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So long, Belle. And Thanks.

dog, pet, death, friend

I said goodbye to my dog Belle this morning. She turned 16 a few months ago and died yesterday.

The great, generous heart of hers that drummed to the rhythm of an unquestioning love for everyone she met finally stopped beating. Her aging body that housed the gentlest soul one could possibly imagine finally gave out. Her warm brown eyes that offered soothing and caring whenever she looked at me closed for the last time.

I stayed with her to the end, just as she stayed with me through my own share of bumpy times since she trotted joyously into my house eight years ago. She was lying on her side and I cradled her head on my lap, petting her and stroking an upraised paw the way she always liked. She was making quiet mouth sounds, the tip of her tongue darting between her lips which she did when she felt content. Then, the vet slipped a needle into another leg and in an instant she was gone, peacefully. Her head sagged as her body gave out a last, deep breath and the paw she had been holding up for me to pet slid out of my hand.

Belle grew up as my mother’s dog. When mother died, my sister brought Belle to live with me. It was the last time I saw Janice healthy – only weeks later, she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer and died in three short months. So, besides being my buddy, Belle was my last living connection to my family.

In the years we shared our lives, Belle became as attached to me as I did to her. When I’d leave for a meeting or to run to the store, she’d lay patiently at the front door until I returned 10 minutes or 10 hours later. Hearing me unlock the door, she would leap about wildly in greeting, following me from room to room, barking if I wasn’t returning her greeting with sufficient zest. When I eventually settled in one place, she would lie down, give a quick glance to make sure I wasn’t moving again and nod off for a nap. She was eternally loyal and unendingly faithful.

Belle was very playful, even in her dotage, although playing slowed over the years. She went from chasing a ball to having me roll the ball towards her so she could grab it to simply chewing on a ball. Her favourite activity, though, was following me to “the garden” which, to her, meant anyplace outside. Belle followed me to the front garden when I watered the flowers and plants, sitting at the gate waiting for someone to walk by so she could wag and they could pet her through the fence. Other times, she would lie on the porch wearing a smile as big as tomorrow as she watched the world go by while I plucked weeds.

Like every dog, she loved walks. Belle thought that there was nothing better than a stroll through Riverdale Park, tugging me towards the farm so she could raise her nose high to smell the air’s aromatic blend of cows, horses, chickens and, well, their combined effluent which, to a pooch, is something to be savoured in the warm summer breeze. There were always kids in the park, as well, who would run over to pet her; she’d sit and eagerly let them, her tail flipping back and forth on the grasee. There were other dogs to wag at and sniff and, at the end of our adventure, she knew that an ice cream cone was waiting. In fact, she knew the route so well that if I forgot, she’d pull on her leash until I followed and bought her a cone at a refreshment stand.

Eventually, the walks became shorter and, by this summer, were limited to going down the walkway to the street, up a house or two and then back home. Afterwards, she’d sleep for an hour.

She had little routines that I miss terribly. When I’d return from the grocery store, she knew there was something for her in one of the bags and would dance around the kitchen as I put the food away. When the treat materialised, she took it softly from my fingers before settling down to a good chomp. Every evening, she waited anxiously for me to finish dinner because I put my plate on the kitchen floor for her to lick. After being let out for the last time at night, she would lay at the bottom of the stairs, dozing while I watched the end of a movie or The Daily Show until I finally called, “Time for bed!” Then, she would lumber upstairs and settle alongside my bed, waiting until I climbed over her before going to sleep. In the morning, if I slept past her breakfast time, she wouldn’t bark; she’d just stand next to the bed and pant loudly near my head until I woke up and fed her.

Belle lived a long life for a large dog – she was half Black Lab and half Golden Retriever – and, I hope, a happy one despite numerous medical problems which were kept at bay by a terrific vet, a cubby full of medicine and her own will power. But at 16, it was her time and we both knew it. She began failing quite rapidly one afternoon and, by morning, I couldn’t postpone the inevitable. The vet quietly told me, “We can keep her alive for a little while but we’d be doing it for you, not her.”

As anyone who has lost a beloved pet knows, when they die you lose a family member. Even my cat Sparky, who graciously deigned to share the house with us, seems to miss her. He spends much of his time looking for her, checking spots where she’d sleep or sat looking out the window. Then he comes to me with a quizzical look on his face, gives out a questioning squeak and hops onto my lap. Sparky knows she’s gone and seems to miss her, in a way understood only by cats.

I know how he feels. I miss her, too, and thank her for gracing my life.
Published: 2008-03-18
Author: Charley James

About the author or the publisher
A former assistant editor of "Business Week" magazine, and a television news producer and reporter before that, Charley James began writing when he was about eight and hasn't stopped.

Now, he covers and writes news articles including his own independent investigative reporting, writes articles, websites and newsletters for clients, drafts speeches, creates and writes ad copy, and crafts humorous essays about things people encounter every day.

Charley has been published in many magazines.

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