A message from Beyond?

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Every year, when Roo and I returned to Maine, the first thing she did after saying hello to everyone was to go into the woods next to where the camper was parked and find her collection of old bones. She started finding them the first time we came. The bones, all of which were the abandoned property of some now gone dog, were all bleached and had been emptied out ages ago, but she liked to scavenge them. Over time her collection grew. She never gnawed on them. She just liked to keep them near the camper as a sign of her success at scavenging, which she enjoyed almost as much as hunting.

By the time she died, there were half a dozen or so of them. When I found myself trying to reduce the constant occurrence of reminders of her to things I chose, I threw her bone collection in the garbage and forgot about it.

This morning, when I was getting the camper ready to leave Maine, and as I was going through the routine of hooking it up to the car and attaching the safety chains, of course I couldn’t help but think of the way Roo used to hide in the bushes or at least lie down at a safe distance every time I did that. She was suspicious of the clanking noises and the way the weight of the camper would make the car bounce when it came down onto the ball hitch. Even though she witnessed that hundreds of times in our four years dragging the camper around together, she never got used to it, and of course, while I worked, I missed seeing her there, in her usual spot in the bushes next it he house. She would have been watching me until I finished hooking it up. When I told her it was finished, she would come back to me.

After I got the camper was hooked up today I went in the house to take what could be the last shower for several days, and then I went back outside and into the camper for no more than two minutes. When I came back out, I was shocked by what I saw.

Virginia happened to pull into the driveway while I was looking at it.

She saw that I was looking odd.

“What are you looking at?” she said.

“Did you put this here?” I asked.

“What?” she said as she came over.

“This,” I said. It was one of Roo’s bones. Not one of her old collection of the bones of other dogs – those were all gone and this was one of hers. I recognized it. It was the kind I bought her, shorter than the long cut of bones that all the others were. I remembered this particular bone because of the way Roo had worked on it so hard to scoop out the marrow from a distinctively marked hard part.

Virginia and I looked at each other with those wide eyes one makes when something weird happens. We both knew right away.

“That’s one of Roo’s bones,” I said. “And I’ve been out here messing around with the camper for the last hour, and that wasn’t here. I just this minute came back out of the camper. I wasn’t in there for more than two minutes. This wasn’t there when I went in. It was put there now.

And it was. I would not have missed it. I’m obsessive about keeping the area neat and there is no more chance that I would have missed the bone sitting there in the clean driveway right next to the camper when I had been out there doing all those chores than I would miss a full moon on a clear night in a dark stretch of lonely flatland without a hat on.

Virginia and I looked at each other and down at the bone about ten times.

Now, here’s the thing. Sure, maybe a fox (there are exactly zero other dogs running around there, not a one, ever) unearthed the bone and got spooked when I opened the camper door. Not that there are many foxes on the loose there, but I saw one a couple of months ago. That would be the reasonable explanation. Entirely unlikely, because Roo buried this bone, expecting to dig it up again, as she always did, and there was no one there next to the camper digging it up when I went back to the camper.

Make of it what you will. I am….

A last video as I leave

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the approaching weather you know that a vast dome of arctic air will be descending into the Lower Forty-Eight by early next week. The searing sub-zero temperatures and high winds typical of Januaries in International Falls or Cut Bank will be brutalizing the the north and bitter temperatures will not moderate above freezing most of the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

As much as I hate to leave Brunswick and the kindness of my friends Rockin’ Doctor Jim and Virginia, the freeze forces the drive south. Assuming the truck holds up – tonight the entire electrical system, though not the ignition, flicked off for about 15 seconds before turning itself back on –  I’ll be driving south tomorrow. 

It will be the fist time I’ll ever have gone cross country without Roo in the right seat. 

I’m not looking forward to it. It’s not just that I don’t know where to go, beyond south and west, because from Maine those are the only choices, but because on every drive over the past seven years, through every last one of the contiguous Untied States, there was always a destination, even if I usually did not know what it was. The destinations – parks or trails or lakes or rivers – were chosen for Roo. By 1 or 2 o’clock, I would either follow the first random brown-and-white sign I saw or consult a hiking app, or just stop at a river bank or a lakeside or in the middle of any wilderness that looked good for Roo. 

