Lucky by Chris and Aleta Niggeler / Chris

Dog, Gone

You hate thunder.
I therefore curse the storms I prayed for.

You fell into our lives eight months, three weeks ago. A van ran you over – wheels front and back, flipping you ten feet in the air. We stopped, I dragged you out of the street, we shaded you, we stood by so your
last moments wouldn’t be alone.

Yet no. Another: his color is good, get to a vet! Once there, hard choices. You are old, gray, arthritic… were your best days behind you? You weren’t a stray, but no one came for you, nor came to pay your bills. With no one to pay, they must draw the curtain…

Since you’d survived, you deserved the chance to fight on! We become your reluctant benefactors. We don’t even know you! A few days and several hundred dollars later, you are a free dog. No serious injury!

Lucky, we named you. Obvious, but obviously fitting. An Aussie mix, mid-size, black, with cute patches of white on your face and paws.

Home you came with us. City dog in the country. Big skies. No pavement. You out of your element. You head for the gate to trek the 40 miles back to civilization. You pinball into the car every time the door opened.

Soon you settled in. New smells, fresh grass to roll in, safe acres to roam. We moved to a new house down the road and you become the firmament, for the new surroundings and for our lives. We get to know you.

You loved to chase balls, but weren’t that coordinated; often you’d fall. After a few rolls you’d tire out and flop to the ground – but with the prize ball still in your mouth! Had you ever played fetch before?

Your tail was always wagging. You loved massages on those runover ribs, grunting pleasurably between pants for breath. (I called you Mr. Huffnpuff for the labored breathing, perhaps from aging, perhaps from the hit-and-run.) Had you ever been petted and massaged like that before?

You were a kooky guy. Your big trick was to come into the house and steal a toy, a rawhide, a stuffed animal from one of the other dogs and run to your sanctuary in the garage. You never claimed anything as your own; even those balls you chased you willingly gave up when I asked for them. Had you ever had a toy to call your own before?

Yet you latched on to our big, year-old lab mix like you were a puppy yourself. She’d dash by, and seconds later came you, a steamer huffing and puffing behind that boundless locomotive of a dog. While she watched over you, you were good for her too: kept her close to the house, ever vigilant to come to her defense (you bark at me when I wrestle a ball from her, remember?). Had you ever had
a friend like that before?

Your arthritis made you bounce in an oddly cute fashion when you ran. Your legs would shake uncontrollably, making it hard to even stand. You could spend less and less time without panting, your tongue turned blue.

We knew you were old when you came home with us. We knew you might not be long for this earth.

Yet your spirit was unmistakable,
sanctifying our house and our lives.

You ate terrifically (when you became a black sausage, you went on a diet). You chased your ball. You trailed the pup around. You wagged your tail in anticipation of petties. But just last week I told you the vet should have a look at the labored breathing, the odd fullness in the body…

July 3, yesterday. We let you and the pup out at dusk, your favorite time of the day, as we’d done hundreds of times. You laze on the porch, gaze at the world. You rest, you are at peace. We are at peace.

As it nears dark, we call you in. The pup bounds up immediately, but you do not. I put on shoes and circle the house, then the barn, afraid you are fallen and unable to rise. My wife jumps in the truck, afraid
you’ve gone down the road.

It’s raining. You are nowhere near the house. You are not along the roads. You do not respond to our calls.

Darkness surrounds. My hope fades – there are a lot of predators. We turn on all the outside lights. We call your name. Nothing.

Independence Day, no celebrating: I am up at 5:30. I take the pup – your best friend, half hound. We search our 20 acres and beyond. I’m resolved to recovery, not rescue. We see a scrawny coyote. No sign of you at all.

At 9 we take the truck and drive in a 10-mile radius. My wife thinks maybe you’re walking to the city, home for the last. (I flash back: your dogged attempt to get in the car yesterday, even though your legs would never get you up, and lifting causes you fits of coughing.) We check the old house too. No sign, not even your body on the roadside. God forgive, but laying you to rest would be infinitely better than this purgatory of uncertainty!

Every conceivable possibility
has played out in my mind.
Every conceivable emotion
has played out in my body.
One remains: sadness.

264 days. I feel robbed. You were truly a joy. There was not a mean bone in your body. Your departure has left a ragged hole in the family that loved you! My wife feels betrayed – you had a good home, we loved you, and you left. I tell her to try not feeling that way, but that message is just
as well aimed at me…

It is not within Man’s grasp
to fathom the mysterious workings of Dog.

The old tale is that dogs go to die alone. I can’t verify it, but it’s my best guess. It’s not a good guess – you just ate your dinner and chased the ball, so was death really that close? – but it fits the facts the best. Not at all comforting, hardly convincing, but something for my mind to cling to.

It’s 3 am. The biggest storm of the year has settled over us. Every lightning bolt is a jagged cut across my closed eye. Every crack of thunder is a dagger through my heart. The soaking rain must be painful to those arthritic legs.
I ache for you.

You hate thunder.
I therefore curse the storms I prayed for.
And pray you are warm and dry… and happy.


3, July 2006
Chris and Aleta Niggeler