In Memoriam: My Sweet Old Dog Kendall
At 11:26 a.m. Saturday, March 18, with a tummy full of sirloin and in the arms of people who loved her, Kendall Brecher, at least 16, departed this life.
For weeks, this exceptionally sweet old German shepherd had barely been able to stand or walk. At nearly 80 pounds, with hips and knees that had all but crumbled, she seemed content to lie on a fleecy pad. But in the past few days the light had gone out of her deep brown eyes, and with every embarassing defecation where she lay, it became clear that the inevitable was upon us.
There are few decisions so agonizing as the one to put a pet down, as anyone who has ever done it knows all too well. You cry for yourself for the loss, and for your pet because of her pain. You hope against hope for a magical cure, another pill, another treatment that will roll back the years and repair the damage. You wrestle with guilt about rushing things or having waited too long. You seek affirmation from everyone you know that you're making the right decision, and you wonder what this faithful, trusting animal is really trying to tell you. Then you cry some more.
Kendall was my Hurricane Andrew orphan, found, of course, on Kendall Drive. She was about 2, trim, and in pretty decent shape despite a past broken front leg and heartworm (and later ACL and cancer surgery).
She loved to be under furniture, in her little caves, and kept me such good company when I was writing my book, hanging out under the desk. This photo is of the two of us in our prime, from my book jacket, in 1994.
She had impeccable manners and was unfailingly cheerful and obedient. Every morning when the other dogs bounded around like wild animals for their breakfast, Kendall would greet me by rolling onto her back and pawing the air. That meant she wanted her stomach scratched, which was a nice way for both of us to start the day.
In her last couple of days, my stepkids, Alex and Jonathan, came by to bid her farewell. Alex is 17 now, but as a little kid, she used to call Kendall "Precious Sweetie'' and dress her up in beads and scaves and ribbons, which Kendall took with utmost grace.
So this morning my boyfriend, Jake, and I, lay down with her on a blanket on the floor and fed her chunks of steak, some fries, a brownie and milk. She certainly still had an appetite, and relished the treats. That's the toughest thing about big dogs at this stage of life, said my vet, Ron Tapper: the front end stays fine long after the back end gives out.
"If she was a person, she'd be in a nursing home with someone wiping her butt and swinging her out of the bed in a sling,'' he said. He assured me this was the right decision.
So as the moment arrived, Jake and I sat with her, stroking her head and telling her all about Doggy Heaven: an infinite grassy field dotted with shade trees and springs of fresh, cool water, where biscuits grow on bushes. There are squirrels and rabbits to chase, and all our other dogs are waiting for her with squeaky toys, and who's to say it isn't so?
First came a sedative, then a few minutes later, the powerful drug that stopped her heart. We hugged her and said goodbye and cried some more, as she took her last breath, and the pain in her wrecked hips and crippled knees went away forever.
I loved her with all my heart and will miss her terribly.
My friend Mark Derr, who has written two noteworthy books about dogs - A Dog's History of America: How Our Best Friend Explored, Conquered, And Settled a Continent, and Dog's Best Friend : Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship - sent me the following poem by Robinson Jeffers the other day, when I told him that the dreaded moment was nearing. It gave me comfort and, if you're facing the loss of your best friend, I hope it will do the same for you:
The House Dog's Grave
(Haig, an English bulldog)
I've changed my ways a little, I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment
You see me there.
So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.
I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.
But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read -- and I fear often grieving for me --
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.
You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that you when you are lying
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided . . . .
But to me you were true.
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.