In the Palm of God’s Hand

“Bacon’s favorite thing is love.  Even more than food.”

Bacon DollMy mom has told me some version of that at least a dozen times.

If you’ve ever been around my dog Bacon when you happened to be eating a meal, this is saying quite a lot.

This is a dog who, at the sound of the refrigerator door opening, suddenly materializes at your feet.  During a meal, he waits dutifully next to you, staring, with a look in his eyes that says, “REMEMBER ME?”  Of course, I remind my mom frequently that this is all behavior he’s picked up since he began living with her.

Despite his unending quest to get his paws on anything that falls under the kitchen table, the one thing that matters to him more is affection.

Bacon Tom Sofa 01If you’re sitting on the sofa with him, he’ll invariably walk over and lie down next to you so that there’s physical contact.  If he likes you a lot, he’ll fall asleep in your lap.  If you hold your hand by your side when you’re seated and he’s on the floor, he’ll position himself so that he’s ideally situated to get ear scratches.  If you’re close to him, but at eye level, he will look down, close his eyes, and gently push the top of his head into yours.

He’s as sweet a creature as I’ve ever met—but he’s also well-mannered.  Some dogs will jump on you or lick your face at every opportunity.  As much as he craves love, he was always polite about it.

He was already nearing canine “middle age” when I first knew him.  He was a foster dog from Bonnie Blue Rescue, one of many I had kept for various lengths of time.  As it turned out, he was the last one I would ever have—because I adopted him.

Bacon CarHe came to Richmond in early 2011 after being thrown from the back of a truck on a highway down south, or so the legend goes.  He survived his ordeal without any visible injuries.  The only lingering evidence of his unfortunate childhood that I ever witnessed was a sudden, fearful trembling as I popped the large bubble-wrap packaging in an Amazon box.  I figured that it reminded him of being around gunfire.

He was estimated to be between five and seven years old when he came into rescue, and that was probably rounding down.  No one knew his age for certain.  He was a half-dachshund, half-beagle mix, which would tend to give him a longer lifespan.  Even so, I reasoned that he had already lived somewhere between one-third and one-half of his days before he first came to me.

As I think about it now, I also realize that he has lived more days in my mom’s house than he lived in mine.  Bacon stayed with me through most of 2011 before I finally adopted him when yet another potential “forever home” fell through in the early part of 2012.  I concluded at the time that it would be a net negative to uproot him after he had been with me for that long.  He deserved some stability.

Bacon 2011 BackyardTwo-and-a-half years later, I was looking to move to D.C. for a new job, and we had to decide whether he would make the trip with me or stay in Richmond with my mom.  It was a difficult decision.  He had been used to having the run of a 1,700-square-foot house, getting two walks per day (three if my mom stopped by around lunchtime while I was at work), and roaming a smallish but nice backyard.

His new reality of life in NOVA would have included being cooped up in an 800-square-foot, fifth-floor apartment for eight to ten hours every weekday.  On top of that, my mom would be alone, too.  My house in Richmond was just four miles or so from hers, and both of her boys moving away would have been difficult.

Because of all that, and also because she was very fond of Bacon as well, we decided that it would be best for him to stay in Richmond and live with her.  It was a great decision.  He loves her every bit as much as he loves me, and she loves him as much as I do.

He’s been with her since November of 2014, when I began commuting to D.C.  I sold my house and moved in January of 2015.  The pairing worked out as well as I had hoped.  They take walks together, they watch television together, they do yard work together, and they eat meals together (although that’s sometimes mostly a one-sided begging scenario).  They have bonded precisely as he and I did.

For my part, I can honestly say that I have thought about him—and smiled—every single day since I moved.  Every single day.  During my semi-frequent trips home, I cherish the opportunity to give my mom a break from twice-daily walking duties and get some quality time with my small friend.

Bacon Nap Friend 02There are some remarkable things about Bacon.  Individually, they’re wonderful, but maybe not unprecedented.  But I’ve never met a dog who had all of these qualities simultaneously.

For one thing, as previously mentioned, he is an incredibly sweet creature.  Half the time when I call and ask my mom how he’s doing, she won’t say “good” or “fine” or “well.”  She’ll say, “sweet,” as in “He is so sweet.”

It goes beyond that, though.  I have never ever seen him meet a human being he didn’t like at least a little.  But I have also never seen him meet a dog he didn’t like.  He is friendly to all dogs and all people, especially children (probably because they’re closer to eye level).  Squirrels and rabbits are a different story, but I digress . . .

