I parked my Subaru in the visitor parking lot about 7pm on Thanksgiving night. I’d left my family back at my aunt and uncle’s home, dessert finished and post-dinner talk begun.
The automatic doors slid open as I entered the waiting room. The antiseptic smell of Lysol and fear was an assault on my nose after the crisp, November air outside. In my bag, with my wallet and my keys, was a small Ziploc bag of Thanksgiving turkey.
Visiting hours were over, but they let me in anyway. The level of compassion in this veterinary hospital was extraordinary. The tech led me down a series of corridors until we reached the ICU.
Rows of crates. Larger dogs on the floor level, smaller dogs and cats on the upper levels. I let my hands brush against the crate doors, whispering to the pets who peered out. I felt some guilt that there was not enough turkey for everyone.
“Hi, Sweet Boy,” I whispered. His tail thumped weakly on the blanket that lined his crate. His once fat behind was bony, his forelegs shaved from blood draws, IVs, and test sites.
But his chocolate eyes were still bright with welcome when he lifted his snout to lick my palm.
“Can I?” I asked the tech, knowing that there was no medical reason he couldn’t have the turkey. I’d asked.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll be outside.”
I curled my body up on the floor and edged into his crate as much as I could without disturbing him. I put the pieces of turkey in my palm and offered them right up. He ate tentatively, but it was the best eating I’d seen from him since we’d had to check him in.
When he’d finished his treat, the same treat our other dog, waiting patiently and anxiously at home, would have, I laid my head on his furry chest and just breathed.
The chicken soupy smell of a retriever’s coat and his steady breathing relaxed me, and his heartbeat evened out the longer I lay there with him. Comfort was so simple to give and so easily accepted.
His name was Rumple. His papers listed his name as Rumpelstiltskin’s Gold. He’d been diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma some months before. They gave him less than a year to live, even less than that to live well.
When he was a young dog, he would sit on his dog house like Snoopy. When he was a puppy, he ate many shoes–and a remote control. He was a beautiful boy, honey blonde and soft-mouthed. He was enthusiastic fetcher, but his best retrieving was exhibited in his games of Solo Ball. He would toss his ball with his mouth and then chase it across the yard. For long stretches of gleeful time.
He loved us.
He went on to live another three happy years before the cancer claimed him. He fought that disease with the optimism and good cheer that only animals have. He trusted us to make him feel better, and never judged when it didn’t work.
I parked my Volkswagen in the visitor parking lot about 7pm and met my mother in the waiting room at Tufts Animal Hospital the night we said goodbye to him. I held his paw before the staff took them back. If I hadn’t left work early and driven directly there, I would have brought him turkey in a Ziploc bag.
This is one of those interpretive filter pieces. I wonder about the veracity of the precise dates and the chronology, but this is how I remember him, his wonderful life, and the cancer that took a good dog before his time.