Nothing is more fun for a hunting dog than unexplored terrain. They never know what they’re going to find and they take great pleasure in it. Roo loved that part of every day, and I made sure she had her couple of hours of being a field dog with only one exception, and that was, of course, thunderstorms. These stops were not always ideal. Sometimes the land was scrubby or the trails short. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be anyone for Roo to hunt, not a mouse for miles. It didn’t matter much to Roo. Even the more boring places interested her. Dogs get a charge out of it, and how can you find out if a place is any good for checking mouses unless you get out and check them? Roo liked to swim even in cold weather. Unless it was below freezing I tried to make sure there would be someplace for her to go in the water. We hiked like this in the rain, in the snow, in the cold and in the heat. Roo ran free every day and checked mouses and swam. Doing this made up – how much I’m not sure – for Roo having been made to live a life on the run. It never failed to make her happy. 

Of course this meant taking a couple of hours off in the middle of all those long driving days, not just for the walk itself, but then to rinse her in the camper hose and dry her and brush the brambles out of her golden fur and feed her. It was exhausting. It was great.

That’s over now. Monday would have been Roo’s eighth birthday. If the truck holds up I’ll be on the road. I’m not sure how to do it. I’m also appalled at myself for not having managed to finish Roo’s story before leaving. It wasn’t a matter of time. There has been enough of that. It was that there were too many times when it was just too hard to do and I couldn’t make myself. I will finish it soon, as soon as I stop somewhere. There’s still a lot left.

Just about every day since Roo died I’ve taken a walk here in Brunswick. This video is of all her favorite swimming holes. Starting the day after she died, I’ve walked to them almost every day. 

I know it’s not much as videos go.

Part 10 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week: Our long talk continues

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“Do you know, Chigi Bear Beker, that after you went swimming for the first time you and your daddy went to a hotel in the mountains, and that was the first time you were ever somewhere quiet. There came no noise there, Chig, it was so quiet, like it is now, and finally how this little bear sleeped and sleeped and sleeped. Maybe you went your whole life before that without one good night of sleep. Even you had bags under the eyes, Chig, like a tired little bear. When the old daddy tried to wake up this Rooki, who was still such a little and skinny bear girl, she would not wake up. This was how your daddy knew how important the quiet was for his puppy bear. And when you did wake up, do you know what you did? You went hunting, right there in the room. Even though it was just a fly– ” her eyes widened “ – who you catched, that was when your daddy saw that more than anything, you were a hunting bear who needed quiet. Only one day away from the big, noisy city, and already you were turning into a new bear who could catch even the fly.”

The second mention of the word ‘fly’ made Roo’s eyes dart reflexively towards the ceiling to see if there was a fly in the camper. Ever since she had heard a fly buzzing too close to the microphone on one of the videos that had entertained her for hours as she became weaker and watching the videos was ruined for her because the buzzing made her fear that she no longer had the strength or agility to fend off a fly, the idea of them had spooked her. My saying ‘fly’ now made her worry a little. I was sorry I said it.

“Oh, no fly, there is no fly, Little Bear. There is no fly.”

As she had for years, she accepted my reassurance instantly and returned her eyes to me.

“That’s my good bear. Everything is okay,” I said, stroking her cheek.

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“There, in Colorado, you swimmed with other dogs and you walked with your daddy in a big park, and already you were such a good puppy that the old daddy didn’t put you on the string. All the way up a big hill your Daddy took you to see the stones of your great-granduncle Orville, who you never met, but who was also a good dog. I’ve told you about him. Of the boy dogs, he was the best. Of course, of the girl dogs you are the best, and as your daddy always says, girls are better than boys, so you are the best dog. The best dog any daddy ever had.

“Again drove the Rooki and the daddy, all the way over there, and we lived in a new house in a place called Vermont.

