Seven years ago tonight, it was about 3 am, give or take, a few hours from now, we were awoken by frantic barking from our dog Kilgore Trout, who rarely if ever barked. I went downstairs to see what was wrong, and found our puppy Phoebe cowering under the kitchen table, and when I turned the corner I understood why. Our oldest dog, our first, Casey, was lying dead in the living room. A little over twelve years of age she had just up and died in the middle of the night. Lying by the entrance to the dining room, in one of her favorite spots.
I do often think back to that day to see if there were any clues. If I had missed anything. I remember playing ball with her just the day before. She ran and retrieved like the puppy she still was at heart. Yet that morning of her death she was walking slowly. But not slowly enough to cause concern, she was after all twelve. That day I do remember giving her a treat, which she didn’t gobble right down. In fact it took her a while to eat it. And this was a dog who never turned down food. I remember standing, suddenly worried. Not eating was a bad sign, right? But watching me, Casey suddenly gobbled the treat right down, and I was immediately relieved. Had she sensed my panic?
That night, instead of jumping on the sofa to watch TV as she did on most nights, she sat on the floor by Kris’ feet. She felt a little older than usual to us that night. I remember even Kris saying that night, as she stroked Casey’s head, “I’m not ready for you to go.”
Casey really was out smartest child. If she in fact had been human, and at times we certainly felt as if she was, she’d have been the one to graduate from Yale with more degrees than one could understand. She knew when something was wrong, and she acted upon it immediately. If you were sad, she was there right by your side, as if she knew what you were thinking. She was protective. I always believed if anyone came near us in a threatening manner she’d have died trying to protect us. She even protected Kilgore once against another aggressive dog, taking that pooch, turning it on its back, and holding it there. She ruled the roost when it came to the three dogs. She was without question the boss. But still very much that little black snow-covered puppy whose photo I’ve published so many times (see banner above), even at twelve. (How I adore that scowl in her face, even at eight weeks she knew it was silly to be outside in the snow for a silly photograph.)
I was thinking the other day about how none of my shoes are scuffed like when we had Casey. I would often sit on the sofa to write on my laptop, and just drive her nuts by stepping on a tennis ball the whole while. She could spend an hour doing anything and everything to get that ball from under my foot, usually at the cost of my shoes. But the amusement it gave both of us was more than worth it.
Or her excitement at even the whisper of the word “squirrel.” And I would often more than whisper it. “Oh, my God, there’s a squirrel in the yard.” She would go bonkers, jumping up onto the bay windowsill to get a better look, running to the door to the back yard, and back again. She actually never caught one of those evil squirrels, but not for want of trying.
She wanted to be with you all the time. And though she understood we slept upstairs, once we were awake, there was no excuse. And she knew immediately. It became a joke between Kris and myself. If we were awake, we had to be completely silent. No walking to the bathroom. No turning on the radio. No talking even. Because as soon as Casey heard a peep, she’d want in on the action.
Perhaps like all of us, she didn’t want to be alone.
The night she died, I knelt by her side, and closed her eyes, suddenly feeling completely helpless. Sobbing, I ran back upstairs to tell Kris that Casey was dead. I felt like some very important part of me died with her. And perhaps for a while it did. Kris came downstairs, we wrapped her in a red blanket, one which she loved to chew, carried her out to the car, and took her to the emergency animal hospital. Kris drove, because on that night I couldn’t. Our vet explained that a tumor that we knew nothing about had burst and she bled out. And there was nothing we could have done.
The next day we couldn’t function. I so remember getting a vegetarian sandwich from Edge of the Woods in New Haven. A sandwich we both loved and would usually split. And sitting there sobbing as we tried to eat, we stared out that bay window, wondering who would protect us from the squirrels now. We never did order one of those sandwiches again.
When Kilgore passed two and a half years later, I looked back on that night and realized Casey died that way to save us the pain of seeing her slowly fail, as we just had with Kilgore. She was that sort of dog. Protecting us even from the pain of watching her die.
Casey was our first dog. She made us both better people. More understanding, more patient, more loving.
I miss you, girl…