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The Happiest Dog in the World

Island Life

At the end, that is all there is, because there is no time for anything else. At the end, most of the time is spent seeking a way for it not to be so, especially when the end comes from nowhere, as if the ticking clock and the calendar on the wall were not clues enough. At the end, the real end, when there is no rise and fall nor slight, surprising stir, there is a pause when things collect themselves on the cusp of memory. It is odd, and then again not at all strange, that I just read an article about an interview with Art Garfunkel and his look back at the break up in 1970 of the folk duo Simon and Garfunkel. It is odd and not so strange because the lyrics to their song “Bookends” had come to mind here:
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

The neural archive for this particular ending had its beginnings on a road trip to Shelton a little over twelve years ago. We were doing a day trip to the coast with our then two dogs, and part way there the puppy of the two began clamoring for a nature break. We found what appeared to be an abandoned log-scaling turnout and pulled over for a brief run-about. Just as we were getting back into the truck, another pickup pulled up along side us and the passenger window rolled down. A teenager turned to us and lifted what appeared to be a black and white, rather scruffy looking puppy and asked the question: “Is this your dog?” Wendy and I looked at each other and answered no. What followed was a rather bizarre exchange with the kid doing most of the talking while “Dad” sat silently at the wheel. It was never really clear where the puppy came from, but the message seemed to be that unless we took it along with us, Dad was going to make junior leave it by the side of the road. We did not need another dog, but the thought of this fur ball being left to wander the roadside of this byway did not sit well with either of us, so much to the dismay of the other two dogs already on board we headed toward the beach with a third canine passenger.

Things were not all well in the extended cab zone where the three were getting acquainted, but we made it to the beach without a serious altercation. Once we reached the shore, our original two saw the expanse of sand between us and the water and took off at a gallop. The short and stocky build of our new found friend did not serve her well in her valiant attempt to keep up. Instead of struggling to keep stride with the speedy two, however, the new puppy showed off one of her lifetime traits- her love of people. As a group of beach walkers went by, she chose to ignore the pursuit of the other two dogs as she veered off course to greet the new people. With her tail wagging as fast as it would go, she waddled up for the meeting, and just as she was about there she squatted and peed as they were bending over to pet her. We apologized for the awkwardness and the day proceeded without further issues, but along the way, the sight of her short legs, big feet and barrel chest brought to mind one thing- a tank. And so it was that a version of the name of a certain cult movie character came to mind as the only name she could have- Taank Grrl. Not so long after that this simply became Taanker.

As with all of our pets, Taanker had a number of names- Big T, Teadles, Taankerbelle were just a few. Probably the longest was the Happiest Dog in the World, which she earned by her dog laugh that she used while begging for treats, and for her spontaneous tail-wagging which she sometimes did even while sleeping. Not much phased her, although windy days and thunderstorms tended to upset her enough to seek us out for comfort and protection whenever either was going on outside. The only thing that really upset her though, was when a backpack came out of the closet and began to be filled with clothes. This was a cue that caused her to retreat to her bed and sulk interminably. We were told by dog sitters that this would go on for a few days after we’d left until things seemed to go a bit better. Our return was cause for celebration, laughing, bouncing and wagging and things would be mostly fine until a backpack would once again rear its ugly, people-stealing presence.

It was just a few days ago that the tail was still going and the laugh still egged us on to allow her to choose her treat of the hour. And then at four the next morning, Wendy woke me up to tell me that Taanker  was having trouble breathing, had thrown up on her leg and couldn’t get up. She was upstairs on the outside porch, and so I went out and sat with her for the next three hours. I listened to the morning progression of overall quiet to a near-dawn chorus of call and response from the songbirds, while Taanker’s breathing over that same period remained labored and her tail did not move. I had seen this before, but not with Taanker. I was envisioning another dog from years before that I didn’t want to lose. After exhausting Island resources, I took him to a specialist in Seattle. I was remembering the look Buckaroo gave me over his shoulder as I left him. I was remembering the black plastic bag I brought him back home in two days later. I did not want to go through that again, so before we took Taanker to the vet we agreed that if this was going to involve the option of extraordinary measures we would prefer to decline them.

We carried her down the stairs in a blanket stretcher, with the other two dogs wondering what this procedure was all about. When we got her to the parking lot we set her down and opened up the back of the pickup. It was at this point that she decided to get up and start walking, as if to say, “See, I could have done that myself.” She then lay down again, breathing heavily. We got her to the vet’s and left her for some tests. A few hours later we went back after the x-rays and blood work were done. As we walked into the waiting room, a particular song by R.E.M. was just winding up with a chorus that might be familiar, which goes…”it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
I’m not sure where Mr. Stipe and the band got the inspiration for that one, but it probably did not involve our particular scenario of that moment. Taanker wagged her tail when she saw us, thanks to a warming blanket and some i.v. fluids, but the rest of the news was not good. Half normal blood pressure that remained unexplained, nodules along the spine and a displaced heart all did not give us hope, along with the fact that she couldn’t get up. We opted to let her go.

As the fluids went in, her body convulsed less with each breath. And then everything just stopped. We had packed her bags and she left. This time, though, it was our time to suffer the loss of a leaving. It is proving to be harder than I ever would have imagined, especially when I know that Taanker, and her special bag of tricks, will not be back.