“Do you know that that was where this Chigi catched her first mouse? It was a chipmouse and he put up a big fight. He tried to kill you down. And even though, as the old daddy has told you many times, no dog has catched more mouses than you, it had to start somewhere, and it started with that first poor chipmouse. Maybe you think it’s silly how your daddy always felt so sorry for all the mouses, for that chipmouse and all the other mouses since, but more than anything he was proud of his little bear, because – ” I put my hand on her chest and rubbed her heart “– you are a hunting bear. Many dogs hunt the mouse, Chig, but of all the dogs, when it comes to checking mouses, you are the best. Your daddy is very proud of what a great hunting bear you are. And your daddy knew that more than anything in the world, you would always need to hunt, because in this big heart, that is who you are.

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“But, Chig, up there in that Vermont somebody was always shooting the gun. All day, from early in the morning until the night. So that was not a good place for you. You were still such a little girl. Maybe you don’t remember, but in those days the noise hurt you so much. So, again drove away the Rooki and her daddy in the car. Yes, Chig. First we drove over there, and then we drove over there. Once we got there, we drove over there. Always with the head of the Rooki sleeping on the leg of her daddy in the car. What a good job you you did. 

“Rooki and her daddy even drove all the way to Mexico. Do you remember Mexico, Chig? In Mexico this little bear and her daddy lived in a house where all the dogs were lying down outside in the street on the cobblestones in the evening and this did also the Chigi. You know, Chug, I always thought you might be Mexican. It’s the only thing that can explain your good manners and how much you like to eat tacos and tortillas and burritos. Maybe you ate them before you came to your daddy. And in Mexico, all the night cats walked in the street, and so what did this Chigi and all the other dogs do but chase the cats. Oh, how much fun that was. Especially was this fun because sooner or later always came the old daddy saying, ‘Rooki Bear Beker, stop checking the cat!’ Who knows what kind of a bad daddy tells his little bear not to check the cat, but that’s what did your daddy. Did you listen to your daddy? No, no, no. You could not let all the dogs of Mexico see that just because some old daddy stood up there on the steps telling you not to check the cat that you would not check the cat. But, even if you don’t like to admit it, you learned that you were not allowed to catch the cat. Yes, from catching the cat your old daddy stopped you. And you are a good girl who chased the occasional cat, but you knew your daddy did not want you to catch him, and so you, like the good bear you are, do not catch the cat. Even if you check them sometimes.”

Roo thought about cats. I couldn’t tell from the look in her eyes if she was regretting that she had never caught a cat. I hoped it was because she was looking forward to the day she would and as I ran her the golden flap of her ear through my hand, marveling at what a beautiful dog Roo was, I tried not to think about the rest.

“Do you know that of all the dogs – not only the dogs of Mexico, Chig, but also the dogs of America – this Rooki was always the boss? Oh, yes. Of course many dogs would go to the Rooki and growl her and try to push her around, but this the Rooki never once in her life allowed. Do you remember all the dogs who tried? Many. Almost all the dogs of the world. But did this Rooki care? No. She did not care. Even when she was a skinny little new bear who worried about all the bad things people might do, no dog could worry her. How proud of you is your daddy, Chig. Because you are not just the bravest of all the dogs, also you are the toughest. That is why every day your daddy says, ‘What a tough little bear is my Chigi Bear Beker.’ And you know that this is what thinks your daddy.”

I held her chest in my hand and moved it softly as I told her again: “What a tough, tough, tough, tough bear you are. The toughest bear who ever lived. How your daddy loves his brave, tough bear.”

In her eyes I saw her accept the compliment in the modest way she always had, her appreciation tempered with the grace that comes more naturally to any dog than it ever has to any human.

“In Mexico ran this little Chigi on the beach. She chased the big birds. Every day you went swimming in the ocean. Do you remember the ocean, Chig? That is the swimming where you can not drink the water, but it is still good. And also you ran on the beach like a crazy dog and you went to check all the houses. Of course the old daddy told you not to go to the houses, but this you did not care. Why should she worry about some old, slow daddy who could not catch a quickly bear running in the sand? Yes, this did my naughty, naughty, naughty little bear. And when Chigi was finished checking the houses she ran to say hello to all the people who were sitting on the beach eating lunch and they loved this little girl, even she was so wet and sandy. Even when she shaked at them and made everybody wet, they only laughed to the little Chigi. And when the Chig noticed how good smelled what they were eating, what did they do but give you burritos and tacos and laugh some more when they saw how careful you were to catch the pieces before they fell in the sand. But what has lasted the longest from Mexico is the name Chigi, because there came that name it you by accident. But we could not stay there, and again came more drivey days.”