And then there are chickens.  Bacon loves chickens.  All kinds.  Baked.  Fried.  Live.

That’s right—the only reason he wound up back with me is that, after being adopted by a woman who owned a chicken farm, he treated the farm as if it were a buffet.  Bacon took down one chicken right off the bat.  He got a pass for that.  After he took down the second one, he was sent back to Bonnie Blue, since he was literally eating the profits.

Bacon Take Me For a WalkFor non-chicken-farmers, Bacon is incredibly, unquestionably low-maintenance.  He has almost no needs besides food, water, and, of course, love.  But he never went to the bathroom in the house, or chewed up anything that wasn’t his, or cried or barked.  In fact, the only time I have ever heard him bark indoors was when he was asleep and dreaming, probably about chasing squirrels and rabbits.

Speaking of his bladder, he has the best bladder control of any dog I’ve ever known.  He could stay at home all day with no break and be completely fine until I got home (although he would certainly let me know RIGHT AWAY that it was time for a walk).  He would even match my sleeping patterns: If I wanted to snooze until 9:30 on a random Saturday, he would do so right along with me, letting me rest until both of us were ready to get up.  I never heard so much as a scratch on the outside of my bedroom door.

Bacon Mom Sleeping

My mom will kill me for posting this, but it’s the only photographic example I have of Bacon’s magical nap powers.

Let’s stay on sleep for a minute.  Bacon is also the greatest napping buddy I’ve ever seen, by far.  It’s almost a super power.  Dead serious.  When you’re lying on the sofa and in “nap position,” he loves to climb up onto you so that his head is just below your chin.  I think he likes to sleep so that he can hear your heartbeat.  Even if you’re sitting, he’ll happily curl up next to you, and his very light snoring is the most effective white noise I’ve ever heard.  I have lost many a weekend afternoon to the irresistible pull of slumber at his side.

I’m not kidding when I say this: Any amount of time napping with Bacon seems like double that same amount of time napping without Bacon.  It’s incredible.

Bacon Falling Asleep 2Maybe the best sleep-related trait is that he routinely falls asleep sitting up.  This is especially true if he’s lying down, watching TV next to you.  I love seeing those heavy eyelids and him trying in futility to keep his head up and stay alert.

Beyond sleep-centric talents, another of his super powers is his shocking ability to dig holes.  Given his heritage, it wasn’t that surprising that he would possess that skill, but it’s jaw-dropping to see in person.  All it takes is a whiff of some long-forgotten morsel of food or critter, and, within seconds, his entire head will be underground.

He also doesn’t have a lot of the little, annoying habits that other dogs who are otherwise good boys and girls have.  He doesn’t bring dirty things in the house.  He doesn’t eat non-food.  He doesn’t nip or snarl at anyone.  He can be alone for hours without being bothered, but, at the same time, he loves having company.

I said I think about him and smile every single day.  The memories I have of him are blessedly numerous.  I will be grateful for that for the rest of my life.

I remember when he first arrived, and he still was a foster dog, he was actually named “Mick Jagger.”  This was because Bonnie Blue Rescue would name batches of incoming pups based on a theme in order to give them all names more expediently.  Bacon came at a time when they were handing out names of rock frontmen.  Axl Rose, Mick Jagger, etc.

Bacon Ben

Bacon with the man who named him.

My best friend from high school was temporarily living with me (long story) shortly after Bacon had moved in.  My buddy instantly knew that “Mick Jagger” didn’t fit.  “He’s not a ‘Mick Jagger.’  His name should be something like . . . ‘Bacon.'”

It was perfect.  And, so, he was Bacon from then on (or, occasionally, “BACON MAAAANNN!!!”).

Well, except for when my mom would call him “Boo” or “Little Boo” or “Boo-Boo” or “My Boo Boo Boo.”

Bacon0

Bacon in his former plump state.

He was pretty plump when he arrived.  He weighed about 27 pounds, which was three or four pounds too many.  That may not seem like much, but three or four pounds can make a big difference on a little dog.

The first time I took him over to my mom’s house, I was far too confident in my ability to get him to follow me without a leash.  I brought him to the back door, and unhooked his leash before I opened the door.  Major mistake.

The next thing I knew, he was sprinting down her driveway, then down the street.  I began running after him as fast as I could (spoiler: not fast).  Thankfully, the still-plump Bacon ran out of gas after about a block, and I was able to track him down without any problems or unfortunate interactions with vehicles in my mom’s neighborhood.

