Photograph of a Memory
I found an old photograph today. It brought back some emotionally charged memories. In barely a single moment I found my mind transporting back through time to relive an episode my young family experienced at a local mall in our neighborhood so many years ago. In truth the story actually began unfolding two years earlier. It began on the occasion of the death of the little dog that we had learned to love over our 15 years with her. She was a black and white scruffy little character that had so much personality we felt compelled to name her Disney.
In the two years since her passing we had learned to live with her absence in our home. What a void she had left. With great pains we eventually discarded her little bed and thrown away all her toys. Our family, my wife Bonnie and myself and our three young children had adopted some new routines that didn't include Disney. On Sunday's we would be off to church and then to a little restaurant in the mall for a brunch before heading back home to chores, shopping and homework. It was inevitable that after leaving the restaurant the three kids would run off ahead of us with the echoing cry of, "We'll be at the pet store!" "We're not getting any pets!", with the greatest of commitment we would yell back.
After dozens of episodes just like this one the kids knew the rules. The signs at the pet store said, "Please do not pick up the pets." But on this particular day by the time Bonnie and I had caught up to the kids we saw our oldest holding a little beagle puppy. The woman from the store was standing beside them and quickly gave us a nod, a smile and an "It's OK", The pen on the floor was normally for rabbits but not today. Today it was little honey coloured beagle pups, the kind with big brown eyes that looked like they were wearing mascara , even bigger velvety soft floppy ears and little waggy tails. After a couple of minutes with respect to the store rules we said, "you'd better put her down now Brandon", but before he could the little thing let out a whimper and our Kristin scooped her off of her older brother. A few dozen kisses on that little warm, round head later, she passed her to Brittany our youngest who wouldn't be left out of her turn. Every time the kids tried to put her back in the pen she would give out a little pathetic cry. The pup eventually made her way around to all of us.
Then when we realized that we had all given her our best kisses and it really was time to put her back there was a overwhelming silence that was completely saturated with emotion. As a family we had grown out of guinea pigs and the three huge turtles that we had raised since they were the size of quarters were never quite huggable enough. There we stood, defenceless. That gorgeous little bundle had cracked open our previously well protected hearts. I looked around at the family and all the kids had little taught faces with tears running down them and pleading looks in their eyes. They weren't alone. My wife and I could feel all the love that Disney had left in our broken hearts sprouting back to life. "I think we just bought a dog," I said to the woman. The silence was broken, we breathed again in huge gulping breaths. The kids cries of joy filled the store and the happiest of tears flowed like rivers as they cradled the newest little Arrigo in their arms far from the news papered floor of her pen. She would see it no more. She was ours.
The process of grieving a great loss, to accepting once again the great risk of opening our hearts to love again had taken two full years, but we were finally ready.
Our new little sister as we often referred to her was beginning a journey with our family. The picture I now hold in my hand shows a family of five clutching the little one with everyone trying to get our faces closest to hers. This was Daisy, who had suddenly become the new centre of our lives.
Since I was a child, as far back as I can remember we always had a dog in our family. As I think back on them now I realize that all of them had their own personality, and not just personality but purpose. None of them were show dogs, none of them trophy winners, none of them made the news for some heroic deed they'd performed, but in a sense they were all rescue dogs. Disney had been no exception. She was the one who stayed by Bonnie through all three of her pregnancies. As sick as she was so much of the time, Disney never left her side. In her years with our family this was such a significant part of the purpose she would play. Disney helped to welcome all our three children into her family.
Now in that little pet shop on that Sunday morning the baton of purpose was being passed to Daisy. What kind of purpose might she have in our family? How much joy could she bring us? How much fun, how much loyalty and love? We knew this, we saw from that first morning if it was any clue to what would come, this pup could connect to our emotions more than any before her. The next several years would see all our three kids grow through childhood and into the difficult teen years. Years filled with growing pains, joys, excitement, pain, and sometimes some serious upsets. She would hear her share of crying and screaming and the deafening silence that would sometimes follow. Daisy too learned all the cues and she too in her own way became a rescue dog. At the most difficult times she would show us her love, give us comfort, and show each of us we weren't alone. How could a dog know how to show such empathy and understanding? I don't know...but she could, and she did. Daisy was there through it all, through the wars and through the victories. Who could forget the endless days watching her run through the house immersed in the sounds of family laughter and fun. She was our pet, our friend and our sister.
