It was with a scream, not a whisper.

It was another hot Texas evening, and we were standing around on the back patio being wishy washy about what we wanted to do that evening. Cicadas set of their languid mandala in the background. Heat shimmered off of dull metallic tinged grass. As she ran across the patio, chasing Sebastian who was chasing a ball, she slipped. Immediately, nothing was right. All four legs splayed out in a different direction, she tried to struggle to her feet, screamed, fell back down and emptied her bladder. Somehow she got up and her right rear leg hung uselessly. I ran to her and eased her down and began probing. Nothing felt right. Her hip and knee joint were loose and disconnected, below her knee there was a fracture. She screamed again as I gingerly touched that area. Gillian shut down the house and we took her down to the Animal Emergency Clinic. I rode along in the back with Josey, trying to keep her from struggling to her feet.
We arrived; Gillian went in to notify them of our situation. I eased my hands under her hips and shoulders to lift her up, as I lifted her she struggled and rolled, her injured leg flopped oddly off to one side. Her eyes went white and she screamed again, then she growled and snapped, thrashing her head towards mine. I felt her face next to mine, and a dull blow on my cheek. I set her back down and reassessed. The second try went better, we got her in and the receptionist looked up in amazement as I walked through the door with an 85 pound dog in my arms and blood streaming from my cheek. Someone said that I was bleeding; I said that I wanted my dog taken care of first.
They took her back to an examining room and we were able to stop and think for the first time. I told Gillian what her leg felt like. The fact that she was 13 years old loomed ominously -- an unspoken fact that clouded the whole matter. This feeling was not eased when they took us out of the waiting room back to a consulting room. Fracture aside, her leg was orthopedically shot. We were given the option of leaving here there for x-rays or taking her home for the night. After brief discussion, we decided to go ahead and take her home, and take her to our vet in the morning. Thirteen is old for anesthesia, and they were doubtful that they could get a good image. But the unspoken fact of the matter was that an x-ray would only tell us what was already apparent, Josey’s right leg had reached the end of its useful service. They gave her an injection to control the pain, and gave us pain pills to give to her during the night. We rode home in the darkening Friday night. Gillian driving and me in the back with a sedated but still whimpering Josey. Around us other people were out on other business. A car full of girls dressed up for a night on the town drove past. A Mustang stopped behind us at a light and a leering young man in a baseball cap looked at me through his friend’s windshield and shot the finger.
It was a long night. We made an elaborate sort of nest for her to lie in, and sat with her a while. Her breathing was heavy and labored. She cried through the night. No one really slept.
Up early the next morning and off to Brykerwood Veterinary Clinic. As we rode there, Josey licked my hand, always the nurse, the mother, and the nurturer. We waited outside, her in the back of the truck, me sitting on the bumper. It was a bright summer morning, she kept trying to get a look at the other dogs waiting outside. As we went in people looked up and then quickly away. It was a palpably private moment, a man holding a ruined dog in his arms at a veterinary clinic. The doctor was mercifully short and to the point. If she had been hit by a car and her leg had broken under those circumstances, that would be one thing, but she merely fell down. This indicated severe weakening of her bones, probably cancer. Her leg could be set and splinted, but that would only serve to accelerate the degeneration of her left side. Extreme measures such as chemotherapy and surgery could possibly buy her 6 months to a year of time, which in all likelihood would be spent in misery.
We had to decide to end this dog’s life. This big thirteen year old girl who lay shivering on a cold metal table with a ruined leg and pain medicine that was wearing off. How do you do that without feeling guilty? Though I know that our decision was for the best, there is a nagging part of me that demands to know, was it for her sake or ours?
Two injections, the first was an anesthetic which put her into a final restful sleep. The next was a clear pink solution that came in a large syringe. As he pushed the needle into her vein, blood swirled into the solution, curling and marbling. He injected it, and several seconds later she spasmed, stretched out as if she was going to lie down for a nap, and was then gone.

We bring these animals into our lives. In doing so we remove them from their care into ours. Out of any semblance of the “Natural World” (whatever that means) and into a domestic, ultimately human-centered world. In doing so we change the rhythm of their lives. Food not only is provided - it is demanded. Lifespans extend. A true two-way relationship is formed. When we decide to become pet owners, we are fulfilling a basic need for companionship, but at the same time we are telling ourselves a story about ourselves. Who we are and what we mean by it. And if we are very good at the game, we can sometimes cross the boundaries, we can leave the human centered world into which we brought this dog and enter into its world. We can perhaps see for a minute what the world means when it is viewed from a standpoint other than human. I know that by taking Josey into our care, we gave her a good life, and we were able to nurture her into several years that she simply would not have been able to enjoy were she looking out for herself. That does not make the decision to end her life any easier.

