I lost my closest friend a week ago. Although we don’t normally describe a dog as a friend.
But over the last 12 years, I probably spent more time with her than with any human being. She was always happy to take part in whatever I might be doing. Always ready for a walk or a hike, a swim or a car ride. To anywhere. She listened to my
musings without contradicting me or correcting me. She seemed to prefer my company to anyone else on earth.
“Friend” almost seems too weak a word for her.
Her name was Phoebe. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She adopted my wife and me when she was two. And from then on gave us total devotion.
But age caught up with her. Joints that once could run and swim all day developed painful arthritis. By the end of her life, she couldn’t put any weight on her left front paw. Her right hind leg tended to collapse without warning, leaving her sprawled awkwardly on the road, or tumbling down the stairs on her back.
We knew her time had run out. We made an appointment with the vet.
It had to be this way. But I hated doing it. Even when Phoebe couldn’t find the energy to raise her head off the floor, she looked at me with eyes that held nothing but love.
Her last afternoon, I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk, for old time’s sake. She tottered to her feet. Limped to the end of the driveway. And turned back.
I couldn’t cope. Even if she didn’t need that last walk, I did. So I went on our regular route all by myself, for the first time in 12 years.
Part way along, a voice called from a front porch: “Hi Jim! How’s it going?”
“Fine.” I said. Pause. “No, it’s not.” Choke. “We’re taking Phoebe to the vet later this afternoon.” Choke.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. And then, as I turned to walk on, he called after me, “That dog had a good life.”
Yes, she did. But more than that, she gave us a good life.
Can any human relationship match the bond some of us have with our dogs? No matter how much we love our children, our parents, our friends, the relationship is always coloured by our expectations. They don’t always measure up to our expectations, nor we to theirs. Children grow up, grow away. Parents grow old, cranky, dependent. Friends have their own lives, their own priorities.
But dogs set no conditions, have no expectations. They just want to love, and to be loved. Unconditionally.
It’s not their fault that they spell God backward.
I read somewhere that dogs, uniquely, choose to leave their own species, including their own siblings, to bond with a totally different species that walks on two legs and doesn’t even know how to bark properly.
It started to rain that afternoon as I walked. I almost welcomed it. I felt I wasn’t the only one crying.
A relationship carries on
We took her to the vet that evening. We sat with her, stroked her head, her ears, her shoulders, while she got the first injection. She was nervous. Paced a little. Panted a lot. Finally settled down.
Slowly, her eyes closed. She got the second injection while she slept.
Just one month short of her 14th birthday, she lay still on the blanket on the floor. Even her heart stilled.
Joan and I both gave her one last pat on the head. “Good night, girl,” I said, as we left her.
Now she’s gone. I wonder where. If there’s a heaven for humans, I hope dogs are allowed. Any heaven that barred the kind of relationship that Phoebe had with us would not be heaven.
Our former minister used to say, at memorial services, that death ends a life; it doesn’t end a relationship.
So we’ve given away her food. Packed up her beds. Gotten rid of her toys.
But she’s still with us. We see her out of the corners of our eyes. Sense her under the table hoping for scraps. Look for her when we get out of bed in the morning, and when we go to bed. Think we hear her tail thumping on the floor.
And I do what I always do at such times – I write about it, seeking solace in words.
Goodbye, girl. Thank you.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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It would seem most of you have similar feelings about garbage, and its disposal. I didn’t get one letter taking a contrary viewpoint, although I’m sure there must be people out there who see no problem in shipping their wastes “”away,” whether that’s to a Canadian landfill site, or some foreign country.
Gloria Jorgenson sent the first response: “You are preaching to the choir here! My friends and family have long since become tired of me ranting on the subject. There is nothing we use or consume that doesn't create its own mound of garbage. Many say ‘It's no problem; it's recyclable.’ but I'd like to know how much of it is recycled, and does the recycling produce its own set of problems? We need to think about every item we buy and balance its value against what its production means to the environment. There is a lot of stuff out there that we can live without.”
Isabel Gibson agreed with Gord Hunsberger (quoted in the column): “Yes, sustainability of our lifestyle and workstyle ought to account for all the stages of the things we make and consume: production, shipping, use, disposal, decay/degeneration. Our markets can't do it alone (not yet, maybe never), but neither has government regulation done such a hot job (not yet . . .).
“So we're left, it seems, with trying to make responsible choices with insufficient and conflicting information. Ban plastic shopping bags! (Oh, wait, do paper and cloth bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic?) Incinerate waste instead of landfilling it! (Oh, wait, what about the resulting air pollution?) Eat locally! (Oh wait, what about the benefits to poorer countries of trade?) (Oh wait, what about the costs of trade to those same countries?) And on, and on…
“Maybe we'd do better if we just held the thought in the front of our minds: there is no ‘away’."
Mack Mckay sent me a video showing how Singapore handles their own garbage. Yes, it can be done.
John Shaffer wrote. “The idea [from Edward de Bono] of making industry use its own waste water has intrigued me, but I don't if anyone has been successful in making it happen. But we do know it is possible to live ‘cleaner’. When Cleveland's river caught on fire, it was a wake-up call and improvements were made.”
In further correspondence, John found that Toledo had declared Lake Erie a “person” before the law, to grant it protection from polluting industries.
Tom Watson focused on the cleanup: “As you say, the company that incorrectly labelled the containers going to the Philippines took the money and ran, and is now long gone. Just more proof that if there's a way to scam the system. there's somebody right there to do it and you and I are left to foot the bill for cleaning up the mess.
“Speaking of mess, I read recently that the Alberta Energy Regulator indicated that it will cost $260 billion to clean up the energy industry's mining waste. And guess who will pay for that too!”
Murray McNab noted that the area he lives in, in B.C., practices shipping garbage “away” – “to Washington state.
I have a real problem with this. If we can’t take care of our own garbage, within the boundaries of this vast Regional District, the whole Board should be tossed and the Provincial or Federal Government step in and make it happen. We used to have old fashioned incinerators, where cow carcases, engine blocks and all other manner of un burnable stuff was set ablaze. When incineration is brought up now as an option, most residence think back to these belching hulks and scream, ‘No Way!’
“As for the containers of garbage that ended up in the Philippines, rotting for all these years, it has left a bad taste in many Canadians mouths and a very bad smell in the noses of many in the Philippines! Of course the Canadian company has gone bankrupt and us taxpayers are on the hook for the shipping back and disposal of this rotten mess. The Federal Government must know who the principals of this defunct company were. These people must be named and shamed! The Federal Government must then go after them, through the courts, to recover monies spent on the repatriation of this trash.
“Even before [this incident], there were no standards as to what each jurisdiction collected. Some accepted glass, others plastic bags, and some neither. Many people carefully separated recyclable items and dropped them off at the appropriate bins…Recently, it has come to light, that some of these bins are then hauled off to a land fill or transfer station, to bedisposed of as garbage.
“Each local government should be required to deal with its own garbage and recyclables, in a responsible fashion, within their own boundaries.”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.