62: Luke’s Goodbye

62: Luke’s Goodbye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

Luke’s Goodbye

We call them animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.

~Anna Sewell

We found our perfect puppy through the classifieds. He was cute, blond and soft as a whisper. The whole family had different reasons for choosing Luke. Kristal, fifteen, was too old to dress him in doll clothes like she’d done with our last dog, but she gushed, “He’s sooo soft. Just feel this velvety ear.” Five-year-old Jeff thought his enormous feet would give him “great traction on a trail.” Me? I liked the security of having a good-sized dog around.

We could see that Luke’s mother was a Brittany Spaniel. Her owners claimed the father was a marauding black Lab. But there was no doubt in my mind that Luke was directly descended from Old Yeller. He had the same build and coloring, the same innocent head tilt. Same goofy smile. Same bent for trouble.

Trouble I didn’t need more of. I was going through a divorce, trying to grow two kids into halfway normal adults, and running my small children’s clothing store. Luke took our minds off all of that, which was just what I’d hoped.

While he was teething, Luke chewed up one of my good shoes. I was so mad that I whacked him with it, which guaranteed that he wouldn’t touch THAT shoe again. The next day he chose a different pair. I must have tossed at least a dozen pairs before I learned to close my bedroom door.

The first time Luke got too close to our long-haired white cat, Max, I wasn’t home. Kristal called me at work to tell me that Max had swatted Luke on the ear.

“It’s bleeding all over!” she cried. “Splattering every time he shakes his head. What do I do?”

She’d tried applying pressure, but Luke wouldn’t hold still. Jeff was afraid Luke was going to bleed to death. I rushed home. The vet said the cat must have sliced the blood vessel that runs around the edge of a dog’s ears. He recommended trying to clot the blood with flour. He suggested laying one ear over the top of the other and tying them above his head. Yeah, right, I thought, knowing Luke would rip whatever was used for tying right off. For future reference—forget wrapping Scotch tape around a wiggly head; wide packing tape is easier to apply, but easy for big paws to remove. Medical tape lasts through two or three vigorous head shakes. Duct tape takes the hair right off with it, which has got to hurt.

Whatever we tried, Luke wouldn’t stop shaking his head. Every time, things broke loose again. The kitchen walls and floor looked like a murder scene but we gave up cleaning up the blood spatters. I finally put Luke in his doghouse and left him outside. By the next day he was just fine.

Kristal babied him. She and Luke would get comfortable on the living room carpet and she’d stroke his big, thick skull and rub his belly while she told him about her latest crush or the fight she’d had with her best friend. It seemed like he understood every word of her sophomore angst.

As he grew to be a linebacker of a dog, Luke became the perfect companion for little boy adventures too. He followed Jeff and his best friend Mike as they built forts and tromped through the overgrown lot between their houses.

While doing dishes one day, I heard a crashing sound in the woods and flew outside to find foliage flying and twigs snapping. I found Jeff on one side of the vacant lot, Mike on the other. They’d been taking turns calling Luke back and forth. My young engineer had tied a big blue plastic fifty-five-gallon drum behind Luke so he would forge a trail for them. Jeff had been right about those big paws! Luke plopped down at my feet with the biggest grin on his face!

Luke was just over a year old when Kristal got sick. He kept her company while she waited out a cold, the flu and a spider bite. Before I had any idea how serious this could be, she’d probably told him she was too weak to make it to the school bus without sitting down.

The day we found out Kristal had leukemia, Luke’s life changed just as much as ours did. I’m sure he worried, waiting for us to come home from the hospital that night and many other nights that followed. I often just stopped by the house to throw in a quick load of laundry during the day and we often spent weeks at a time at the hospital. A neighbor visited and fed Luke until we found a pet sitter. In retrospect, I wish I’d had the time and energy to think more about his needs, but honestly I was in way over my head. It was an awful time for all of us.

After twenty months of alternating cancer and remission, we brought Kristal home for good. She wanted to be in the middle of things, so she took up her usual spot on the couch. Luke, as always, knew how fragile she was and curled up next to her. Even heavily medicated and in and out of consciousness, her arm was always draped over the side of the couch so she could finger Luke’s silky ears.

When Kristal started having trouble breathing early one morning, I had to shove Luke out of the way to hold her. He stood back, watching like a faithful sentry. Luke didn’t take his eyes off her until she’d breathed her last breath and I had moved away. Then, with sorrowful brown eyes, he stepped slowly over to her still form, laid his big blond head on her chest and gave her one last kiss on the cheek.

Luke’s goodbye.

~Shirley Walston

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