I thought of all the driving I had made Roo do over the years. Before I adopted her, when she was just the last of the half dozen foster dogs assigned to me at the rescue, I worried about whether she would be able to tolerate what I suspected might be a life on the run, because I have never been able not to be on the run, and though I had then the same hope I have now, of settling down somewhere and staying put and not having to keep running, I didn’t really believe it any more then than I do now. When my boss at the rescue told me not to worry about that she said, “Haven’t you ever noticed how cool the dogs homeless people have are?” it helped me make up my mind to adopt Roo. But I knew that the hundreds of thousands of miles on the road and the years of nights in hundreds of motels and campgrounds had been hard on her.

“Little Bear,” I said into her steady brown eyes, “I’m sorry about all the driving, all the moving. I guess it was too much for you. Maybe that’s why you got sick. I know you would have liked to live in a house where things didn’t change every day, without new noises and lights every day and where the rain and the wind – ” I didn’t want to so much much as breathe ‘thunder’ – “were so loud and where you could have had someplace good to hide. I am so sorry about that, Chig. But your daddy could not stop going. He has never been able to stop. And because where goes the daddy goes the Rooki and where goes the Rooki goes the daddy, you had to go with daddy. I’m so sorry, Little Bear, if that was bad for you, but we both know what a bad daddy I am.” I made myself stop this before she sensed the extent of my regret and mistook it for my pointing out some flaw of hers. “But no more. We are finished of driving now, Chug. No more drivey days. We will stay here. We are finished of driving, Chig. No more.”

On the longer driving days over the years I would tell her, “Sorry, Chig, but today is a drivey day,” and she understood that and curled up in the passenger seat or went it lie down on the floor in back for the long haul. Now when I told her there would be no more of those drivey days I again felt that I might be coming too close to lying to Roo with an assurance I could only offer because I knew that Roo would never drive again in a car until I took her body to be cremated. I still do not know where the resolve came from not to let that, or any of it, break me down. I hoped Roo could not see in my eyes as much as I could see in hers. If she could, surely she knew the truth at the bottom of what I was saying. I stroked the soft skin of her muzzle.

“The Chigi and her daddy drove everywhere. We drove up to a place called Washington, where flew the eagles and where you went swimming with the otters who lived in the pond. There also lived Rooki lived in a little, little house, and that was where all the rabbits were. Do you remember the rabbits there? There were rabbits everywhere, always a rabbit to check. Wherever looked the Chigi what did she see but a rabbit. Do you remember that? It is very hard to catch the rabbit, but did Rooki give up? No, she did not. Rooki is not a dog who gives up just because a rabbit is hard to catch. She checked and checked the rabbits, and then what happened but the Rooki began to catch the rabbit. The poor rabbit, Chig. Do you remember that, Little Bear? How you catched the rabbit?”

She did, though with her usual dignity she did not allow too great a show of pride, mixed in her eyes with what seemed like wistfulness.

“However, Chigi Bear Beker, and by the way, one day what did you do but run away. Oh, yes. Maybe you don’t remember that, but the Chigi ran all the way away. Oh, what a troublepuppy you were that day, Chig. Nobody knows where ran this Rooki. Oh, she was gone a long time, this little bear, with her daddy looking everywhere. Someone told your daddy that they saw her chasing a deer.” In the jokingly accusatory tone I always used after Roo did something she shouldn’t have I said, “What did you do? Did you check the deer? Did this Chigi check a deer?”

Deep in her brown eyes she smiled at the word deer, an especially good one because when Roo was young she learned that deer were off limits and to chase them was to cross the line into rebel territory – which she was willing to risk at every opportunity no matter what I said. The pull of the deer ran too deep in the most ancient wolf senses of her soul. They were the embodiment of her hunter’s purpose, and irresistible. And she knew that she could get away with chasing them because no matter how much I disapproved I never really did anything about it. She didn’t know that the main reason I didn’t want her to chase deer was because it can get a dog shot.