When I reflected back on that incident a little later, I laughed out loud at the thought of people seeing some overweight dude chugging down the street yelling “Bacon!  BACON!  BAAAACONNNNNN!!!” at the top of his lungs.

Best guess, they were thinking “Wow.  That guy must really like bacon!”

He has so many amusing little idiosyncrasies.  He used to sit on the left side of the sofa, because I sat on the right side.  However, when I would leave, he would always move over my side, as if he were the vice-president of the house replacing me, the president, in our household line of succession.  When he did live at my house, I also loved the way he would start doing a “downward dog” stretch as soon as he saw me in the morning, as if I needed a reminder that it was time for his walk.

Ah, those walks.  My house was on a dead-end street that backed up to the parking lot of the Richmond Jewish Community Center.  We had three main routes.  One, we would take a left out of my front yard toward the dead end, and then go through the parking lot, to the row of trees bordering the neighborhood opposite mine, then back again.  Two, we would walk parallel to the parking lot, then take a right and go down the street a couple of blocks from mine, then back around and up my street.  Three, we would take a right coming out of my yard, toward the open end of the street, and walk down and all around this large property that has really nice condos on it.  That was the longest trip.

The route was almost always determined by Bacon.  I would open the door and just follow wherever he wanted to go.  The first tenth of a mile or so was usually a sprint, then we would move at a leisurely pace from there.

Bacon BreadWhen we took the JCC route, there was a solid one-in-ten chance that he would discover some delicacy that someone had dropped in the parking lot.  This is no exaggeration: At various points, his discoveries included (1) an entire box of assorted doughnuts, (2) a full loaf of bread, and (3) a whole pizza.

Naturally, I had to be judicious about how much (if anything) I would allow him to have of the discarded food.  I knew it wasn’t good for him to eat people food . . . but it felt somehow wrong to walk by these treasures without letting him sample.  I’d let him have maybe one plain doughnut, or one big bite of pizza, or a little wad of bread.  What’s the point of life if he never got to try?

As I said, my mom would come over most of the time and walk Bacon during the middle of the day when I was at work.  I would know she had been by because, sometime in the early afternoon, I would get a text that said simply “one poop” or “two poops” or even “two BIG poops” or the somewhat alarming “no poops.”

Bacon SnowI remember the first time he ever walked in a big snow.  It might have been the first time he had ever seen snow.  He loved it.  He loves snow in general.  He romps through it as if it isn’t there.  The only time it bothers him is when it is so cold that the ground hurts his little paws.

He absolutely hates the rain, though, especially if it’s windy.  He might be persuaded to go out in a drizzle, but, if it’s windy, and the drops are blowing in his eyes?  No chance.  He won’t even set foot outside.

Since he’s been with my mom, I always make a point of walking him when I’m there, both to give my mom a break, and also because I enjoy it.  One of my absolute favorite things is to be on a walk and to see some neighborhood children who wanted to meet him.

They invariably come over, beaming, and ask if they can pet him.  Bacon wags his tail as if he’s seeing old friends.  I always say, “Oh, yes.  He’s very friendly!”  They then ask his name, and my response of “Bacon!” is always a big hit.  He has the best disposition.

Bacon Mike

Bacon meets Mike.

He actually just recently met my cousin Mike for the first time.  Mike, who lives in Florida, was up in Richmond on a business trip and paid my mom a surprise visit, finally getting to meet Bacon in the process.  Naturally, Bacon immediately took to Mike, as if Bacon actually knew Mike was part of the family.

Bacon also has some unusual physical features.  People have often remarked with glee at the fact that it looks like he’s wearing eye liner.  He has similar lines around his lips.  They bring out his features and somehow make him even cuter.

Looking back now, it’s hard to believe, but he’s been with my mom for over three-and-a-half years after being with me for just shy of that mark, factoring in a few months he was away that first year-and-a-half in adoptive homes that didn’t pan out.

I visited my mom at Christmas, a weekend in February, and a week of vacation in April.  Each time, Bacon was the same as ever.  We walked, we ate, we napped.  He definitely didn’t hear or see quite as well as he used to (although he somehow never missed hearing the refrigerator door open), but his personality was exactly the same, and he was very spry.

