The vet’s office sent us a sympathy note. Inside were three white cards, each with a black imprint of one of Punchy’s paws.
This seemed odd. Why didn’t they take a print of the fourth paw? And which paw was it that wasn’t included? Front left? Rear right? The prints weren’t labeled, as if it would matter, we’re not museum curators.
He’s not there. Or anywhere. Well, that’s not true. His cremated remains are on our mantel, poured into a metal container tucked into a blue cloth bag like an expensive bottle of bourbon.
We’re just owners of a now dead dog that we both, at separate times, think is laying in his spot between the dining room table and the giant snake plant.
Punchy loved us from a distance and we returned the favor. He was a dog that would run far, far ahead, so far he disappeared into the grass or the woods and then, after a bit, he’d circle back, come running straight at us, and then take his place behind us as we walked. If we leaned over to pet him, he’d flinch, unless he was in a very loose mood in which case, he would allow a few solid pats before standing back. He would shepherd us without reward.
He was always like that – hypervigilant, sensitive to touch, always wanting to be out of the way – and we attributed that to his early upbringing in Alaska and not the kennel where he ended up spending the bulk of his life. We knew those folks to be gentle and to raise gentle dogs. Punchy was a gentle dog but often a scared one. We just accepted that instead of trying to change him.
We loved Punchy on his terms.
That last day while he was lying on the dining room rug, he let me stroke his face like I might have a baby of mine so many years ago. He looked at me but didn’t flinch. That’s how I knew he was dying. He had let go of being afraid. I loved him so I was glad even though it meant he was leaving.