But now, seeing Roo remember them, it was time to dwell on the pleasure deer had given her. “Yes, the deer, Chigi.” I patted her chest over her heart, which must have beaten at its best on the heels of big prey. “The deer. The D E E E E R,” I said, and in her mind she saw them, too, and in her predator’s soul their magic was undiminished. “Yes, Chigi, the deer, who your daddy always told you not to check. I know that it was daddy’s fault because first he would say, ‘Look, Chig – a deer!’ and why would a daddy show his little bear the deer only to tell her not to check the deer? What kind of a daddy does that? So, of course checked Rooki the deer. What a deer bear you are. But when Chigi checked the deer her daddy told her she was a nasty little bear. ‘What a nasty little bear who doesn’t listen to her daddy and checks the deer?’”

With my hand ever so gently moving her chest from side to side I dwelled on this same joke that she and I shared over the years. It was always when she returned to me after some prohibited chase of a wild animal or when she had driven me insane by spending an hour digging a hole while pretending I did not exist. She knew that all crimes would be forgiven the instant she came back to me. And so the only times she heard that she was a nasty little bear was when I was modifying the praise she received for coming back by roughing it up a little, telling her she was a good girl for coming back, even if she had been a nasty little bear. She got my meaning, which was that I didn’t like her chasing deer but couldn’t help admiring her for it, and it worked and developed in her an understanding of my preference that she not chase deer – not too much or too far, anyway. Never once in her life had I disciplined Roo in any way beyond telling her she had been a nasty little bear. I suppose I was more concerned with building and maintaining her pride, once so wounded along with the rest of her, than discipline, the most severe of which Roo ever received from me was having her leash clipped on. 

Now, on the floor on this last night, as I rubbed her chest in a gentled version of the way I roughed her fur up the way I did over the years when I told her that she had been a nasty little bear, in her eyes was the same quiet smile, the smile of a dog who knew her daddy loved her and couldn’t help but admire her courage and strength and who, because she was good at heart, would – not because she was forced to but because she wanted to – keep it in mind.

“And you know that your daddy never thought you were a nasty bear. Daddy never thought that for one second. And this knows the Rooki.”

She did. I could see the certainty of it in her eyes. I put my hand back on the side of her head. All but one of her whiskers had fallen out from the chemo drugs that had failed to abate the cancer.

“And even once catched Rooki Bear Beker a deer. Yes, this did my Chigi who catched the deer. Do you remember when you catched the deer, Chig? Yes, then came the daddy who wouldn’t let you keep the deer, but still. You catched the deer. Do you know how many dogs catch the deer? Only you, my little bear. Only you and the wolf, who, really you are. Next time, you can check him. Even you can kill him down. And your daddy will never again tell you that you are a nasty little bear.” Her eyes smiled. She loved that joke. “Even if sometimes you are a nasty little deer bear.”

I didn’t know what time it was. We had been on the floor for a few hours, I thought, but I wasn’t sure. 

“Do you want to sleep, Little Bear?” I asked. She looked at me. “Do you want to sleep a little?”  

I felt the muscles in her neck flex. She was too weak to mover her head to touch her nose to mine, but it was enough to understand what she intended. Maybe it was because her story was nowhere near done. Maybe it was because she suspected something about going to sleep. Either way, she did not want to stop talking.

* * *

If you’d like to revisit some of the things Roo and I spoke of, here are some links.

Roo not waking up after her first good night of sleep

Roo hunting a fly

Roo’s dream about cats

Roo on the beach in Mexico

Roo being groomed in Mexico

How Roo came to be called Chigi

Roo in her pool in Mexico

Part 9 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

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Roo looked in the direction of her water bowl. From our earliest days living together in the camper, when Roo became thirsty I would give her her water bowl. It was as obvious to her as it was to me that in such a small space, it made no sense for her to get up and walk the two steps to the bowl when all I had to do was lean down – the bowl was near the door, which is next to the only seat – and move it closer to her. A look from her was all it took. It would probably have seemed ridiculous to anyone who believed in taking a harder line with dogs, but I never thought of it as an instance of spoiling Roo and didn’t care about spoiling her, anyway. No amount of spoiling could ever have undone the harsh treatment she had as a puppy. It was an interspecies agreement to streamline our cramped conditions in the tiny camper, evidenced by the fact that Roo never asked me to bring her water anywhere else.

