; that I let him off leash for the first time. He stayed by my side, a constant companion, he really never was more than twenty feet away from me, ever. And we would go to Andrea’s house and hike off leash he would trudge up behind me and run ahead on the way home, always looking back for me, or any other straggler, waiting for them to catch up. Concerned if they didn’t but never far from me.
The last two years were hard for him. His hips, always faulty, stopped working, and his backside and front paw always hurt him. He bit me hard when I was brushing him, he drew blood on the puppy several times. She was always a little bit afraid of him. But he was a lover of people, leaving girlfriends all over the place. Everyone loved him, even as his hearing left, even as his eyes glazed over, even as he grew more comfortable in being a curmudgeon.
The day he met Sadie, Morgan and I had brought her home from the SPCA, we set Sadie down on the floor next to him and Sancho took one look at her and turned around and left the room. He came back just a moment later with one of his favorite stuffed animals, Camel Cat I believe, and dropped it at her feet. In the days that followed, he stared up at us perplexed as she nudged in and ate his food, right in front of him (and trust me he didn’t share food with ANYONE). And often would jump on the couch and cuddle me, and her together. He loved Sadie so much. This is in the last few months of his life. Side by side with his kitty.
The lumpy masses all over his body, were always checked by the vet, and one started the size of an egg, then a year later a grapefruit, and finally in his last days a large mass the size of a nerf football, or larger. Too old too operate, and cancer cells found when it was grapefruit size.
Still he plugged away. In the last two to three months, he cried, or barked, annoyingly, all the time. Begged for food when there was only coffee on the table, and slow and sore, wouldn’t move out of the way when you were trying to do anything, cook, or walk across the room. And in the last few months, he would no longer cuddle or if he did it was short, like I want to cuddle but it hurts too much. And it was six weeks before we had him put down, that I got up in the night to go to the bathroom and stepped on his paw, and he bit me, quite badly on the foot. I bled profusely, thank goodness Tom was right there with a towel and love and bandages as I sobbed, knowing the end was soon. He felt badly about it, Sancho, you could tell, but when he bit he didn’t let go, he just held down on my foot, and there were scrape marks on my foot where I pulled it out of his mouth.
I nearly had him put down right away, thinking of kids, and grandchildren, and someone accidentally bumping into him and getting mauled, or maimed for life. But I couldn’t do it. After a last trip to Andrea’s I called and cancelled the appointment. In the final weeks, I went back and forth a hundred times. Spurred by his whining all night, and the incessant barking and then in one day, he bit Marley for no reason on her back side, and then attacked Tom’s Cocker Spaniel again just because he walked by him.
A few days later I called the vet and said, can you just do it today, before I change my mind again.
I took him to the new vet, just a few miles from my home with Tom, and waited, he stood still panting in the air conditioned room, not wanting to lay down, not wanting to move. Just then my sister pulled up in her vehicle, bringing a rescue dog in for a check up. He greeted her, another of his life loves and then stood panting and awkward. Sore and tired. The lump heavy pulling his skin and bending his spine with its weight. Amy said, the lump fools you and you think he is fat, but really he is so thin. And so tired.
I think Morgan cried more than I did. I had made my peace as I painted the memorial to him, free from the leash, in the Adirondacks, standing near a cairn there along the road. I had made peace that night when he bit my foot, knowing it was time. I had made my peace at Andrea’s that last time. I had made my peace with him, as I sat with him in the back seat his head resting on my lap.
You’ve been a good dog, I told him. Thank you for standing by me all those nights I cried into your fur, I am sorry you never got to see Ata again, I know you would have really liked that. Its okay to let go Sancho my dear beloved friend, Tom will protect me and keep me safe, just as you have all these years. You are in so much pain, and where you are going, your body won’t hurt anymore, and you can eat as much peanut butter as you want, and bananas, and whatever else you could ever want to eat, and it will be okay. You can steal food out from under the cook, and I will always be there, right beside you as you have always been there for me. Right by me. You have done your job, my dear dear friend.
I love you, my dearest Sancho Panza.
I love you so.