Losing a pet is always difficult for the people who love them. But it can be even more difficult for the pets who are left behind, as writer J.F. Riordan learned when her dog Reggie passed away. She tells us about it in her essay, “Pete Loses His Wingman:”
Pete woke up this morning an only dog. He is an animal with odd pockets timidity and has depended on Reggie's cheerful steadiness for inspiration to leave the warmth of the house. Normally, when we get up in the still dark mornings, both dogs rush out together. But this morning, Pete wouldn't go. He doesn't like the wind, and he doesn't like the rain. I put on his coat and told him there were squirrels. He wouldn't go. There were no squirrels. Pete isn't stupid, and Reggie wasn't there to encourage him.
We had a rough night last night. Our kind vet and one of his techs came to the house while Pete was locked away upstairs with a very nice bone. We held Reggie and told him we loved him and used something I learned from the late Barbara Woodhouse, and old-school British dog trainer whose advice was of mixed value, but who said that the phrase "What a good dog" had an electrifying effect on dog morale. It was a term with meaning for Reggie, and we said it repeatedly, along with other endearments that are embarrassing for me to admit, but which Reggie seemed to like. He passed into a deep sleep and was gone. They carried him away. We cried.
Pete wouldn't come down. Pete is our rescue dog. Part whippet, maybe; part pointer, maybe; part lab, maybe. It's a lot of maybe. We call him an Indiana Spotted Dog, because he come from a kill shelter in Indiana. We were told that he was abused, but he's never said anything about it. His disposition is a curious mix of Eeyore and Eddie Haskell, and he is extremely skillful at gaining love, even from strangers. But his courage — and he actually has a great deal — has always been supplemented by the knowledge that he had a larger, eager comrade who was never as fast, but always right behind him. Anyway, in the end, we went up and sat on the bed with Pete, so he wouldn't be alone.
This morning will be the first of many adjustments for Pete. All the bones that are scattered around the yard are his now. He gets both the squeaky squirrel toy and the squeaky frog. There will be no one to steal the thrown tennis ball from; the ball will be for him. He doesn't have to nudge his nose in while someone else is being loved; he gets all the love to himself. He gets both windows when we go for a ride. He won't have to hang around veterinarian waiting rooms to offer moral support. And the two months of gourmet foods — the sauteed chicken livers, the chicken breasts, the raw beef, the Italian sausage — will suddenly cease. It will be back to health food, which is boring, as we all know, but important if you have a future.
We did the right thing. It was hard, but it had to be. I found myself thinking of my late father over the long last days and wishing I could have given him an escape from the agony he was forced to endure from this same disease.
Thank you to all of you who sent us so many words of kindness and support. You can never know how much it meant to us. Pete can't write a thank you. But I think he would if he could. Maybe.
Wisconsin writer J.F. Riordan’s latest book is a series of essays called Reflections on a Life in Exile.