If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
– Will Rogers, American humorist, social commentator, and actor
The Milo Foundation used to come to Fourth Street in Berkeley on weekends to adopt out rescued dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens. It was late summer 1999, and I persuaded David to “just take a look.” He was reluctant. I had given up my dog Sydney through my divorce four years earlier because I moved out of the house and into a large apartment complex, where I could not keep a large pet. I grew up with dogs throughout my childhood, and I couldn’t wait to be a homeowner so I could finally have a dog of my own.
I saw “Iggy,” a lab mix, with her sister in a pen. She’d been given that nickname when she arrived, sick with kennel cough, at the shelter. She was a puppy less than five months old, with mostly black fur with a little white on her chest. She was timid but wanting attention and affection. Iggy and her sister were found in a cardboard box, abandoned somewhere in Berkeley. I wanted her. I imagined sitting at my computer, working on my novel, while she slept at my feet. David was adamant. We were not going to be tied down with a puppy. I left, turning around to see her being held by a young woman. Iggy had an uncertain look on her face. I convinced David to return on Sunday, and if by chance the young woman hadn’t taken her and Iggy was still there, it was a sign that she belonged to us.
We went back on Sunday, and miraculously she was still there. We named her Bailey and brought her home. We deduced, when David rolled up a newspaper to swat at a spider on our bedroom wall, that Bailey had been abused. She cowered and her eyes were glassy with fear. She also had abandonment issues, which she never outgrew. It was difficult to leave her in the mornings. We ended up putting her in the kitchen, with sheets over the newly installed cabinets so she wouldn’t jump – she liked to jump – and scratch the panels.
One day I came home and she would not move. I coaxed her down the stairs from the kitchen to the utility room and out into the backyard. She made it to the backyard, but she stopped and winced. I waited for David to come home and then we took her to the vet, where we learned that she had broken her leg in two places. She had surgery and was in a cast. David put down grass in the middle of the yard, as advised by the vet, and we had one of our retired neighbors come by during the day to let her outside. We even left an Etta James concert in the City before it ended because we were afraid to leave her in the house by herself too long. The vet cautioned us before her cast came off that there was a chance her sciatic nerve would be damaged, which meant he’d have to amputate her leg. I saw a three-legged dog in the park and imagined that Bailey could still wag her tail and trot as if she had four legs, just like that happy-go-lucky dog. The whole medical episode cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,600, but she was able to walk again, work her paw out from a curled ball, and stop limping.
I was in heaven when I quit my office job in my first trimester. I worked on freelance projects, and on weekends, when pregnancy fatigue hit, I’d lie on the couch, with Bailey – who was a sedentary dog from the beginning – stretched out on her dog bed next to me, white belly up. Those were the salad days. We gave her long walks. She basked in our attention and the homebody lifestyle we took on, as we prepared for our first child’s arrival.
Bailey had slept in our room ever since she was a puppy. It was a game, before my son was born, to try not to stir on weekend mornings because the minute we did she would be at the side of our bed, wet nose poking into our faces. She was just as sleep deprived as we were when our son was born. And she’d let us know how irritated she was by groaning and slapping a paw over her face. With the bassinet in our bedroom, which also doubled as my office, we were feeling overwhelmed and crowded. Adding insult to injury, we put Bailey’s bed in the living room, and that is likely the time she retreated into a state of perpetual depression. Friends who came to our house often commented on how sad she looked, lying on her bed, staring at the world going past her.
When my son was 21 months old, we rescued our dog Rex, who was a puppy at the time, from the Berkeley Animal Control. Bailey despised him. If I had known anything about dog psychology, I would not have brought Rex home. I thought I was doing her a favor when I returned to work in the City by getting her a companion. The thing is, there were too many companions taking attention away from her. We had no idea until one weekend when I looked out the kitchen window and to my horror saw her chase and pounce on Rex. It is the reason to this day that he can’t be around other dogs. Rex barked all the time and was difficult to handle. Bailey lay on her bed like a cat. In her eyes, she was chiding us: “See, look at him! He’s such a bother! You should have stuck with just me. Look at me. I just lie on my bed and cause no trouble to anybody.” Their beds were side by side in the family room, and whenever Rex got up, Bailey would get up, too, only to stretch her body and take up half his bed. We had to scold her to get her to move back to her own bed. On weekend mornings, I would take Rex on his walk first, while Bailey sat dejectedly, snout sticking out in-between the pickets of the dog gate that kept them in the kitchen. While I walked Rex, she would howl and wake up the kids. No matter that I always returned to give her a walk. She never stopped howling. She never got over being left behind. When my daughter was born, Bailey was in such a state of melancholy that we joked about putting her on puppy uppers – and Rex on doggie downers.
I have fond memories of Bailey. She liked to slink up on the couch when she thought we wouldn’t catch her. One night, in the dark, David sat on her instead of the couch cushion. She used to beg for food at the kitchen table. One rainy Valentine’s Day dinner, we tried to keep her at bay by putting an open umbrella, which she was afraid of, at the kitchen entrance. She inched closer and closer, until her collar got tangled with the metal end of one of the spines of the umbrella. She drew back, and to her surprise, the umbrella came at her. She took off, dashing into the kitchen, under the table, shooting out of the kitchen and through the dining room and around the living room, her eyes bugged out, her hind legs whipping ahead of her front legs. Those are the times I wish I’d had a video camera on hand!