Just by happenstance, I came into town this past weekend, because a family friend was getting inducted into my high school’s hall of fame on Tuesday.  As I was preparing to leave my apartment Saturday morning, I got a text from my mom saying “Bacon is acting weird.”  She wanted to let me know that because she wouldn’t be home when I arrived.

When I got to Richmond a couple of hours later, I noticed Bacon wasn’t on the sofa when I entered the house.  That’s unusual, as he normally just naps there when the house is empty.  He was, instead, walking around listlessly in the living room on the second floor.  I could tell something was wrong.

He was breathing very rapidly, which is itself alarming, but he also seemed bothered.  He quickly vomited, and, after doing so, seemed to be in less pain.  But the strangest part was that he didn’t move after he vomited.  I cleaned it up, and he just stood there.  Finally, I encouraged him to move, and we slowly made our way outside.  He did his business, and it was all liquid, which matched my mom’s info from that morning, saying he had an upset stomach.

Once the gross part was over, he still seemed restless, and he continued to breathe very quickly.  He had no interest in food, and he only drank a little water.  I had my law school reunion that night, and I was already mildly concerned about him by the time I left at 6:15.

I got back around 9:45, and his condition hadn’t changed much.  I was a little worried, but not excessively so.  He had only ever gotten sick once in the time we had had him, back when he lived with me.  It was scary, because his personality changed so much.  It was more dramatic of a shift than this, though, so I wasn’t panicking.

I woke up at 4:45 AM and heard his tags jingling downstairs.  He was still walking around.  I went down there and laid on the floor next to where he was standing and tried to calm him until he also laid down.  Finally, he (more or less) got some sleep.

He was still restless, though, so, after the sun came up, I moved him downstairs where his usual sleeping spot of the sofa was.  I could tell he wouldn’t feel like jumping up himself, so I picked him up and gently placed him on the cushions.  I sat next to him and rubbed his head.  He snuggled up next to me in a more normal way, and, as always, we both zonked out almost immediately.

I took him outside after we both woke up again an hour-and-a-half later.  He was very slow, but he walked around the yard and relieved himself.  His stool was still liquid, and I noticed that there seemed to be a piece of mushroom in it.  “Eureka,” I thought.  He was sick from eating some of the mushrooms that were growing in the yard.  That must be it.

That was still worrisome enough that I thought we should take him to the emergency animal hospital nearby, Dogwood Veterinary Center.  I knew it would be pricey, but I also knew that treating a dog as soon as possible after he had eaten something toxic was important.

We went over and they took him back right away.  We stayed in the waiting room while they did an initial exam.  Up to this point, I was totally keeping it together.  Then my mom helpfully pointed out two unlit candles on the reception desk, with a sign that read:

“If this candle is lit, someone is saying goodbye to their beloved pet.”

Then, in smaller type, “We ask that you speak softly and with respect during this difficult time.”

And the sign was in a frame that read, “You have left my life, but you will never leave my heart.”

Here we go.

Bacon Candle UnlitThat was it for me.  Suddenly, I was on the verge of tears.  A rush of memories came flooding back, coupled with contemplating Bacon’s demise.  The last time I had to put a dog down was 2002.  It was particularly tough because my father was on his death bed.  On the way back from putting Geo to sleep, I cried, hard-but-briefly, as soon as we got back in our driveway.  It was the only time I cried during that entire ordeal.  I think it was finally too much for me to handle.

I keep Geo’s picture in a frame with an Emily Dickinson quote that is one of my favorites, and also one of the toughest to contemplate: “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”

Suddenly, I was facing the prospect of putting down a dog that had been with my family less than half as long as Geo, but to whom my connection was much, much stronger.

When I saw those candles and the picture’s message, something in me knew what the outcome would be.

I wasn’t ready.

This is difficult.  It’s always difficult.  “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”  That echoed in my head over and over.  Mortality, which adds so much of the meaning to everything we do, can also be brutal to face.  But that’s the bargain.

Sometimes, it’s so difficult, it even takes you a long time to stop using the present tense.

Bacon was examined, and we went home to wait for answers.  The doctor called about three hours later with a fairly positive report.  She said he was dehydrated and his abdomen seemed painful, but that was consistent with his eating something that didn’t agree with him and which may have torn up his GI tract a bit.  His x-rays were clean, though, and that was good news.  She had him on fluids and mild pain medication, and she was “cautiously optimistic.”

I was relieved.  My stress subsided a bit.  I tried not to think about the candles.

