I could tell by the trembly edge in my wife’s voice over the phone that the news was bad. Catching me early on the last day of a business trip, she reported that Sammy’s wanderlust had finally got him into deep trouble.
His nocturnal adventures in our back yard had morphed into a determined and ultimately successful effort to squeeze through the gap in our neighbor’s half-fallen fence and being the unchaperoned wanderings in the neighborhood that would prove his undoing. When Sammy didn’t appear for his breakfast at 6:30, Linda had awakened Lucas in a bid to outnumber the sickening possibilities a blind dog might encounter on his own in the night.
As they made their separate cycles through the neighborhood calling our blind dog’s name, Linda came upon him lying down in a neighbor’s yard, nearly two blocks away along a street that would shortly busy itself with morning commuters but, even at night, would not have been without cars. He rose to meet her but was clearly injured.
I drove home from Chicago at a higher speed than is my custom, eager to stop by the Michigan Road Animal Hospital and see for myself what we had in our hands. Sammy was barely conscious. Apologetically, the attendant offered that ‘I don’t know how much he understands about what’s going on.’ I assumed that he had been sedated. I learned the next day that he was not under medication. His sad, wounded, blind body was in shock. Something had struck him a terrible blow. His tail twitched once or twice at my voice, then he fell motionless again.
The next day I met with Dr. Fletcher, the wonderful Colombian doctor who with such straightforward gentleness had broken the news about Dear Departed Tucker’s terminal illness. ‘Just enjoy him’, I will never forget her saying through the phone as I called for biopsy results from Germany. We did, to the very end. Sammy was supposed, somehow, to take the large space Tucker had vacated in our hearts. No dog could ever replace that incessantly beguiling companion, but surely our adopted Sammy could occupy his turf where Tucker once had romped.
It appears that is not to be. I probe for the knowledge behind Dr. Tucker’s somber tones. ‘What is his prognosis?’, I ask. ‘Guarded’, she replies. ‘You really need to think about whether you want to invest more money in treating him’.
‘We do’, I replied without hesitation. ‘OK’, she closed the conversation. She has seen these calculations running their sad circuit in her clients’ eyes many times. ‘Take him home with you tonight. We have no one to watch him overnight. I fear his breathing will become labored. That will be very serious. We can’t do anything for him if that happens.’
I’ve been with Sammy 36 hours now, nonstop. He breathes hard, I cuddle and stroke him on the floor. He can’t raise himself, has not urinated. The joy is gone from his eyeless face. We will lose him, I think. Tucker’s space has been filled by this buoyant survivor for too short a time.
I wonder if he saw the violence coming at him, four wheels bearing down on him in the darkness, a driver wondering after the jolt whether to stop or drive on. Sammy limps into a stranger’s yard and lies down in the cold, cool grass. An African dog, he was never good with the cold.
It didn’t suit him. Nor, against all our good intentions, have our efforts to give him a good, long life.
Sammy sighs restlessly in the night. So, sleepless on the couch beside him, do I.