Many times when we came home from errands, coming up through the kitchen door, she would be on the other side, prancing around like a horse, her favorite stuffed hamburger squeaky toy in her mouth. I tried to let the dogs hang out upstairs with me in my office library during the day, but a knock, a doorbell ringing, or any other noise would send them barking up a storm. So they were gated in the kitchen. Sometimes I would leave the kitchen gate open, and at a certain time in the late morning she would venture up the stairs, her long nails clicking against the hardwood floors, and I’d wait for her to come around and into my office nook. I would give her a big greeting, to which she responded with a wagging tail, and satiated, she would trot back to her bed in the kitchen. She had the softest, velvety ears, behind which she liked being scratched.
One Friday evening in January of 2011, as we were preparing for our son’s basketball game, Bailey came around from the family room area to the kitchen. She looked tired. But I was in a hurry. I said a few encouraging words to her, and then we were gone. The next day she went on her walk, but she was lethargic. On Sunday, for the first time in her life, she would not get up for her morning walk. In fact, she hardly got up at all. When she did, she dragged herself into the kitchen and peed on the floor. David saw what was happening, but in my mind I thought, well, we’ll just get her pads. When David tried to entice Bailey outdoors to pee to no avail, he ended up resorting to lifting her up beneath her front legs. I’ll never forget the startled – even embarrassed and humiliated – look she exchanged with me as her hind legs dangled beneath her, her tail curled up. The kids spent the night on the couches in the family room next to Bailey and Rex’s dog beds.
I was grateful that we had a long weekend; it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the kids were home from school. We took a lot of pictures of Bailey and made a video of her on the flip camera. I sat on the floor next to her and put her head on my lap, as I stroked her and told the kids stories about Bailey. It wasn’t until the end of day that I realized she had never slept, which was unheard of given how much she sleeps during the day. I was stricken by the understanding that she couldn’t sleep because she was in discomfort. Her breathing had became loud and raspy. It was then that I reached the conclusion that David had already arrived at on Sunday. At dinnertime, we had a family meeting. We would need to take Bailey to the vet in the morning. Numb and not thinking, I agreed to let both kids, who were sobbing over their meals, come with us.
I was going to sleep on the couch that night. Both David and I were working on our laptops in the family room. He insisted that the kids could not go with us in the morning. And I secretly wished that she would pass away peacefully, if only her eyes would close and she would fall asleep. It was around 11 o’clock that night when her breathing turned rattled and sounded wet. She struggled to turn her back on us, and in that act I knew she was dying. I rushed to her side, calling out her name, stroking her head. I was torn because I wanted her to know I was there and yet I acknowledged that she had turned her back on us because she didn’t want us to see. I recalled someone telling me once that animals go into the woods to die alone. But I would not let her think she was alone. Within moments, she threw back her head, opened her mouth wide, let out a rattle, and she was gone.
I don’t remember what happened after that. We wrapped her up in a blanket and took her outside on the porch. We knew we had to move her to the van before the kids got up. So we woke up early in the morning and hurriedly transported her body, but by the time we returned inside, I found my daughter, eight years old, wailing in the middle of the family room, in the spot where Bailey’s bed used to be.
Bailey’s ashes were scattered somewhere in Napa. We held a family ceremony for her, burying a wad of her hair and the hamburger toy in the side yard.
People say you shouldn’t regret. But initially, regret is an involuntary feeling. It’s the wallowing in regret for a long stretch that steals our time and diverts our feelings for other things. And yet, regret can be a great lesson if we are open to it and know how to use it. I very much regret that we ignored Bailey all those years. She just wanted to be loved because when she came into this world, she was abused and abandoned. Those feelings never left her, no matter that she was safe and loved haphazardly in a household that took her for granted in the course of our busy lives.
Now we pamper Rex, who was not given a fair shake by Bailey. We’re making up for the abuse he received at the hands of a curmudgeon dog. Rex sleeps upstairs, gets a daily walk instead of only weekend walks, and accompanies me on errands – he gives me a stunned and hurt look when I don’t take him with me. He is photographed more than any other person under our roof. And he gets a lot of attention. He has become the dog who sleeps in the library and who I know won’t bark – though he still has a ferocious bark – while I’m on the phone for work.
Last winter, I noticed his hind legs slipping a little. He has had numerous skin conditions throughout the year that I thought perhaps might be the beginning of the end for him. Numerous vet visits and bills, thyroid and other medications later, and after a switch to non-grain dog food, his sandy coat is as soft as Bailey’s ears. He is still a nuisance around other dogs and manages to get in the way of whatever you are doing. He is nervous in unfamiliar situations and environments, his shaking hind legs a sure sign. I affectionately call him my “dysfunctional boyfriend.” Friends call him “Wreck.”
He is nearing 12 years old. He has been my house companion for a solid two years now. We have our daily routine.
I don’t know when his time will come, when he will join Bailey, who, as my kids joke, is up in doggie heaven, looking down and jealously barking, “No fair!” It will be much harder for me in one sense – though no less heartbreaking – when we reach the end of our walk together, but I know there will be no regret at all. Bailey taught me that lesson.