The big thing was that the doctor couldn’t be as aggressive with treatment as she would like because of his heart murmur.  In addition to a conservative approach, she also wanted to bring in a cardiologist (insert sound of cash register here) to do an ultrasound on his heart.

The cardiologist called early Monday with another encouraging report.  His heart was only slightly enlarged, and she didn’t think it would even require medication.  That, coupled with the main doctor’s previous report, had me hoping we might actually get to bring Bacon home that day.

We heard from the primary doctor a bit later.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the report we wanted to get.

Bacon didn’t seem to be responding to treatment.  That could be because of how conservative she had been, but, after the cardio exam, she was being more aggressive now.  She said she wanted to do an ultrasound on his abdomen to get a better handle on what was going on (again, cash register sound).  Naturally, we said yes.  She also asked if we wanted to come visit.

We went over and visited with him.  He was very quiet and still.  I know this sounds insane, but, as I thought about how he was acting, it was almost like . . . he knew.  He knew it was time.  He was being stoic—maybe for our benefit—but he was also resigned.

We went home and awaited the results of the abdominal ultrasound.

He had a mass on his liver.

Yet, the doctor said that it might be benign, and, either way, it didn’t really explain the entirety of his symptoms.  This seemed like multiple things happening at once.  She said the next possible step would be an invasive surgery to remove the mass and test it.  That might solve the problem, and it might not.

It was time to make some hard choices.

Given his age (probably at least 14, perhaps older), the extensive nature of the surgery, the recovery, and the less-than-substantial chances that it would solve his issues, we elected to pursue the other option: Give him another day under hospital care to see if he would start to improve.  If so, we could take him home if he were well enough, or give him another 24 hours in the hospital to improve further.

If not, there would only be one option left.

But this wasn’t just the loss of a family pet.  This meant much more than that.

The truth is that Bacon came to me at the best possible time, even if I didn’t know it when he arrived.

Plainly stated, the years 2011 to 2014 were not my best.  I was in a rut.  My career was going absolutely nowhere.  I had little to no social life.  I was gaining weight.  I was moving deeper and deeper into my 30s with less and less to show for it.  I was starting to question so many choices I had made along the way.

The only great things I had done were to pay off all my student loans and to buy a nice house.  But I was working as a contract attorney by that point, the lowest rung on the legal ladder (or possibly the dirt below the lowest rung).  I still had my writing on the side, but I didn’t make enough from it to pay the bills.

As the contract work began to dry up, though, soon, nothing was paying the bills.

I was selling stock or cashing in savings bonds just to pay my mortgage some months.  There I was, burning through my would-be nest egg, burning through my 30s, and having no real, robust career—legal or writing—to show for it.

Finally, in the summer of 2014, I knew what I had to do.  It was time for a long-overdue change.

I called my realtor and told him to prep a sale of my house for the beginning of 2015.  “I’ll either have a job in another city by then, or I will run out of money and will have to sell my house by then.  One or the other.”

At last, I had the guts to make the move I should have made seven or eight years earlier.

I quickly found a job in D.C. and turned everything around.  Here’s the key, though: There were a lot of long, lonely days and nights before I finally got to that point.  Especially by 2013, when the cases I worked on would wrap, I might not get another call for a couple of weeks.  Sometimes a month.  I’d do a bit of solo practice work in the meantime, or some work for a colleague in Virginia Beach, but nothing that would occupy a full workload or earn me the money I needed to make ends meet the way a functional career would.

No matter how frustrated I got, or how sad I almost became, Bacon was always there, a few feet away, ready for a nap or a walk or a movie or a meal.

When I would come home from an unfulfilling, unsatisfying job, none of that mattered once I opened the door.  Good day, bad day, awful day, Bacon’s reaction was always the same.

“Hello!  I love you!!!  I’m so glad you’re here!  Let’s go for a walk!  Then we should eat!  Did I mention I love you?!?”

I can honestly say that I never got depressed.  Ever.  Part of that is my nature, but a whole lot of it was because I had the sweetest creature I’ve ever met greeting me every morning when I got up, and every night when I came home.

I can’t quantify the difference that made in my life.  It helped get me through those years unscathed.  What a blessing he was to me.

Therein lies the essential truth about Bacon: It isn’t just that he craved love—he craved giving love.

“Even more than food,” as my mom would say.

In the end, that is what made him something beyond just some cute animal.  The most important thing to him was love.  My mom told me that for years, but I only realized the full significance of it this week.

