The house is filled with people and yet it is empty. There is something missing, gone, lost to us. I am no longer whole. There is a huge wound in me that can not be healed now. I cry all the time, a song, a thought, a memory, a picture brings me to tears. I can not go home for it is just a reminder of what is lost. I can not go to work, I only pace the isles, the floor, lost to my thoughts, trying to keep it together. I walk through the grey world, void of color and joy.
Friday January 15th, started like any other day. I awoke late and I found Roland still asleep. He gingerly wakes and stretches his legs without getting up, sprawling on the ground. I get dressed and he knows instinctively what we are doing today. Out we stride to the car and off we go. Stopping at McDonald’s for a hamburger for me and him on our way to the dog park. It is too late for us to get a good hike in so this will have to do.
Roland sniffs around and does his business. The other dog trying hard to get him to play is only met with the firm bark of not now. These two carry on like this for about a half an hour. The puppy poking and prodding him and him grumpily saying no. Then it is just us for a while, we walk the perimeter looking around and just enjoying the nice day.
It isn’t long before we are met by another puppy, much more playful and less forceful than the last. Roland instantly plays with him, wrestling and carrying on. They play in this perfect moment for a while before Roland walks away and walks around the park. There are new dogs coming in and I look in his direction. I see him lay down not on his side but straight down.
Looking at him I know something is wrong, in an instant he looks old. Old and very worn out, I walk over to him watching closely. He isn’t laying flat but curved a bit keeping his belly off the ground. I ask him to get up and he rises. Together we start to walk to the gate and I look pack seeing that he has only taken a few steps. Head down, ears flat, I know something is wrong. He looks at me to say he can go no further. I quickly walk to him and scoop him up in my arms. He doesn’t fight me he just lets his head hang loosely as I rush him out to the car.
In an instant I am on the phone telling the vet we are on our way. They let me know they will squeeze us in as I rush there running lights and weaving in and out of traffic. I carry him inside leaving everything in the car. They have a room waiting for us as I walk him back to the Xray room. I tell them what happened and I am hoping his stomached has flipped. Unable to stand on his own I hold him up, muscles straining from carrying him I keep him up as they take his temperature and quickly examine him. Laying him on his side he fights me, but soon lets me roll him over when I talk to him pleading to not fight right now.
Rushed out while they xray him I pace the halls. Seconds turn to minutes, feeling like an eternity as I pace back and forth just hoping and pleading he is alright. The Vet comes out and brings me back in to look a the Xrays. I have some clue of what I am looking at but I am not sure what I am looking at. She explains to me that Roland has a mass inside his abdomen that has ruptured his spleen and he is bleeding internally. I ask her if there is anything we can do and they tell me about a life saving surgery. I only had two questions, how much and how long will it give him. She said about five thousand dollars, I thought I can swing that, I don’t know how but ill make that happen. Then she said about three to six months, he may bleed out during the surgery. I then say “So its not life saving surgery, its a death prolonging surgery.” She said I was right, Roland my best friend was dying.
I well up with emotion and tears as I ask them about how long does he have with out it, before we euthanize him. She looks at her coworkers as they look at her, trying to muster the strength to tell me what I already know. She tells me I can take him home if there are others that need to say goodbye but we should do it today. Now I say, lets do it now, as the tears fall from my face, he only has me. The other nurses become emotional and start apologizing and consoling me. I scoop him up and we move to another room.
My best friend, hiking partner, dog was dying in my arms and there was nothing I could do to help him. I lay him down on the table and he lays down without any fight. He knows and I know that this is it. I am such a mess as I pet him telling him it will be OK. One by one the other Vet’s and nurses come in to say goodbye to him. They hadn’t realized he was the emergency call. Petting him one last time they say their goodbyes.
I make quickly call John and Dawn, in an instant they are in tears on the phone. I am barely able to get the words out between gasps for air and tears. They are heartbroken saying No No No on the phone as I tell them that hes bleeding internally and will be gone soon. I send out a quick text to a friend of mine letting her know as well. Roland is calm as he lays on his side. I just stare at him telling him I love him and that he is such a good boy. The Vet comes back in with his injection, telling me whats going to happen. I spare her the hard talk by telling her Its alright.
I move to Roland’s head as she inserts the needle, injecting him with the anesthesia. He fights a bit as I comfort him to lay back down. I pet him telling him I love him and its alright. His breathing slows as I stroke his face, his fur soft and white. His chest rising and falling, slower and slower as he fades away. His chest ceases to rise and he is still for a moment. Then hes back in an instant taking a few breaths. I plead with him ‘Roland its alright, I love you.” Still he lays for a moment before taking a few more shallow breaths fighting with every ounce to stay. Crying uncontrollably I tell him “I will be alright. You can go Roland, its OK. I will see you soon my dear friend” and then he’s gone, laying so still and peaceful. Stubborn, full of piss and vinegar he fought to the end. I make arrangements to pick him up after he has had a private cremation.
Over the next few days there has been an overwhelming flow of texts, phone calls, and posts. Facebook pages pop up instantly from friends posting about him. Roland had touched so many people in the his twelve years on this earth. Everyone is grieving at the loss of this magnificent animal. Roland was tough, calm, quiet, a leader of man and dogs. He would keep silent watch over everyone at the park and at home, the sheriff. He truly was the Alpha keeping peace in the world, watching over us all. It is very apparent that he wasn’t just my dog, he was everyone’s dog. We are all mourning him, missing his charming smile and charismatic attitude.
For now, I cry all the time, I am unable to sleep. I am only consoled in knowing that he was loved by so many. That in his last day we had a great afternoon and I was there with him in the end to help him across to the other side. I like to think he would have lived to be twenty or more just to show how tough he was. We have been through thick and thin together; divorce, homelessness, poverty, midnight shifts, dog fights, countless fosters, broken bones, magic moments on the trail, wrestling in the snow, to many other beautiful moments.
I will be able to pick him up later this week and bring him back to the house. I’ve been talking with my friends or should I say his friends and we all agree Roland wouldn’t have it any other way. He will still make the journey with me on the Appalachian Trail. I will just have to carry him this one last time instead of him pulling me to the finish. This journey will be even harder without his steadfastness, courage and drive to push us through the hard times. I owe him that, finishing, sneaking him into Katahdin and setting him free.