I look into the eyes of my ‘ugly, stupid dawg’ and I fog up. The memories of when I first collected the puppy from the most unusual house I have walked into crawl into my head. Pug puppies came at me from one side and snappy Chihuahuas snarled from the other. I was just an 11-year-old kid who was entering into the final year of my primary schooling. As soon as I laid eyes on this ridiculous looking pug I was in love. She had these huge rich chocolate eyes that engulfed her tiny head. Her tail wagged with delighted exuberance and her head rested gently in my lap. My hard exterior softened at that very instant. No wonder I cried so much in year 6.
12 years later and I have finished school, turned 23 and reached the point in my life where I finally feel like an adult. Arkie, my precious dog, has hit the age of 12 and she cannot stand up anymore without her legs giving way. She still wags her tail from time to time but she’s lame, she’s sick and she’s old. She still rests her head in my lap and she still spills thousands of strands of hair on my clothes. The funny thing is that my mother, who reluctantly said yes to our desperate pleas for a dog, suggested buying a pug on account of the presumed lack of molting. She should have done more research. However Mum has come to love the dog just as much as the rest of us and there is no doubt that she does far more in terms of Arkie’s upkeep than the other lazy sods who occupy the house. She even wiped the dumb dawg’s dirty backside today as I held Arkie’s body and refused to look back at the arbitrary routine.
When she was a quaint pup, Arkie used to nip and tug at our clothes. She used to defend her property fiercely and sprint around our backyard to the point of exhaustion when she was excited. She howled with anticipation as we filled up her food bowl and she snorted and panted after a long walk. She took on dogs three times the size and never took a backward step. Her vitriolic bark was far more dangerous than her feeble bite.
Despite the fact that she is an ugly dog, she remains the most beautiful thing I have ever loved (sorry Mum.) With her pushed in face, wet nose and curly tail she could look at me with guilty eyes after shitting in the middle of the lounge room and get barely a moment’s anger out of me. It would be less than a minute before I had conceded she would always win as long as her tail kept wagging. Dumb dawg. Now I just feel bad seeing her in pain but I just don’t want to let go yet.
Seeing a living thing deteriorate quickly in front of you is an arresting sight. I saw my grandfather slip into an irreparable state after he had a stroke and I still vividly recall the vision of his smiling face as he lay in hospital. I have no doubt his mind was wandering somewhere else but I felt that he was saying goodbye, almost as if he was ready to leave this dimension, whether that be a state of eternal darkness or perhaps something bigger. I don’t know and I’m certainly not ready to find out anytime soon. Arkie does not have to worry about such existential angst; she simply needs to depart this earth to not feel the pain anymore. We need her to go because we don’t want to see her that way.
Nonetheless, death shouldn’t be about the inevitable slide into nothingness. It should be about the life that was led and the stories you can share with others about someone you loved. Even if that someone or something is a but a dumb dawg, there are still many beautiful stories to be shared. I still sometimes shake my head in disbelief when considering the function of domesticated animals. They are there to accompany us, amuse us and perhaps assist us with certain things. But they also cost a lot of money and require a remarkable amount of upkeep. Nevertheless, without a dog I could imagine my life would have been a little less enjoyable. Lying on the couch with Arkie on a hung-over Sunday afternoon was enough to cheer me up. Gazing up at the stars as a kid when taking Arkie to bed and just having her next to me made it feel like she was actually gazing up as well. She has been there for basically every significant moment of my life. Finishing school, leaving to another continent and being there when I’m returning, meeting the girls in my life with a wag of the tail, witnessing my tears and my laughter (usually at something ridiculously stupid she was doing) and having to put up with the horrendous roar of my CD collection whenever no one is home minus the two idiots… just me and the dumb dawg.
So I sit outside and look into her big eyes and notice that she appears to be a little overawed by the whole experience. The spark is absent, the tail doesn’t wag even when I rub her leg and she doesn’t respond to my voice anymore. Nevertheless I still cherish the texture of her forehead and the gentle touch of her paws. I don’t want to let go but I know that it’s written in the stars. I don’t think Arkie is gazing at them along with me anymore; she’s too busy keeping her body off the ground. I don’t know how humans handle death as they do. I know it is just a procession, a gloomy unavoidability, but goddamn it is hard to deal with.
So I freeze my mind again and just enjoy her soft breath on my thigh. The sun shines down on us as we enjoy one of our last days together. I hear my Dad mutter, ‘she’s just a dog’ but even I know how much he will miss her. Sure, she’s just a dog, but I’m just a human and loyal companions are pretty hard to come by. For such a dumb dawg, she knows everything about me. Maybe I’m simply imagining that she actually cares that much about me. Maybe I’m the one she has to pretend to care about in order to survive but there’s something about those big old eyes that screams love and devotion. I love my dumb dawg.
I loved her when I first received her, when she lazed on the blanket in the summer of 2001/02. When she visited my school, when she tried to run down to the main road and only a kind neighbour halted her imminent death. I missed her when I went away and I felt horrible when I left her in the rain. The dumb dog couldn’t comprehend the concept of shelter when it bucketed down and the hair dryer was brought out far too many times. I hated her for seconds after she misbehaved but forgave her almost immediately. She is just a dog after all. She would never misbehave simply to spite me, right? No, she is just a dumb dawg after all. A beautiful, loyal, unintentionally hilarious and utterly adorable dumb dawg.
And by gee, how I will miss her.