Bacon wasn’t a dumb dog, but he wasn’t even close to the most intelligent dog I’ve ever known (no offense, Boo).  Yet, that capacity for something like compassion made him the most human.

That final night that he was at home, when we were on the sofa and he clearly wasn’t feeling well, he stood up at one point, walked over to where I was sitting, as he had thousands of times over the years.  But he didn’t climb into my lap to go to sleep, or even snuggle up next to me.  Instead, he stopped, placed his right paw on my leg, and looked at me, as if he were trying to tell me something.

I know now what it was.

He felt it coming.  He felt it from the time he stopped eating.  And he was comforting me.  Getting me ready.  Beginning to say goodbye.

Before Bacon, I always used to say a dog I had was a “good dog” or a “good boy” or a “good girl.”  He changed that.  He was a “good friend.”

friend.  That’s exactly what he was.  Nothing less.  I wouldn’t write 6,000 words about a pet.  But a true friend?  Absolutely.

We went over to the hospital that final morning, leaving open the possibility that he might stay another day.  The doctor explained that we should sit with him, as we knew him best, and make a decision.

Truth be told, his strength was up a little.  But he still hadn’t eaten anything in over four days, and he wasn’t responding much to the treatment.  My mom and I both agreed that it was time.

We told the doctor, and she generously and kindly explained that we could have as much time as we needed.  “We’re open 24 hours a day,” she reminded us.  She even went so far as to say, “My shift ends at 6:00, and, if you’re not ready by then, the next doctor will help.”  Keep in mind that we were having this conversation at about 11 in the morning.

Bacon Tommy GoodbyeThe doctor left me and my mom to speak with Boo.  I leaned in to talk to him a bit, and, for the first time since I had been home, he gave me a little puppy kiss.  That was when I really lost it.  I hugged him and thanked him.

Per the suggestion of the doctor, we took Bacon out for a little walk around the facility.  He was slow, but not as slow as he had been on Sunday or Monday.  He was fine to walk once he got outside, but he did seem to want us to carry him out there to start.

I noticed on our way out that the candles were lit.

Bacon Last Walk

One last walk together.

It was, in many ways, a normal walk.  He sniffed around, went #1, moved over to a mulched area, sniffed some more, and tried a couple of times to go #2.  Since he had no food in his system, he was only partially successful, but it was a good little walk on a cool, sunny, picturesque day, like countless good walks we had had on sunny, picturesque days.  But this one was the most beautiful of all.

We went back inside to say our goodbyes.

It would be a lie to say that I won’t miss him, just as it would be a lie to say that he was merely a pet.  I’ll miss him terribly, especially at first.  He was a friend.  And he was family.

What I hold in my heart is what I told him during those final moments in the hospital before it was time for the doctor to rejoin us and do her final duty for Bacon.

20180605_115915.jpgThrough a few sobs, I told him, “We sure did have some great times, didn’t we, Bacon?  We were so lucky.  No, I was so lucky that you found me.  I pray to God that I meant even half as much to your life as you’ve meant to mine.  I will never ever forget all of the joy you brought us.  I hope we did the same for you.  Memories like the ones we made bring a smile to my face whenever I think of them, and friends like you are what make life worth living in the first place.  I will love you always, Boo.  You’re my special friend.  That will never change.  I sure hope we meet again, but, until then, I’ll never forget you.  There were so many happy things we shared, weren’t there?  Thank you.  I love you.”

Bacon Mom GoodbyeWe spent a few more minutes with him, mostly just hugging him and giving him ear scratches and telling him what a good, sweet friend he was.  He even managed an unexpected, late flurry of puppy kisses for me.  Of course he did.

The nurse came in to see if we were ready.  We were.

The doctor returned with her kit.  I knelt down on the floor and positioned myself so that he could see me throughout the entire final process.  I wanted to be right there for him, at the end, just in case he needed me.

He was very calm, except he didn’t like it when the doctor pulled off the tape covering his IV bandage.  It probably pulled a few hairs.  He made a quick bark / growly noise for a split second, the first noise he had made in days.  But he instantly went right back to being completely serene.

The doctor gave him propofol first, which just makes you irresistibly sleepy in a matter of seconds.  Anyone who has ever had a colonoscopy or an endoscopy can attest to the wonders of propofol.  He quickly but naturally moved from a sitting position to lying down on his side.  As he drifted off to dreamland, she brought on the second and final drug.  The entire time, I stayed in his field of vision so he wouldn’t be scared—but I don’t think he ever was.  I kept rubbing his ears the way he always liked and telling him that I loved him and thanking him, as sincerely as I have ever thanked anyone for anything in my life.

