Most of us with a human heart know what it is to love an animal, and the heartsick loss you live with when they die.
She was 14 after all, and I knew it was coming. But you bargain, don’t you? Then she fell down the stairs in the night. When I scrambled down to help her up, Lily slashed out and bit me. Then, darned if ten minutes later, she fell down the same set of stairs. I wrapped her up in a big towel and we were waiting at the vet’s office just after dawn. She made it into the vet’s office by herself, but fell and couldn’t get to her feet again. He picked her up and lay her down on the treatment table.
She never moved again. It was as though she had reached the end of the road. We both knew the time had come.
I scheduled my writing time around Lily. I live in the mountains and before the drought brought the bears and the mountain lions into the village, I felt easy about just opening the door and letting her out to do her business. I write first thing in the morning when my mind is fresh and uncluttered. She’d come right back in, eat her breakfast, and settle down at my feet while I wrote crime fiction.
When my concentration faded in the late morning, we’d go for walks in the forest. There’s dozens of paths along both sides of the main road and we knew them all. When she was young, I’d worry about the rattlesnakes when I would see her charge through the bushes, then stop and sniff. Once coyotes followed us. She was my protector at night. I could tell the difference between Lily’s raccoon bark, and her one-octave higher, “OMG, It’s a bear. It’s a bear outside.”
One of my proofreading disciplines is to read work aloud. You slow down when you read aloud and catch more errors that way. I would read to Lily. She would be interested at first and look up at me, her head tilted, eyes bright. But crime fiction put her to sleep pretty quickly. I hope it doesn’t have the same effect on my readers.
When your companions are your animals, you talk to them. I have cats as well, but cats have even less interest in crime fiction. Great lines and thrilling chase scenes don’t excite them at all.
Lily liked to go places and pulled me away from the computer, got me out in the forest, and helped me fill in plot holes, and develop characters. I tried out my dialogue on her. We went to meetings and took car trips together.
She was my model for the dogs that always find their way into my novels. If only we were so kind to offer the end of suffering to the beloved humans in our life.
But that day is dawning. Here in California at least.