The long goodnight
I said the long goodnight to Roxy, my 17 year old kelpie-cross, yesterday afternoon.
That sentence just made me cry.
I’ve watched Roxy beg to chase a wretched stick into the ocean again and again until she’s emitting sea water from both ends. Under the leafy canopy in State forest, she and I have run side by side for hours on end. Sometimes, when my heart was wrecked with the things that break a woman’s heart, we’ve stopped and sat in the dirt, she pressing her forehead into my chest, absorbing the bees of my pain; me, dripping face, pressing soft kisses between her eyes on the silky indent where her long nose meets her beautiful round skull. Me rubbing those warm ears until she groans in satisfaction.
She was such a bossy bitch, always castigating small humans and fellow creatures. But she never got into a dog fight and, although not ecstatic about it, accepted many a strange dog into her own backyard. She always watched out for the smallest, most defenceless creature. Like when there was a new kitten, Juno, and she'd tell the old feline, Joey, off if he got into a hissy fit. Or when we welcomed our new puppy, Tilly, she would tell Juno off if he got a bit close. When Tilly chased the hens, she would bark: ‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’ When you arrived home from a holiday away, she'd lecture and welcome you with equal enthusiasm.
Before she was too stiff and sore with arthritis to cuddle with me, Roxy had no concept of personal space. When I sat on the ground with her, she’d push with all the force of her stringy body, like she had to get inside. I guess you could say we didn’t exactly respect her personal space either because we’d pick her up, laughing at her matchstick legs sticking straight out from her whippety barrel chest, her tail curling modestly between her back legs.
Before I finally worked out how to successfully master her, she just about pulled my arm out of its socket on walks and nipped my two small boys on the backs of their legs like she was herding them towards the shearing shed. I phoned a vet on ABC radio about this once and he told me she was a lost cause and I should get rid of her…. So off we went to the best training I could find.
She loved perfuming herself in dead and disgusting things without consideration for me. She shed short stiff hairs continously. She sniffed out hidden cat poo in our gravel driveway, savouring each one like a rare black truffle. Lightening storms caused a major international incident until she was finally too deaf to hear them.
It’s hard to make the decision to put your pet to sleep. Hard waiting for the vet to arrive at your home, hearing about how they will first give her a relaxant and then stop her heart. Hard watching a dear life force ebbing away: "I love you, Roxy! I love you, Roxy! I love you, Roxy!" One more kiss, one more kiss, one more kiss. It's hard to contemplate the thought of dirt on her face, of cold earth hugging her, of weight pressing down, of rain soaking in. Especially after you’ve carried her many times up and down stairs, are in the habit of testing the temperature to decide if she needs her coat on or off, and watched her stand on quivering joints because getting down and back up again is too hard. It’s hard placing her warm jacket over her beautiful grey snout and those eyes, trickling the dirt…. It’s all hard.
All you need is for her to tell you she’s okay with going into her long goodnight. At least give you a sign that now is better than later. Better than when she can no longer smile up at you like that, better than when she finally gives up her life’s mission of fossicking for brown nuggets, better than when she can no longer totter the 50 metres to the dam for a good long look.
This morning, the sun in our shady little valley spotlights her resting place. Her canine sister is stuck to my thigh like a farmer's friend bur. And all the memories roll over me.