What I felt in those final moments was something I can’t really put into words.

The best way I can say it is, I have never been around an animal that I truly believed had a soul.

But he did.

The entire process was actually incredibly peaceful.  When it was over, the doctor recommended that we stay with him to get some final closure.  We did.  I kept rubbing his still-warm ears very gently.  My mom and I talked about what a blessing he had been for a minute or two.  The nurse came in and asked us if we were ready.  I replied, “Almost.  Two more minutes.  Thank you.”

Bacon Lit CandlesThen, we said our final final goodbyes.  When the nurse came back in shortly after, I gathered up my things, and, just before leaving, I bent down and gave him a farewell kiss on the top of his head and whispered “thank you” one final time.

We walked outside, thanking the excellent staff at Dogwood Veterinary Center as we left.  We looked up and marveled at what a beautiful day it was.  Absolutely perfect.

I paused and listened to the gentle breeze.  It reminded me of the placid walks he and I used to take around our old neighborhood.  I then began to realize just how perfect Bacon’s life had been from the time he came to me until his last day.  I also realized how many unrelated things had seemingly coincidentally occurred in a fortuitously ideal way to allow the past few days to unfold as they did.

My grandmother passed away at 104 recently, and a few thousand dollars from a trust my grandfather had set up went into my bank account a couple of weeks back, making the ER bills easily manageable.  The high school hall-of-fame induction that would have normally taken place at a different time in prior years took place this week instead.  My law school reunion just happened to be on Saturday, so I drove home that morning, which allowed me to be there as Bacon was first getting sick.

Any one of those things not happening the precise way that it actually did could have made this ordeal all the more harrowing and unbearably stressful.  As inherently challenging as this situation always is, it occurred to me that this one had gone as well as it possibly could have.

It’s times like these when I feel God’s presence most intensely.  It’s easy to see that God was on our side—and Bacon’s—this week.

In terms of my feelings, that, I think, is the bottom line for me.  Now that the hard decisions are behind us, the overwhelming emotion that remains is . . . gratitude.

I thought back to Geo’s passing, and how the emotion of that moment, in large part, was tied to the realization that this was the end of an era of my life.  Geo had been with us from the time I was eight until the time I was a second-year law student.  That’s an astounding run, and he was present for many of the more memorable moments of my formative years.

Bacon had been with me for another pivotal time, but they included some of my worst days.  Or, at least, what should have been my worst days.  Yet, I found that, as a flood of memories came rushing back to me, the bad feelings had miraculously been stripped away, and all I felt now was nostalgia for those walks, and fetch in the backyard, and sharing a cup of chili.  Simple moments that probably kept me happy and sane.

My goodness, it’s truly astounding when I think about it: It would be impossible to ask for a better dog than Bacon.  I didn’t have a single bad day with him.  He never ever made me angry.  Not once!  Even at the end—at the very end—he was sweet and calm and comforting and, as much as he could muster, affectionate.

As hard as it was, he could not have made it any easier on us.  That’s what he did his whole life.

Right up to and including the last thing he ever did.

Throughout his life, even at the very end, he taught us lessons.  Imagine it: a dog teaching us lessons!  To be kind to everyone you meet.  To find happiness always, even when—no, especially when—happiness is most elusive.  To comfort those who need it.  And that love is the most important thing.

Even more than food.

I’m so grateful, not only that I knew him, but also that he moved on in the most peaceful way imaginable.

That’s why, even though I’ll refer to Bacon in the past tense now, I’ll never do that when I talk about my family’s love for him.  Why?  Because that love didn’t end at his passing.  It wouldn’t be completely accurate to say I “loved” Bacon.  I love Bacon.  I always will.  And I will always be grateful.

In the end, that’s the emotion that carries the day.  All of my sadness is replaced only by a powerful feeling of being incredibly lucky and blessed, coupled with the immeasurable joy of all the many memories we made together.

What else could I have possibly wanted from a dog?

What else could I have possibly wanted from a friend?

I can’t think of a single thing.

Until we meet again.

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2 Responses to In the Palm of God’s Hand

  1. frejatravels says:

    oh.. so sweet and sad at the same while reading your blog. I love dog too and I can feel your compassion. All the best for both of you and rest in peace for Bacon.

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