Thirty-six hours before my dog died, we played fetch in the dark. It was something she loved to do, something still within range, but it was more than that. It seemed to liberate her from the indignities of age and make her feel like a puppy again.
Her eyesight was in decline, and in the glare of day it was hard for her to distinguish shapes. But against the curtain of night she could spot and chase our glowing, LED-lit ball. She’d lope across the field in the gathering blackness, tongue out, tail wagging furiously.
And then on a floodlit day that dawned too soon, the blackness closed in. On her last morning alive, I tried to get her to share my vanilla ice-cream cone, an existential bribe. Please, Isis, eat something. Anything. She ignored the treat but rewarded me with a tail wag for the gesture.
My dog is dead and I am lost. I’ve never been much for the drumbeat of routine, but if Isis taught me anything, it’s was this: Routines and rituals are rhythms that lend a richness to our days, a soothing pattern, one I followed and hardly noticed.
I notice it now, morning to night. I find pieces are missing, the puzzle incomplete. The 16 years, 8 months and 27 days of Isis’s existence flowed through my life like a river carrying the steadiest and sweetest routines of my adulthood, and I am lonely where being alone was never before an issue.
Named for the Egyptian goddess of the moon, fertility, magic and healing, Isis was never farther than a whistle away. Like people and dogs will do, we woke together, her head popping up from her bed as mine from my pillow. We walked, ran, paddled or swam together daily, exercise coach and workout buddy. Weather permitting, she worked with me, sleeping in the car between photo assignments, occasionally nuzzling forward to remind of her presence. She ate when I ate, played when I played, worked when I worked.
I joke that my siblings and I were raised by dogs. With the number of mutts, mixes and pedigrees that have shared our lives, there’s truth in that. It’s hard to tell who gets the better end of the deal. Who’s taking whom for a walk, and who gains more from it? A recent Swedish study found that, other things being equal, people with dogs are less likely to contend with cardiovascular disease and premature death. There’s a lot of research, analysis and common-sense articles chronicling the physical and psychological benefits of canine company. “Man’s best friend” has the power to regulate our blood pressure, soothe our anxiety, stress and depression, encourage socialization and enhance our physical well-being.
Am I who am I am because of Isis and the other dogs who have shared my tracks? Probably not, but I know their unfettered, unfiltered, unconditional love has shaped my sensibilities.
There are far greater tragedies in this world than the death of a pet, especially one who lived so well for so very long. But right now I can’t think of one. Things will stay quiet at home for my wife and me. We will adjust. I’ll donate Isis’ pillows, toys and treats to animal rescue.
But I’ll keep the LED ball where it is for now, in a fruit bowl on the counter. There’s probably one more dog’s life in our future, and one day there will be another reason to turn it on, head out under the cerulean sky of a summer evening and race against the dying of the light. It won’t be the same, of course. It can’t be. The timeless quest is a fresh expedition each time. That’s the point.
I imagined Isis would leave this world running full speed across a field, tongue out and tail wagging furiously. I think we came close enough to call this one a win.
____________________________________________________________________________________________ This photo was taken by close friend and photographer Cheryl Senter during a short visit in NH. I’d gone north to the woods to be away from people and by myself for a few days and of course, my dog came with me.