Now, as we lay on the floor speaking of our life together, she turned her eyes to glance in the direction of the bowl.

“Are you a thirsty bear, Chug?” I said. Her eyes said yes, but as soon as I started to get up to reach for the bowl, she stopped me by batting her paw on my neck and giving me a concerned look. It was a more urgent look than any she had ever given me before tonight.

“I’m not going anywhere, Chug. I’m just getting the water.” I said. I lifted her paw from my neck and placed my hand along the length of her forearm to lower it to the floor. I didn’t have to stand to get the bowl, just to move enough to reach it.

Getting into a drinking position was uncomfortable for Roo. I offered to support her head but she didn’t want me to, not wanting to risk returning to feeling the hard lumps in her throat by moving from her side. I dipped my fingers in the water and brought them to her mouth and she licked them and I dipped them in and I did this until she stopped. It was hardly a drink, just enough to wet her mouth, but that was all she wanted and she put her paw on my knee to tell me to come back now and I put the bowl on the counter so I wouldn’t kick it accidentally later and wet the only part of the floor Roo had left to lie on now that she was unable to work her way into the corners where she preferred to lie. I also reached onto the bed for an small, old cushion and got back on the floor with Roo. As soon as I did, she moved her painful arm enough to ask me to put her paw back on my neck. I lifted her paw and slid the cushion under her arm to support it so the weight wouldn’t all be on her shoulder, just as I had always had to put pillows under my arms when my shoulders were injured, and with this small measure of comfort she sighed through her nose, her breath on mine and we kept talking.

Part 8 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week: Our talk continues

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With Roo’s arm extended so she could keep her left paw on the skin at the crook of my neck as we lay facing each other on the floor, I was able to move my right hand from her soft cheeks and her ear to her upper foreleg. The swollen lump that had a few weeks before signaled the end of her short-lived remission was hard and big and I hated the damned thing for invading her and hurting her. Her arms, once so strong, capable of relentlessly digging a hole in hard dirt for for an hour at a time, had now failed her. Those legs that propelled her to the tops of mountains to chase her prey and that she trusted with the strength and balance to run, the way she loved to, as fast as she could along the edges of high cliffs, were now too weak to move.

“Little Bear,” I said. “I know the arm hurts. But tomorrow you will feel better.” I had been saying this every day, but now, looking into her eyes, I felt like a fraud, worrying that she would sense that I knew it was not true, that she would be able to read the truth,  that the only reason she might feel better tomorrow was because she would die. And though there was no doubt that if it wasn’t denied its ultimate ravage by euthanizing Roo, the cancer would kill her soon in a bout of misery and pain identical to that suffered by Orville when he died of this same loathsome disease, it was impossible not to feel that I might be betraying her. Roo’s entire life with me had been a project of overcoming fear. Now I would be the one to kill her and I could not convince myself that if I could ask her she would have agreed to die that way. Her whole life I had tried to let Roo exercise as much autonomy over her own life as possible. Now I would be irrevocably withdrawing it. No amount of the logic of ending her life humanely or wanting to believe that it was the right decision made me certain that it was right. Looking into my dog’s eyes, the eyes of an only, trusting, loving daughter, I dreaded that she would sense this. I was depending on the trust I had earned by her lifetime of protecting her and hiding nothing from her. This only deepened my feelings of duplicity and betrayal.