I have been friends with Josey for the better part of a decade. I was taking a botany class during a summer session at the University of Texas at Austin and the Teaching Assistant had to relocate to Mexico. I volunteered to take over the care of his dog. The first thing she did when I met her was to take my arm in her mouth and gently shake it from side to side. It was odd at first, to have a large Doberman Pinshcer looking dog wrap its pearly whites around my forearm. She decided to put up with Sebastian, all the while making it clear that the decision was hers to make. Alpha. Always.
Josey was born in Tennessee, and looked vaguely like the state, long and angular, with a prominent snout. She was a cross between a Doberman Pinscher and a Standard Collie, she had all of the Dobie markings and the snout of a Collie. She was a big girl, 75 pounds when she was fit and young.
She was a different sort of dog. Most dogs deal with life on their own plane: earth, dirt. The ground. (This can be confirmed by a cursory glance under their toenails) Water is also an acceptable realm to dabble in. Josey was the first dog I ever met who did sky. She would notice birds, most often buzzards circling, and run about below them with an excited look in her eye. That panting, laughing look that a dog gets when they are involved in a game that pleases them. When hiking she forged her own path, crashing through brush and disappearing for long periods of time. She was one of those dogs who would fetch the ball, but not bring it back. She would run across the yard with it, and she liked to stand on the patio and bounce it and catch it again in her mouth

Squirrels were another favorite. She even knew the word. Many gallant skirmishes were fought with the squirrel as adversary and hated foe. Perhaps the most epic, the one that will be sung of around many a campfire was a fifteen-minute game of brinkmanship wherein she stalked a squirrel across approximately one hundred feet of open lawn. Delicious suspense; steady slow steps, her eyes never off of the target. So careful, so measured. The look of hate in her eyes was palpable when Diego “Pagliacci Schweinhund” the Clown Prince of inept Labradors took notice of the game and promptly chased the squirrel up the nearest tree.

Josey maintained a good average and had a relatively clean record. She loved to flop down in the sun. To roll in the grass, alas. In her youth she was a magnificent jumper, a top fetcher of sticks, and a devout frisbitarian. Over the years she proved to be a wanderer. Scaling our fence to pursue agendas of her own devising. She always was returned to us, her karmic debt to the kindness of strangers is unending. She would return to us reeking of the sins of the city, worn out and unapologetic. She hated baths, was mistrustful of water in general, but enjoyed a good swim provided she was able to maintain autonomy over the situation. I believe she may be one of the few dogs ever to have employed her tail as a rudder. Josey knew tricks, she could shake and roll over and speak. Speak was always a dodgy proposition though, as once she started to speak, she would not necessarily stop. She had good throaty bark that she seemed proud of. She also knew the command “Eat a bug!!!”, and when so bidden would set about to snuffling around the floor in search of the target.
Josey took up a lot of space. Not just physically (though in her later years, while not fat, she definitely developed some lines which would have raised the eyebrow of Rubens). The space that she commanded was psychological. She was our only female dog, and she strove to be alpha in every situation. Because she worked out of this paradigm, she carried a different air about her. She was vaguely aloof and impatient with other dogs.
She hated thunderstorms. I believe she took them personally, believing that every flash of lightning and crack of thunder was directed at her. She also detested cold weather, and knew how to augment her chattering teeth for additional piteous effect. Nests were a comfort to her, if she could kick and scratch some sort of pile of something together to sleep in she was comforted. I once watched her work for several minutes with a forlorn sock before she flopped down on top of it with considerable exasperation.
I often wonder about her as a puppy, if she ever really was one. I almost feel as if she was delivered unto this earth aged and wise. The sheer frivolity of puppyhood seems like a dalliance for which she would have little patience.

TO me, fair friend, you never can be old

For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,

Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold

Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,

Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d

In process of the seasons have I seen,

Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,

Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.

Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,

Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;

So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,

Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:

For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:

Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.

Wm. Shakespeare, Sonnet CIV

I watched her age. A long process of slowing metabolism, weight gain, arthritis: Death coming on little cat’s paws. Her eyes clouded with cataracts. Her hearing diminished. She gained a few pounds and slowed down a bit. On walks she would tire easily. Her legs became unsteady and gravity became an increasingly unfair proposition. Her personality changed, she became more deliberate and perhaps a bit senile. After a nasty fall down a flight of wooden stairs, she favored her right rear leg, and getting up in the morning became a laborious undertaking.
Life with two dogs is fundamentally different from life with three. Diego and Sebastian are both good boys, and we love them very much, but they do not in any way replace Josey. Her Passing leaves a void. She was special. She will be missed.

Hey where did we go,
Days when the rains came
Down in the hollow,
Playin' a new game,
Laughing and a running hey, hey
Skipping and a jumping
In the misty morning fog with
Our hearts a thumpin' and you
My brown eyed girl,
You my brown eyed girl.

Van Morrison, "Brown Eyed Girl"


Copyright Estate of Anthony Vail Sloan 2009