Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bert: One Week Later

One week ago today, this very moment, Bert hit the ground for the last time. For quite some time I have been steeling myself against this day, this very moment, but it was a futile effort in the face of loss. For the time Bert hit the ground, and then dragged himself over to the kennel where there was water and a place easily defended by a dying dog, I must admit to a paralyzation. I could not move or think or act. I dithered in digging the grave and I picked up the cell phone, opened it, closed it, opened it, closed it, and could not make the call.

At the death of my mother-in-law more than a decade ago the path was clear to me that the woman who had just died ought not the have been brought back into this world. One of her grandsons demanded a nurse, a doctor, anyone, someone, do something. Yet this was a wreck of a human body that could not cling to life much longer unaided and would not without permanent infrastructure in place for breathing. Brain activity had ceased. There was no one there to bring back.

I thought about trying to save Bert. I thought about what it would take to allow him some life without the use of his back legs and I have seen carts and wheeled devices that might allow me to keep him in some form for some time longer. I could have built a ramp into the house and I could fence off the wild part of the yard. But I am gone most of the day and during that time what would happen to Bert if the cart overturned, and he was unable to move. In Summer, the heat alone might kill him. I could keep him housebound during the day, and perhaps he would survive more easily that way, but would Bert still be Bert if he were crippled? Would the indignity of being bound by his infirmary change who he was to me? More than human beings can imagine dogs are defined by their physical bodies. Bert was an Alpha Dog. Bert was the leader of our pack. Bert was strong and dangerous, and the last couple of years weakened his spirit as his body failed him.

When he lay down in front of Lucas and Sam, and allowed them to step on him and over him as they headed for the door one night I saw in his eyes the pain of knowing he was not able to stand with his brothers as an equal, and he had to put up with whatever either of them decided to do to him. I shooed the other two away from Bert when I petted him, and even though in a very large way this honored Bert, it also assured him that he could not compete with his brothers for my attention on his own. The same dog I had to scold for pushing the younger dogs away was now the dog who had to stand back and watch when there was a group petting session and wait until I made the other two be still.

Twice I had carried him into the house in the last few months, twice I had picked him up in the yard, put him on a tarp, and sledding him in. The first time he tried to get off the tarp as it moved, but gave up to the pain. The second time I feared was the last because he could not stand for a couple of hours. The pain meds and what strength he had, Bert fought it off, and fought back. The back steps still gave him a fit but he managed to become mobile again. He fell over into his food bowl one night, and the look he had on his face broke my heart.

On cold nights Bert once slept near my head, coiled up in a tight ball of fur. He could leap up on the bed and turn around three times and drop. Sam drifted in slow and quiet, but Bert was a dropper. Bert always claimed that spot, nearest me, but this winter, which was never that cold anyway, he fought against me lifting him onto the bed. Getting down had become too painful and it was just too much for him to be lifted up and then handled back down again. Bert hated being carried like that. He despised it with a passion. I think more than anything else, his exclusion from the bed made him realize how fragile he was, and it made me realize how weak he was becoming in age.

Bert’s breathing is something I miss, desperately miss, each night. He had a deep rhythm of breath and spoke of an animal with true strength of his lungs. Both Lucas and Sam sleep more fitfully, but Bert sank into slumber like it was hibernation. I wake up at night and there is a silence now that hurt my heart and wounds my spirit all over again. I miss Bert when I cannot hear him.

A week ago today, right this moment, a dog passed from my life, as so many others have. I have not cried this hard since I committed Spike to the earth, and I was still a child then. I told myself that day I would never cry like that again, and for nearly forty years I kept that promise, as defense, as a wall, as a means to keep from ever having my heart broken, my world shattered, my life altered by loss and my soul taken down hard by grief.

I buried my best friend, my protector, my muttibeasti, my companion of a dozen years plus and in that pain, in the gasps for breath, in the dying of part of my life and the ending of era, I reached back into time, and in a very odd way, with Bert’s death, I am more alive than I have been since I was a kid.

Take Care,


  1. "Bert sank into slumber like it was hibernation."

    Because he trusted you to always do the right thing.

    You did.

    1. I do not think anyone has ever said anything more kind to me than that.

      Thank you.

  2. I've had to have pet cats put to sleep. They were at the point that their quality of life was just...horrible. Some had kidney failure, one became blind and repeatedly ran into walls, shivered with fear all the time.

    And here's what I have as a personal philosophy: "Quality of life is at least as important as quantity." NOT just for pets/animals, but for humans and for myself.

    There is a point when keeping a beloved person or pet alive becomes selfish of the one who loves them. I know human suffering intimately, I've been there, done that. Some who have not suffered seem to be oblivious to the fact that "quality of life" is important...when you hurt so bad you wish you were dead.

    Bert trusted you to do the right thing, and YOU DID. Even though it meant you would suffer his loss for a long time.

    1. I've had friends who wondered if they make the decision too soon when it was clear they had waited long enough.

      It's my turn.

      But this is the first week in quite some time Bert hasn't been in pain, or fear.

    2. There's so much more I want to say than I can say here, I sent you a Gmail. You are doing this all just right, it's just too hard to see when you are in such grief. You loved Bert with all your heart, that is all he ever wanted, and he got it from you every day of his life. It was MORE than enough Mike.

    3. I have never had a dog like Bert, not even when I was a kid, Rose

  3. I have type many things and deleted them. I just don't have the words I want.
    When I think of you it is always linked with an image of Burt. I think you have shared a soul and that is his gift to you.
    I hope you know what I mean. xxoo