As if people really needed another reason to not like the holiday season, I bring this evidence to the table:
I have known three (3) dogs in my life that had to be put to sleep in December.
Exhibit A is my first dog, Gus.
Gus was part German Shepherd, part Saint Bernard, and one big, fuzzy mass of black fur. He looked intimidating as hell because ohmygod there’s a black wolf coming at me! But one of my earliest and fondest memories was being about 3 or 4 years old and opening the gate to Gus’s outdoor cage and crawling inside his dog house with him to lay on the hay that was inside. This visually ferocious beast was nothing but a tender mass of love (much like myself, I might add). I had a friend (!!) in grade school whose elderly grandparents lived next door to us and this girl would scream bloody murder every time Gus tried to follow me over there as she was deathly afraid of this monster, when in reality, he was anything but.
It was December 11, 1991 or 1992, I don’t quite remember. My brother still lived at home, so it wasn’t 1993. Anyway, the year is moot, it’s the time of year that matters. The few days prior to December 11, it had been rainy and cold and sleeting. Gus would usually trudge his massive body through the backyard to take shelter in his dog house when it got too wet/cold outside for him to lounge around outside in the sun. His favorite spot was in front of our front door. Nothing like trying to shove 100 pounds of dog away from the front door when trying to get outside. At the first nudge of the metal screen door on his butt, he’d look over his shoulder at you with cold, brown eyes as if to say, “really? You couldn’t have gone out the back door instead?” But begrudgingly, he’d heave himself up, walk two steps to the left, and hunker down again with a great, heaving sigh of exasperation.
That day, though…Gus didn’t move. He was caked with icicles that matted his glorious black coat down. By that year, Gus was a crotchety old man of fifteen years old, so half of his face was silver and sparkling as the ice that formed around it. I knew Dad was going to take Gus to the vet to see what was wrong with him, aside from old age. I couldn’t wait to get off the school bus that afternoon to find out how our dog was.
I need to stop here and say this: this is one of those defining moments in a kid’s childhood where they can without a question pinpoint a moment that irreparably fucked them up. This is my moment, and also when I learned to recognize when my father was about to share some not good news with people.
I had a school band concert that night, so my mom and I were busy getting ourselves ready. We had been gone for a bit after school to get things we needed and when we got home, all the lights in the house were out, save the twinkling Christmas tree. Dad had a thing for Manheim Steamroller and his music was all that played during Christmas. Not this night. This night was some very somber, mellow, New Age radio station he listened to on occasion from the NPR station in Salina, Kansas. Something told me to look at the Christmas tree, so I did. Displayed prominently in the middle, carefully tucked between pine branches was my dad’s favorite picture of Gus and a blue handkerchief.
I was only 10 or 11, but I immediately knew what that mean and remember running to my room and crying. Points to Dad for some quality use of props to tug at the heartstrings more. Kudos, old man.
Losing a dog at motherfucking Christmas is a torture unlike no other.
Exhibit 2 isn’t actually my dog, but I lived with Steve and Larcy for over 2 years, so in a way, their little cow dog Rhane became my own, as well.
She was short, fat, and looked like a cow. When I met her, she was already a cranky old bitch, but then again, anyone would be a cranky old bitch if you had to deal with Daxhole the Asshole Husky for a canine brother. (Author’s note: I still fucking hate that goddamn husky.)
Rhane ended up with poor eyesight, and even worse bladder control, as it was a morning ritual to come out to the kitchen barefoot (or socked, if the winter was among us), sleepily staggering around to multitask letting the dogs outside and make a pot a coffee, and oh…step in a fresh–or not so fresh–pile of Rhane pee. Every. God. Damn. Morning. Sometimes two or three piles off pee, depending on if Rhane was feeling extra saucy that day or not.
It didn’t matter if you had taken her outside two minutes before and she whined at the door to be let back in, giving you the false assurance that yes, she had done her business, only to be betrayed by getting your cotton Fruit of the Looms crew socks saturated in urine. You couldn’t get too mad at her, the poor little sausage. She was old and riddled with arthritis and tiny little stumper legs. But really, Rhane? Every goddamn time. Everygoddamntime.
She also decided it was too much fun being here with us silly humans, so last year in December, she got taken for a good walk, was given tons of kisses and hugs, and told what a good, good girl she was for one last time.
Fucking dogs, man. It’s hard to type and cry at the same time.
Exhibit 3. Depending on who you ask what his name is, my version is Blue Barry Hoffmeyer, aka Blueber, but you have to pronounce the “L” as a “W,” so it’s actually “Bwueber.”
If you asked my mom, his name is Blue Barry, or Blue Baby. Keith, my mom’s husband, would just yell “BLUEEE!!” in a surprisingly high falsetto for a man.
Here is Blue’s origin story, like he’s some unknown X-Men or something:
Keith got Blue as a puppy to give to his oldest granddaughter, who I believe was quickly approaching 2 years old or was already 2. A two year old girl’s favorite thing in the world aside from mommy and daddy and whatever the hell else babies like is Blue’s Clues. This is where our hero, very much an Australian Red Heeler, got to be named Blue.
Then, another baby came into the household, and our boy Blue apparently didn’t realize little girls are not cattle and shouldn’t be wrangled like the livestock he was bred to herd. His bad. Sorry. After that incident, Blue was given back to Keith where he remained for a few years.
Then…then there’s THIS bitch (hint: me) who comes along and is immediately infatuated with this ginger and white speckled dummy and I think I all but begged Keith and Mom to let me have Blue. They resisted at first, but eventually, the ol’ Hoffmeyer Charm corrodes away at your psyche like battery acid and I was rewarded him as my payoff for more torture.
