Life Lessons, Courtesy of Man's Best Friend
She'd decided against calling my father, figuring why ruin his day. When he did get home, I heard her tell him out in the driveway, heard him cursing, enraged (at the cosmos; not at me), and heard him go in and make his summer drink—a Tom Collins, with its unmistakable sound of his long metal spoon clinking against the side of his big glass—and then heard him come back out and smash it against the side of the garage.
Eventually he swung open the door of the bathroom and asked me what the Christ I was doing in the tub. He hauled me to my feet, and got me out into my room. He did so principally by showing me how upset he was, which had the effect of making my position seem excessive and theatrical. He felt the way he did and he wasn't in the tub.
I never fully recovered from that day. Six months or so later my father mentioned at the dinner table that a friend of his had a puppy that he had to get rid of, and that maybe I'd like to go look at it, and I told him I'd probably kill it like I killed Lady.
I was reminded that I hadn't killed Lady, and that I shouldn't think that I had. I understood that, didn't I? Once I made clear that I did, the subject was dropped. A month later, he brought home another puppy, this one a male, part Dalmatian and part some kind of spaniel. The puppy was white and black with black ears. I named him Snoopy.
Snoopy lived to be 14 before he had to be put down. Where was I when that happened? A thousand miles away, teaching in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My father called after the fact, having employed the same logic my mother had about calling him concerning Lady: "Why ruin his day." So I sat in my attic apartment thinking I'd once again let my dog down: Like, where had I been at the crucial moment? Where had I been when Snoopy had gotten the injection? Had he been wondering? Had he been thinking, in his foggy dog brain, pretty much what he always did, which was, "It'd be easier, whatever it is, if we were all here?"
When I accepted a teaching job back East, I told myself that my reward for taking a full-time, possibly long-term job and living in the extreme northwest corner of Massachusetts was that I could get another dog. That turned out to be Audrey, half Irish setter, half beagle: essentially a slightly larger beagle with that beautiful Irish setter's red coat. Audrey went everywhere, from the Florida Keys to the Italian countryside, always with that endearing and barely controlled beagle's neediness: that skittish, stricken look and little trill that said, "You're not thinking of going anywhere without me, are you?" And after Lady, and after Snoopy, my answer was always, whenever it could be, no. She drank out of scummy fountains in Rome; she sat still for photo shoots over the FDR Drive. (Baffled relatives in Italy remarked when they first saw her, still petrified and shaking in her little crate in the baggage area, "You know, we have dogs here.")
She never needed a leash and I never needed to call her. If she started to stray, all I had to do was walk the other way. The instant she caught on, she'd come pounding after me, making little yips, indignant, panicked.
She lived 14 years. Her muzzle by that time was mostly white, from stress, I told people. Her hearing started to go. It became clear a large part of it was gone. How much? I kept meaning to get that checked out. Then her eyesight started to go. She bonked into things. I meant to get that checked out, too. She got disoriented enough that I started hanging out with her in the yard while she relieved herself.