96: The Dog Who Mourned

96: The Dog Who Mourned

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Dog Who Mourned

Not-so-fun fact: Dogs show their grief not by crying, but by moping, lying around or not eating well.

It took us several weeks to adjust to living together. The little white dog had been in my house with her original owner, but had never stayed overnight, never stayed alone with me. We liked one another. I walked her when she lived in her original home, and she played with me there. Now things were different: Suddenly, Gretchen had become my dog.

Actually, it was not suddenly. The little curly-haired Cockapoo must have guessed her owner, my friend Hilda, suffered a serious illness. It was clear to me when I walked Gretchen that summer that it was Hilda’s last one with us. The dog knew the terrible truth because she wasn’t as eager to walk or be away from Hilda.

I always let Gretchen decide where we would walk. Sometimes, she chose a route a few blocks long. Other times, she wanted to travel only around her own block. But as summer wore on and Hilda’s cancer sapped her strength, Gretchen wanted to walk only to the nearby corner and then run home. It made Hilda laugh to see me running behind the dog, holding onto the leash and trying to keep up.

Gretchen no longer played with me as she once had done. Instead, she hovered around Hilda, staying as close to her as possible. She ignored her many toys, but not the treats Hilda gave her.

Near the end of the summer, Hilda said she worried about what would become of her little dog.

“I’ll take her, Hilda,” I said without hesitation.

“You will?” Hilda asked.

“Absolutely,” I answered and hugged my dying friend. “This way, I’ll always have a part of you with me.” We both cried as we held one another.

Two days before her eighty-third birthday, Hilda entered hospice. I was about to leave for a long-planned family reunion. Another friend took in Gretchen until I returned a week later. Gretchen had stayed with other people known to Hilda when she took trips, so I had the feeling her little dog thought the stay with me was only temporary until she could return to Hilda’s house. So each time we walked, I referred to my house as Gretchen’s when we headed home.

About two and a half weeks after Hilda entered hospice, I took Gretchen to see her. Hilda’s daughters wheeled their mother outside on a sun-splashed October day. They cried for joy when they saw each other.

The little dog tried to climb up the wheelchair and couldn’t. Obviously, she wanted to get as close to Hilda as she could. I picked her up so she was at the height of my friend’s lap. She licked Hilda’s face as the dying woman kissed her between sobs.

We stayed for more than a half-hour as Hilda petted Gretchen and talked to her. The dog nearly danced for joy; she couldn’t stay still. Finally, we had to leave so Hilda could go in for lunch. Reluctantly, Gretchen allowed me to lead her away. As we walked to the car, she looked back several times.

When we reached my car, I put down her water bowl so she could drink after all that excitement. She ignored the water bowl at first and tried looking under the cars parked near us so she could glimpse Hilda again.

Once we were both in the car, I backed out and pulled near the spot where Hilda still sat in her wheelchair. Gretchen normally lies down on the back seat when we go out in the car. Upon hearing Hilda’s voice, the dog stood up at the window as if to say her final “goodbye” to her beloved Hilda.

After that day, Gretchen seemed to settle in with me, but she still didn’t want to play and ignored the toys that I had brought from Hilda’s house. We established a routine of three walks a day and trips to the local park once a week. Still it seemed as if Gretchen yearned to “go home” to the house where she had been raised and lived for twelve years.

Near the end of October, Hilda lapsed into a coma. I had spent a few hours with her that day, but came home to let Gretchen out. That evening, a friend and I sipped tea at my dining room table. I wrestled with the idea of returning to Hilda’s bedside.

Suddenly, Gretchen became very restless. She wandered around and around, unlike her usual calm behavior. I petted her and told her to lie down, but she couldn’t relax and seemed uncomfortable.

Then she let out a sound I have never heard from a dog. It was a mixture of a cry and a moan with a little scream in there, too. I rushed to her, wondering if she had somehow injured herself. Obviously, she was hurting. It was as if she sensed Hilda was on her deathbed.

In a few minutes, she settled. I remained puzzled by what I had just seen and heard until my telephone rang. Hilda’s daughter called to tell me her mother had died at about the same time Gretchen acted so distressed.

I believe Hilda came to say “goodbye” to her beloved little dog, and Gretchen heard her. I also know that Gretchen mourned.

~Sandy McPherson Carrubba Geary

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