In March 2015, on Friday the 13th, no less, we watched our dog die.
His death had been in the “very near future” for months and months. Twice he came so close to the end, it seemed like a miracle that he pulled through. But ultimately, we wondered if it was really him pulling through or if it was just us, dragging him along.
And so finally, we walked him through the cold night to a little square of blanket in the back room of our vet’s clinic and, after two sedatives, the final syringe delivered to him an everlasting stillness, leaving us to drag ourselves on through the agony of being absolutely positive we made the wrong decision and the crippling guilt of having betrayed our truest friend.
The long minutes that passed after he died were the worst. In silence we sat in the room, just my husband and me and the bony body of our dog. For full minutes we stayed and stared at him, waiting. And it occurred to me how odd it was that I felt like we were waiting for something – but waiting for what? Closure? No, that wouldn’t come for a long time. Maybe we were waiting for the waves of guilt to shed off with the tears. But that wouldn’t ever end.
I think, in some corner of our minds, closed off from reality and logic, we were waiting for Ajax to wake up.
They’re strange, the emotions and urges you have when a pet dies. As much as I try to remind myself that he was, after all, just a dog, I can’t even really convince myself of that. And after his passing, it seemed incredible to me that no one else would really mourn him the way that we would.
What Ajax never had – and never will have – was a funeral. And I’m not a particular fan of funerals, but if I could plan one for a dog that made such an impact in my life, I think it would be a pretty decent funeral.
Thousands and thousands of dollars poured into lilies and wreaths and ribbons wrapped around roses and carnations – that makes for a swanky funeral (Is “swanky” an inappropriate term to describe a funeral?).
Also, none of those would be at Ajax’s funeral.
There would be knee-high columns of grass to eat and ivy-wrapped fire hydrants for wizzing on. The lady who feeds pigeons would be there, dropping chunks of bread for snacks (Sidewalk food is the bestest!). There would be a minimum of three dirt piles for Ajax’s girlfriend and partner in crime, Lola, to roll around in.
We’d have the funeral at the beach so the mourning dogs could go for a swim or fetch huge logs thrown into the water. That was Ajax’s favorite pastime, despite the fact that there has possibly never been a less buoyant dog.
And we’d set up sun-bleached branches in teepee formation for the evening bonfire – that is, if the other dogs didn’t just snatch the branches and go running off. I mean, that’s what Ajax always liked to do.
Or maybe we’d have the funeral in the woods where half-rotten tree stumps await shredding by excited dogs and squirrels beg to be chased. We could throw rubber balls into streams and let Ajax’s friends chase them and then stomp through thick tracks of mud.
Never one for keeping a beat, unless it was his tail painfully whipping your knees, Ajax probably wouldn’t have approved of most music at his funeral. Instead, we’d just play a constant loop of his very favorite phrases:
Want a biscuit?
Is that Mommy?
Want to go outside?
Want to go for a walk?
Who’s a good boy?
You’re a good boy!
You’re such a good boy!
I love you!
I’ll never ever forget you.
From the beginning to the end, the people that mattered the most to Ajax would come and celebrate the best funeral party, with much eating and chewing and playing.
The very beginning of Ajax’s life is a secret to us. He showed up as a stray at the Humane Society in the spring of 2006 with an enthusiasm for life and, apparently, porcupines. The shelter staff pulled quills out of his face while he demonstrated how awesome he was by really not caring at all about the quills, but totally wanting to make friends with everyone and everything that he met.
The porcupine dog’s owners didn’t bother to show their faces (Perhaps they met their prickly fate with the very same porcupine.) and the very happy stray, now dubbed Bartholomew Quill, was adopted by me.
Naturally, then, all those staff members that he befriended would be at the funeral, telling jokes about porcupines and remembering the gorgeous, big-headed dog who pranced into their lives nine years ago.
Ajax’s doggy friends would all be there to say farewell and play in his memory: Babe and Charlie, Brodie and Todd and Ziggy, Ben and Cinci and Patches, Casey and Lola and Truffle. Ajax never met a dog he didn’t love… sometimes a little too much.
His people family and friends would be there too, the children who crawled on him and hugged him, the ones who walked him and fed him, the ones who cuddled with him, the ones who loved him.
With a face as photogenic as Ajax’s, his funeral would be wallpapered with pictures. The most recent pictures of him in New York and enjoying his new life. Or of his recovery after a risky surgery that gave him another fifteen months to live.
Photos of him playing or sleeping.
Photos of him walking or sitting so nicely.
Of course, not all memories come with a photo. There were those four times when he was bad:
- When I made a steak for dinner and put it on the coffee table, right in front of his face, and left the room. He ate the steak. In one heavy, slurpy gulp. Of course he did! What was I thinking? I put a huge chunk of meat in front of his huge chunky head!
That one time he snooped under the fish tank and ate a whole box of fish food. His burps were genuinely the worst part of that whole scenario.
- That day when we left him alone and he figured out how to open our bottom cupboard and ate a box of Chex cereal, four Pop Tarts and three bags of Ramen. Then he had a belly ache, so I let him lay under the covers on the bed and he puked it all up on my feet.
- That one time I was washing the cover for his bed, so I put blankets over the inner bed pillow and told him to “be good” while I went for a run and while I was gone he dug open the pillow and freed his bed’s stuffing all over my living room. And then when I tried scolding him, he just wagged because he knew he’d never been in trouble a day in his life.
Ajax won’t ever have a funeral. And even if he did, I could never make it as wonderful as he’d deserve. He was a singularly amazing dog and unparalleled friend. He can never be replaced and we’ll never insult his memory by even trying.
He created a little fairy tale for us, right in the middle of our own story.
Once upon a time, a porcupine dog walked into a shelter and changed our lives forever.