I was a nervous first-time mom with Blue. He came to me wearing a metal collar. I had set up his food and water dish in the kitchen and nearly killed my then-husband from screaming so loud because at 3am, this dog decided it was the perfect time to a keg stand on his water dish and the sound of the chain hitting the bowl or, rather, just that sound at 3am in general was awfully disconcerting because I apparently had forgotten we now had a dog in the apartment. Needless to say, early the next morning, that collar was removed and a nice, quiet nylon one was purchased.
Blue was my companion for the next four years, as he always seemed to take to me more than Jason (good boy, Blue). I was the more cuddly/snuggly/lemme bury my face in your neck fur/sleep on Jason’s side of the bed because I like you more than him one. And Blue devoured it. He was so well-behaved, for the most part. He did have his “fuck you, dog” moments, but all dogs do.
Perhaps the most memorable was when over my old sister-in-law’s house—who just happened to have a greyhound. It was wildly entertaining to see this sleek, beautiful greyhound running literal circles around my stout, scrappy dog until! Until, my friends, millions of years of evolution kicked in and you could hear the synapse in Blue’s head fire that finally connected the “dude, you’re a cattle herding dog, not a chase a goddamn greyhound in circles dog” thing and one thing you knew, Blue was getting his ass kicked by a greyhound, then Blue stopped mid-run, eyeballed Mo the Greyhound, calculated his next move and shot out after him, cutting him off. It was the most science-y thing I’ve ever seen. I loved it.
Blue also earned the nickname “John Lithgow” from Chad and myself. Why is this, you ask? Was Blue in “Third Rock From the Sun”? Did Blue express an affinity for acting a wide range of characters?
No. Blue got himself this name because we discovered one evening while dancing to whatever the hell kind of music dorks like Chad and I listen to, Blue did not cotton to dancing and tried to bite our heels to keep us from dancing.
In other words, Blue was like John Lithgow from the wildly popular ‘80s movie “Footloose” where John Lithgow plays the small town preacher man who bans dancing because it is evil. Oh sure, sounds hilarious, but until you’ve had a few cubic meters of pressure from a goddamn cattle dog just aching to snap your Achilles tendon in twain, it really isn’t all that comical. It’s quite dangerous. I’m amazed we all survived.
It was me and Blue, Blue and me, and that’s the way it should always be.
And it was, until life changed and Blue got sent back to live with Ma and Keith. I looked for that dog for an entire week after I gave him back. I was living in the basement of a friend’s house and had to keep Blue away because there was a kitty at the new place and if there’s one thing ol’ Blue hates more than dancin’, it’s them kitties.
It was rough, of course. But he was back where he belonged and that was good enough for me…even though my mom got him fat off ice cream and Keith liked to feed him M&M’s and I know…I know…
In retrospect, Blue led a pretty wonderful existence. Mom and Keith say I spoiled him by letting him crawl up on furniture and give out puppy kisses and his always constant need to be within a few feet of his people or he feels like he isn’t doing his job properly.
I say Ma and Keith spoiled him with the aforementioned snacks and also letting him up on the furniture but always blaming that bad habit on me.
And now for some truth, and this is going to make me sound absolutely batshit.
Blue’s death is really hitting me far, far harder than I ever expected it would. Dogs have a short lifespan. Years of overbreeding or trying to engineer the perfect dog has mutated these beasts to snorting, flat-nosed, weak hipped, arthritic sacks of fur and we’re sad when something we’ve genetically tinkered with dies? And at a supposed rate 7 times our own (still the best joke to make to your dog, though: “Wayland, you’re 3 years old now. You’re a man. It’s time to get yourself a goddamn job! Quit scratching yourself and get a girlfriend!” Anthropomorphizing animals is fun.
(Here’s the crazy) Blue here, well, he was really the only “man” I could trust and who loved me when I got angry at him or forgot to feed him or walk him. He would greet me the same way every night I got home from work. He would still run up to me, digging his claws into my hips, me grabbing his front paws, and we’d dance around for a few seconds—until he’d jump down and try to chomp my heels apart. Aside from that, his love was unconditional even when there were times I absolutely did not deserve to have him hold me in such high regard: when I yelled at him for getting into the outside garbage can, or for constantly barking at the squirrels in the tree he would no way ever catch, or for his whining.
With Blue dying, I’m finally getting to understand these people who think they’ve suffered some great cataclysmic loss in their lives and had their guts ripped out absolutely refuse to move on from it. “I’ll never love again,” would always make me roll my eyes and mutter, “oh, shut the fuck up, you fuckin’ goomba” under my breath, but no…I understand it now. Over a goddamn dog. Humans are so goddamn wrapped up in their own problems that they forget others around them can be suffering some sort of loss or loneliness but be too self-absorbed to know it or just don’t know how to do anything to help, or feel like they’re bothering you if you try to offer meager help. Anxiety gets in our way. The fear of…whatever gets in our way.
Animals can see your hurt and even though all they can do it stick out their tongue and lick your eyeball, or put their wet noses in your ear and snort, that’s sometimes more love and affection people show each other, so I fully understand wanting to build up that goddamn wall to ward all those who dare be stupid enough to enter. Dogs are fucking smart. People are not.
My advice? Be more like a dog.
Yes, even if that means licking your own butt.
Okay, maybe not, but do all that other crap about unconditional love and if you really have to be weird about it, lick an eyeball, but that’s it.