My Rhodry died four years ago today. I saw him and his littermates born on December 17, 1994, and in the following days and weeks I spent many hours with the puppies. Around week 3 little Han Solo (all the boys had Star Wars names) came toddle-trotting toward me. My heart opened: I knew he was my puppy. I named him after Rhodry Maelwaedd in Katharine Kerr’s wonderful Deverry novels. I named him true: he was definitely a Rhodry.
Being a Vineyard dog, Rhodry had four homes in his 13-year life — four homes and three barns. Much has changed in my life since Rhodry died: I no longer drive a pickup, I sold Allie in the spring of 2010, and of course there’s Travvy. Tomorrow is Trav’s fourth birthday, so I’ll write about him then. This is what I wrote in my old Bloggery on the day Rhodry died.
No merry scampering around Allie as I lead her to the mounting block, woo-wooing for the joy of a ride and the hope of a cookie. Loading groceries into the pickup’s front seat because my navigator isn’t there — the front seat is no place for groceries; they belong in the truck bed. No one to feed supper to but myself. It’s raining and there’s no one to call in from the deck, no one to fix me with a look that says, Don’t you know by now that I’d rather be cool and too wet than dry and too warm?
Yesterday when we got to the barn Rhodry collapsed getting out of the truck. He was startled, he was hurt, it was a long time before he even tried to get up. When he did, his left leg hung as limp as a bedraggled tail. At home my brave puppy managed to climb the stairs with his forepaws while I held his hindquarters in a sweatshirt sling. He ate his supper. I gave him a quadruple dose of bute — I’ve been pulverizing horse-size bute tablets with a mortar and pestle, mixing it with peanut butter, and doling it out in dog-size portions at the end of a small biscuit. He had a hard time settling, I don’t know if he even slept, but at the usual hour, around 5 a.m., his little whimpers woke me from sleep: he wanted to spend the rest of the night on the deck.
The sunrise was spectacularly red through the bare trees. Still in bed I heard scraping on the deck. I got up, pulling on my fleece robe as I went to the door. I’d laid plastic patio chairs across the top of the stairs, afraid that Rhodry might attempt them and fall and spend the night broken at their foot. Rhodry was trying to squeeze by the chairs so he could go do his morning business. I helped him down the stairs. His left leg was still useless. The scrubby undergrowth that he used to bound through so jubilantly was fighting his every step. It was winning. He didn’t know where he was trying to go.
As soon as there was half a chance that someone live would answer my vet’s phone, I called. Any time, she said. I said ten o’clock. Rhodry was finally settled in the scrub. I took brush and comb out there, hunkered down beside him, and did a little grooming, all the while asking him if he remembered various things we’d done together, and telling him over and over how glad I was that he was my puppy. In good times his tolerance for grooming is about five minutes. This morning he didn’t protest at all. Bad sign. Pearl, my neighbors’ Labradoodle, came over to check us out. She stayed to say goodbye. I made a bed for him at the back of the truck bed, using an old comforter that we filched from the little place he grew up in. I picked him up and lifted him in. David, my neighbor, came out, heading off to work, later than usual. I told him this was going to be Rhodry’s last ride. He went back to the house to tell his family it was time to say goodbye. They all came out, Sarah and Willa, who’s in third grade, and Ava, who’s in kindergarten. Willa and Ava showed Rhodry the stuffed animals they’d got this past weekend on a trip off-island. David asked if I wanted him or Sarah to drive, so I could stay with Rhodry. I said I thought I could manage.
Michelle, my vet, whom I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve lived here, wanted to make sure this was the right decision. We could try stronger painkillers, she said; corticosteroids. I told what had happened the day before, how I thought it was no longer just about pain and discomfort. After she gave Rhodry the injection that would make him unconscious, she felt his leg. Broken, she said. The bones are at the wrong angles. She thought the cancer had metastasized to his bone, which is what I was thinking this past weekend, as Rhodry gave up putting more than minimal weight on that leg. You’ve made the right choice, she said. I know.
Jim Lobdell and his tractor dug Rhodry a grave, up the hill at the end of a line with Black Kitty and Black and White Kitty, both of whom Rhodry knew, and Amber the yellow Lab, who was before his time. Jim and I lifted him in on the stolen comforter, and I laid one of his favorite squeaky toys by his head. Rhodry used to snooze at the top of that hill, keeping an eye on the barn; as soon as I emerged from the tackroom and started bridling Allie, he’d pelt down the hill to make sure he wasn’t left behind. He can’t come along anymore, but maybe he’ll know when we’ve come home safe.
Good night, Rhodry. I’m glad you’re my puppy.
Spring, spirit dancer, nimble and thin
I will leap like coyote when I go
Tireless entrancer, lend me your skin
I will run like the gray wolf when I go
. . . .
And should you glimpse my wandering form out on the borderline
Between death and resurrection and the council of the pines
Do not worry for my comfort, do not sorrow for me so
All your diamond tears will rise up and adorn the sky beside me when I go
Dave Carter, “When I Go”