I Don’t Know What to Do

“Where’s doggy?” Ari asked again with the persistence of a three-year old. He had gone with us to the vet when we took Mira to be euthanized. Too filled with my own grief and choking on my tears, I had been vague and told him that she stayed “at the vet.” This time I just said, “She died.”

His brown eyes softened into sadness. He said, “I am sad. I don’t know what to do.” I told him, “Papa is sad too.” Sorrow furrowed his brow. I saw the wisdom of his declaration.

We have protocols and platitudes for the death of a loved one. It is hard to know what to do with the grief and loss that comes with the death of a dog. She was a big one—a Doberman—and has been a big part of our lives these last ten years.

She was first Peter’s dog but came to live with us because Peter couldn’t keep her where he had moved to Portland. Ari saw Peter weep today as we pulled away from the Coquille Animal Hospital. He asked, “Daddy sad?” Ari was worried and puzzled. His innocent and gentle question brought more tears and sharpened the grief we all felt.

Mira had also been mother’s dog for a while. When both Teckla and I were working, Mira would keep Mom company. Mira would jump on Mom’s little bed; sometimes leaving Mom only the edge to lie on. Mira had all the protective instincts of a Doberman; she made Mom feel safe at home. She called, Mira, her “diggity-doggity” because she dug holes in the yard. After Mom’s stroke, we took Mira to the nursing home to visit.

The last few years, it is fair to say, Mira has been my dog. We hiked miles together on the beach and in the woods of the southern coast. Two years ago, we took her camping with us at Washburn State Park on the central coast of Oregon. When off the leash in the woods, her delight in the trail became my delight. She ran with long, powerful strides and a grace that was a joy to watch.

Mornings Mira would follow me into what once was Mom’s room and is now my place of prayer. As soon as I sat down, she would nuzzle her head between my knees as I scratched behind her ears and told her she was good girl. Just being with me seemed everything to her. I grew closer to God.

Mira was eleven years old and had developed some lumps and bumps, but until this last ten days had been wonderfully active and agile. But she stopped eating. Tests showed she was battling an internal infection and liver failure. Her end came suddenly.

So here we are, in a house where powerful legs have scratched and sculpted doors. A car with dog pad and partition in the back, leashes, a harness, bowls, dog food, and the fat yellow ball she loved to chase. Clipped to my day pack is the whistle I blew when I lost sight of her in the woods. She won’t come to the whistle again. I don’t know what to do.

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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