We had read that a beagle's life expectancy would not be as long as was Disney's. It seemed that ten to twelve years was what we could expect. Disney was fifteen when she passed. Daisy was now approaching ten and she was beginning to have issues with her kidneys. How time manages to slip silently by when you are busy looking in the other direction. As our family was growing up our Daisy was getting older, aging seven times faster as they say than we were. Though she still had a playful spirit she was considerably overweight now and moving much slower. The time eventually came when the discomfort she was in was becoming too obvious to ignore. We could see her daily pain and that she was deteriorating rapidly. We left her in the care of her Vet overnight and the next day we received a grim report. Daisy's kidney function was down below 10%. The examination, lab test and overnight monitoring had cost $1,000. but the expense was nothing if it meant we would have our Daisy back at home healthy and happy again.
Unfortunately the prognosis had much greater implications than we had expected. The clinic had had an IV in our girl throughout the night and had brought her electro lights back up to a near normal level. The problem was as the Vet put it, if her kidneys weren't flushed and her electro lights normalized every day she could not survive beyond 24 hours. Each day from now on her kidneys would completely fail her and she would essentially be poisoned from the inside out. Our options had narrowed to the breaking point and Daisy had passed the point that some desperate decision could be made to save her. A horrible and painful choice had to be made. We gathered the kids together and I took them to the Vets for one last visit with Daisy as my wife stayed at home to begin the tsunami of tears that we would all contribute to in the days and weeks to come.
When we got to the Vets we were ushered into the back of the clinic where operations and other procedures were performed. The vet's assistant disappeared for a moment and then we heard the clicking of toe nails against the tiled floor and we knew it was Daisy. There she was wagging her tail and wiggling her fat little body towards us. Seeing her on her feet and walking again made our hearts swell as in recent weeks she was hardly able to support herself well enough to stand. I lifted her onto the table where we could all reach her more easily to cover her in hugs and kisses as we did the first time we met her. "We'll give you a few minutes with her", said the vet's assistant who's voice oozed with compassion, as she left us alone with her. Strangely all the animals in the kennels had stopped their barking and complaining and we were left with just the shaky voices of our three kids. "We love you Daisy. You're a good girl. We love you..." There wasn't much else to say. They knew this was their good-bye to her. The years were too short. Our love couldn't save her. "She loves all of you guys too" I said. "You've been a great family for her, but she has to go now."
"Just wait in the lobby for me kids. I'll just be a few moments." The vet and his assistant must have been eavesdropping a little as they came back immediately. The doctor inserted a catheter into Daisy's leg as she sat on her bum beside me. He then inserted the needle and said in such a quiet and sensitive tone, "You just give me a nod when you're ready and I'll plunge it. It's very fast. She will just go to sleep." The girl who was assisting him was already tearing. When she saw that I noticed she said, "I know, this is never easy for anyone," and hesitated, "but she's a tired old girl." They had both said what they needed to, now it was just left to me. I could see the end of Daisy's tail as it wagged it's way against the stainless steel table. She looked up at me with those beautiful eyes of hers and with all the trust in the world. She had just spent a night away from her family and been through such an ordeal but now I was there to rescue her and take her home again. She was so happy to be sitting up beside me and seemed so healthy, but I knew she wasn't and that she never would be again. Her healthy appearance would only last a few hours until she would begin suffering again. It was time for strength, time to show her the greatest love I could. It was time to say good-bye and to face three crying children waiting in the office lobby.
It was so odd saying good-bye in front of two strangers standing right beside us but I had to find the words. "You're a good girl Honey. You have always been a good girl. I love you so much. We all love you so much." I must have told her a dozen times that she was a good girl. Kissing her forehead between each choking statement I finally forced some courage out of my breaking heart and gave a reluctant nod to the vet. He pushed the needle plunger and within a single second Daisy's eyes closed, her head fell and her body slumped heavily against my chest. I was shocked at the speed of that injection. She was gone. Daisy left this world carrying our kisses and enshrouded in our most enduring love.
It has been more than a dozen years since that day and many more years since the day this photo was taken. And though I am thankful as I smile at her memory, here I stand, wiping an old photo clear of my tears as I gaze upon it and find myself lost within the memory.
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Robert M. Arrigo