Entering the lobby of the activity center at Oakmont one sees two attractive tables spread with zigsaw puzzles.
Like other folks coming or going from cards, the gym, the library or the art room stop I often stop and add a piece or two to an unfinished puzzle. But as I studied the puzzle on the left hand table two weeks ago I let out an audible gasp.
The uncompleted face of the dog depicted was a mirror image of my last dog, Kodi. I studied the full picture on the box. It was as if Kodi had posed for the artist, and as I gaped at it his eyes sought mine with a heart-tugging look. For the next several days I avoided looking left as I exited the building, for each time my eyes drifted in that direction tears would spring to my eyes and it would take an hour or so to regain my composure. Well, now the puzzle is completed but not so my memories. So I am writing the story in hopes I can transform my personal puzzle into a more loving , accepting one.
I think the story goes back to the dog that preceded Kodi. Having lost Gus of cancer at age 13, we desperately wanted another dog. Gus was unique: all white, except for brown drooping Labrador ears. Fifty pounds of lap dog. Part pit, part English bull with the classic protruding jaws, and a tail no bigger than a belly button. Her bulging chest suggested Marilyn Monroe while her abbreviated legs suggested doxie heritage in there somewhere. She was one of those dogs so funny looking folks melted in laughter at the sight of her and she responded by Sinatra-like wiggling of her narrow hips.
While we knew we could never find another Gus, we thought we could find one who looked like her. Haw!
We searched for a replacement for three months, to no avail, sometimes driving fifty miles to different SPCA’s and dog shelters. At the time I was 70 and Lee 75, both of us struggling to accept Lee’s steady progressing dementia and heart disease; perhaps too old to adopt another rescue dog, but we did have three acres fenced, had not lived without a dog for over forty years, and did not lack in the ability to give love.
One noon as we were eating lunch in Alameda after yet another fruitless search Lee said, “Maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. “ “Maybe” she suggested, “ we get a dog that looks the opposite of Gus instead of trying to replace her”.
Well, the Oakland SPCA was putting out three new puppies at 1 pm. We skipped desert and high-tailed it there, arriving at 1:04. Litter mates, all male, purported to be half registered Siberian Husky and half travelling salesman. Seven week old balls of wool. One had two blue eyes, one two brown eyes, and one had an eye of each. We’d had lots of very large dogs, but knew little about huskies, especially that the command “come” was not in the Siberian language. . So we brought home the blue-eyed darling, a male we dubbed Kodi. We were advised he might
weigh 40-50 pounds at maturity.
From the onset, Kodi was a challenge. He had little appetite and so it was impossible to train him with food. His legs seemed to go through a wringer every night so that the next morning they were three inches longer than the night before. He grew to 100 pounds by six months. His coat and posture were magnificent and his wolf-blue eyes certainly terrified every stranger at the gate, something we appreciated living in a remote area of the Oakland Hills.
Even though I was the one to groom him, feed him, and pacify trainers who kept quitting in despair, it was Lee he bonded with. It was a special love affair, and he would lay for hours by her recliner, nose just touching her toes. As her dementia progressed she fixated more and more on him. If he was out of her sight for more than a few minutes she would call plaintively, “Where’s my puppy?” (the “puppy” word drawn out into three syllables) and several times each day she’d comment “Isn’t he beautiful?” Grateful though I was for her joy in his existence, sometimes I felt jealous. In retrospect, I think I was still grieving for Gus.
After Lee died, Kodi grew more difficult. Much of the time he was consumed with anxiety. He developed many gastrointestinal problems and cried a good deal. Many specialists were unable to diagnose his problems, though they surely tried. He had always slept by the side of my bed but now he wanted to sleep outside under some bushes. He would have moments of pleasure, but they were few and far between.
I knew his life expectancy was short but even so when I bought a house in Oakmont I bought one that had a fenced yard to accommodate him.
It was only six weeks after the move that I made the decision to end his life. I struggle with that decision almost daily. Should I have tried longer? More specialists? Should I never have moved?
It haunts me. Or does he haunt me? Or does Lee haunt me for having destroyed her little puppy? I wish I knew how to make this feeling go away.