“Hi, Matt? Why don’t you come around the side to the backyard. The puppies are there.”
I decided that my dog has to die and I scheduled his death with an in-home euthanasia service for after the weekend. How the fuck do you wrap your heart around that? I’m eating 7/11 buffalo wings as an indulgence to cope. The regret-to-satisfaction ratio is high. I never understood binge eating when distraught. I usually can’t eat. Now I know why. Here’s what fifteen years looks like.
He was born a mutty accident in the pastoral hamlet of Millarville, Alberta on April Fools Day, 2004 during the Calgary Flames’s run to the seven-game Stanley Cup final. “Stanley. That’s his name.” We never won that cup. I was 31, single, and working in wine and spirits. I had just bought a house in Black Diamond, another small town just beyond Millarville, and was checking some boxes on my list of dreams: little house in the country? Check. Dog? Check. Loving wife and kids? Not yet.
Then, an old flame re-entered my life while Stanley was still just months old. It looked like the third check was coming sooner than I thought. It was intense and fast and wild and all the things Hollywood tells you passionate love is. And, it ended faster and with more fury than a space capsule re-entering the atmosphere. Like the transition from weightless living to the demands of earth’s pull, my acute aches led to an over 10-pound weight loss, and with those pounds went most of my strength. I was a slave to the immediacy of a swoosh on my flip phone and the healing promises of time expanded out of sight.
Through it, I had Stanley to care for, or had to care for Stanley… not sure the difference. I had to get up and walk him. Sunny days along the river or through the crags of rock and grassy hills meant I was still moving, so still alive—for better or worse, it was confirmation nonetheless. I had to give him attention when he bounced up to play or chew my fingers with his needle teeth. He needed feeding, watering, snuggling. And I needed something alive and warm in my bed. I came out the other side injured and wiser.
I also had a job to get to, which I near lost in the paralysis of that relationship failure. Eventually, the complications of working in the city and living in the country made it clear I needed to sell my interest in the house and move back to the city. Stanley and I found a three-bedroom bungalow to rent with a big yard near a large off-leash dog park. Sometimes I’d fall asleep on his dog bed in front of the fire with him, only to wake in the middle of the night to find him on the couch and me still on the floor, 3/4 of the wine gone from the bottle beside my aching head.
I serial dated during that time, and even met some women at the dog park. I had a morning walking group, and Stanley had a group of furry friends. We were doing ok, I thought.
About one or two summers later, I took a road trip out east from Ontario to Cape Breton. On that trip, I met her. She met Stanley later that summer and moved to Calgary within two years and we quickly bought a condo, got engaged, then married, and had babies soon after.
He became her comfort when she felt lonely. He kept her going through darker days adjusting to a new life in a new city with a new job, new man, and no friends. Funny how he bailed out both of us. She called him her “soother”. He lay with her on a mattress on the floor during her difficult first pregnancy. She loved having a reason to constantly sweep and vacuum the floor. He came on vacations with us—camping, cottaging, visiting my parents on the coast. He was quiet and easy, except when he ate or rolled in other animal shit, chased wildlife, or disappeared with coyotes.
Our boys were born in 2009 and 2012. They’ve never known life without Stanley. He sniffed the air when the first babe came home. He’d stand by their cribs out of curiosity, then love. They pulled on, jumped over, landed on, and flopped near him. He never once curled a lip or rumbled a growl of displeasure despite their rambunction. He’d go lie with them when they cried. One loves him in a quiet, constant way; the other in a more active, interactive way.
Now he’s grey, stiff, and senile. He poops without warning and sometimes can’t get up off the floor. He gets anxious when we’re gone. He was once quiet, but now barks when he thinks he’s alone even when we’re right beside him. But his nose still knows us and his eyes gleam with comfort when we rub his head.
It’s an Ontario-cottage day, but in Alberta: the clouds are thick and low and cover everything. The air is moist and sweet with leafy tree growth and the threat of rain. Shadows, glints, and glares have taken the day off. The world seems quieter.
And the compression and expansion of time are here again. Fifteen years stuffed into a single moment of choice.
“Hi doc. Why don’t you go around the side of the house to the backyard. We’re all there.”