We Buried Him Among the Apple Trees

We Buried Him Among the Apple Trees

Once upon a time I went to a farm with my husband, and we brought home an emaciated bundle of bones who struggled to keep food down and ate horse poop.

That brindle boy, all ribs, spine, and head cowered in the corner of the couch for weeks. He didn’t move. Giant eyes following everyone and everything. He ate rice and chicken. He kept his food down. He watched.

Eventually he wandered upstairs to sleep in our room. Eventually he put weight on and grew into his head. Eventually his tail beat with the rhythm of unmatched joy. We loved him desperately and he loved everything.

We had a baby and watching them together, a boy and his dog, was watching a story that had played out over at least 40,000 years. They knew each other. They knew how to be with each other. And every dog knows that little kids drop food everywhere.

When we got our dog, Odin – renamed Odie, because he was silly, not regal – he was already three or four years old. The paperwork couldn’t agree, and it didn’t matter to us, until it did. Until one morning, ground lightly covered in snow, I saw two toe-drag marks. I had wondered about arthritis – he was an older dog after all – and so I called our vet and they fit him in that day.

The thing is. I knew right away it wasn’t just arthritis. I knew something was wrong. Wrong-wrong. And I know my husband did too, because he insisted, he would take Odie himself and I could work. And so, while they were at the vet, I stayed home and I cried.

Odie’s scan revealed that he had a splenic tumour and even if he wasn’t 14, our vet would not recommend surgery. It had lived off him and grown within him with the silence and invisibility you would expect of something so cruel.

He lasted a week after his diagnosis. And that last night, the night we agreed to only so our son could say goodbye in the morning, none of the three of us slept. We pulled him up gently between us, our now powdered-sugar-faced boy, and we comforted him as best we could, and through him ourselves, until dawn broke.

It was a bitterly cold December day. The kind in which the wind turns your tears to salt on your face and your fingers get red and stiff. My dad dug Odie’s grave by an apple tree in their back garden, overlooking fields and forests.

I know I don’t have to convince you of how much I loved my dog. Anyone who writes about dogs loves dogs. And anyone reading someone’s writing about dogs loves dogs. And within this mutual bubble of understanding, I will tell you that I was devastated, and you will understand.

My grief was piercing, relentless. I thought I might have to be medicated that first night. His blanket still smelled of him. He had always been there. I wanted my dog back and I said it over and over again as though it were a prayer, beckoning him home.

No one tells you that you will see your dog everywhere because your brain expects to. I saw my dog in his spot on the bed. I saw my dog out of the corner of my eye. I saw him in his spot on the couch.

Everything became imbued with the loss of my dog. The power lines hummed unnaturally loud on our walk. I woke up, the weight of his blanket bunched against my legs, forgetting. I heard a big dog barking, but none of our neighbours have one. And this spring, while walking in a dog park we used to frequent in a city we haven’t lived in for three years, my son found a dog tag loose on the ground. Red heart. Odie.

The thing about our animals that researchers and non-animal people are coming to realize is that they are more to us than ‘pets’. The term can’t hold the weight of the significance of the actual relationship we have with the animals that share our lives.

Donna Haraway has used the term companion species to convey that animals are not accessories or owned, but that there is an intertwining of our lives that is deeper. This is different from being companion-animals. Companions being those with whom we might break bread using the etymological definition of companion, a noun, being from Late Latin, companionem, a “bread fellow” [com + panis, literally, “with bread”].

Companionship can be a deeply meaningful term if you think about those that you choose to keep company with: Friends, family, dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, etc. To be a true companion of any of these people or animals, you must care about their lives and their deaths. Her argument, at its most basic and regardless of its flaws, is that these relationships all matter, and they all have meaning, not just the human-to-human ones.

I think most of us sharing our lives with animals would agree.

Living with dogs is wonderful and heartbreaking and it’s worth it. It’s been six months and I still miss Odie. His blue harness hangs in same spot. It’s still full of his fur and my heart is still full of him.

This is a guest post by Natalie Ward. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email [email protected]

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