The other morning I was scratching the grey-haired head of Nolan, my wife’s hound dog who found her twelve years ago at the county animal shelter. I talked to him as we humans like to do and scratched his head and behind his large hound dog ears, and something about the time caused me to remember Fred, a cocker type black dog that I found wounded under the house in which I lived while a sophomore in college. He had been hit by a car and his left back leg was damaged. After coaxing him out from under the house, I took him to a local veterinarian who repaired the long-ago damaged leg as best as possible. However, for the rest of his life Fred walked with a distinctive limp, but his damaged leg never kept him from living a full, rich, and loving life. As I remember, I kept him for the rest of that school year, and he went home with me for the summer. After those few months living with my younger sister and mother, he decided not to return to the college, but to stay with them and live their way. While he and I shared times together when I came home on vacations after that, he was now their dog, and when I left my hometown to begin a career, he remained where he had chosen to be. So, when I thought of him on that recent morning, I asked my sister to fill in the gaps of his life with them.
“You know,” she said, “after you went back to school, Fred became my dog. Yes, he and mother liked each other, but until I enrolled in Western Carolina, he was mine. But, after I went to college, he and mother formed a special bond because they both were now alone. She worked the second shift then, but they shared each day, and he stayed awake until she got home after her shift in the mill. He would ride with us when she drove me back to Western, and when he heard the mailman step onto the porch, he thought it was me coming home for a visit and would run to the front door. But, the most remarkable thing about mother and Fred was his leaving.
“He was not blind, but he could see only shapes. For instance, often he would mistake the white bathtub for the storm-glassed door and wanting out, he would walk into it, mistaking the white porcelain for the light of the door. Like us all, he aged, and mother sensed that his life was ending. For three nights she stayed home from work, but eventually had to return to her shift. But each night of that time, when she got home, she would sit on the floor and hold him in her lap, they loving each other as they had for their years. But, he grew worse, and one morning when she let him out the back door, he would pause on each step and look back towards her, then step to the next and look back. Finally, out of steps, he looked back one last time to her, hearing her tell him it was okay, before he crawled under those steps to die. Later that morning she called the mill refuge department telling the man who answered how there was a dead dog under her back steps. Could he come and remove it?
“You may not understand, brother, but I see mother’s act of letting her beloved Fred go the way he wanted as a courageous and loving act. As she had always done in her life, mother knew that she had done her best with Fred over the years and even now, so she had no regrets. He wanted to go his way, and she let him, no matter her pain with his choice.
“That’s what happened to Fred, and I hope when Nolan’s time comes, he will be given as much grace as was Fred. No dog’s last day should be his worse.”