My online searches for what an end stage lymphoma patient was undergoing had been useless. On questions of fatigue and digestion they were clear. But on pain they were vague, saying only that the disease could affect so many different organs and systems in so many combinations that generalizations were impossible. Roo had been increasingly uncomfortable, but I didn’t know if she was in pain. Maybe the confinement she suffered in her puppyhood had taught her that there was no point in showing pain. Maybe it was just the stoicism of the greatest of souls, which are those of dogs. But now, not knowing whether she was in pain made the decision to end her life all the more difficult. It seemed that the lumps impinging on her throat were making her suffer the most, and even if they were the only direct cause of her suffering I knew they were bad enough and that there was no hope that they would get better. Her decision to stop eating had tracked with their hardening. Because she still drank water it didn’t seem that she was nauseous. With a disease that so thoroughly ravages the entire body, though, it was safe to assume that even if the lumps in her throat were the worst of it, there was much more. There was whatever had made her stop walking. There was whatever had unsettled her gut. On Monday, the day before, she still managed a few smiles and wags. Early today she smiled for the last time. I couldn’t know the extent of her suffering. Only that now she was. I felt lost with the inability to know, with the eventual confusion that had made it impossible for me to decide if any of the 20 medications on the counter might help. The Xanax I had given her earlier had helped. As grateful as I was for that, I hated myself for not having given it to her the night before. She was always so sensitive to drugs and I let my fear of that stop me and now I knew it was another failure of my care for her.

Now, looking into Roo’s eyes as she kept them fixed on mine as we lay on the floor together so late on her last night, I wondered, as I had every day, what she was thinking and how. What combination of memories, of images and smells, of emotions and natural yearnings was at work? What type of thought entirely foreign and unknowable to humans guided the fine and capable consciousness that ran so deep behind those eyes? Dogs look forward to all sorts of things, so they have a sense of the future. Was Roo’s future occurring to her? Isn’t part of fear a function of dreading the future? It didn’t seem, though, that Roo was afraid now. I was acutely schooled in every manifestation of her fear, from minor worries to panics. If there had been fear in her eyes I thought I would have been able to see it. If she knew she was dying, she was not scared of it. From that I took some comfort. The rest came from how present she was for this last of our time together.

Roo lay so still. Her breathing was easy. Being able to lie on her side so that there was no pressure on the lumps in her throat had relieved her. Her body had reached its end, but her mind had not, and as we lay nose to nose I could see her emotions as alive as they had ever been in the depth of her brown eyes as she looked into mine. As I spoke, sometimes she flicked her eyes to one side or the other for an instant when she connected my words to her thoughts or memories, before returning her deep and long gaze to me. Her eyes were still full of the life we were talking about. They were as bright and full as they had been her whole life. In them I saw her smile, I saw her wonder, I saw her love. I did not sense any kind of plea and I tried to believe that meant she was at peace.

We kept talking about her life, the syntax of my sentences reverting sillily to that of the German my mother spoke to me when I was a little boy and which would always be the way I spoke to dogs, long after the language was mostly gone.

“Yes, Chigi, there we were. You had a new daddy and the daddy had a new little daughter bear. But we were in Los Angeles. That is no place for a dog. Do you know that there was no park there? And how hot it was there, Chig. So hot and nowhere for the little Rooki to swim. What kind of a place has no swimming? One day the old daddy put some water in a bucket and you put this little hand of yours in the water, but that was not swimming. What kind of a life would that be for a water bear like you to only swim in the bucket? No, Chigi. And so what did we do but drive away in the car.

“Away drove this little Rooki with the old daddy. Do you remember how you slept this head on daddy’s leg? How many dreams dreamed the little Rooki sleeping the head on her daddy in the car. Always, when dreams the Rooki a dream, she wakes up and looks at her daddy to tell him about the dream and he says – ” I put my hand on the top of her head, over the region above her eyes where her dreams flowed beneath – “‘Did my little bear have a dream here in the head?’ And even when you were a just a puppy bear who was sleeping her head on her daddy’s leg in the car you thought I knew the dream. But I did not, Chig. Your daddy wishes he knew the dream, but he can not know it, because you are a very mysterious bear, and what goes on in the head of the Rooki is the biggest mystery of them all. All your daddy can know is that his little bear is dreaming in the head. But that is enough. Your daddy loves to watch Chigi dream.”

“Anyway, away drove the Chigi and her daddy, and do you know where we went? We went for the first time in the life of Rooki Bear Beker swimming. Really swimming. You were just a little puppy bear who didn’t even know about swimming, except maybe in your dreams, and we went to a big river – the same river where also went swimming your great-granduncle Orville the dog who would have loved you if he knew you. The old daddy had to put you on the string in case you decided to swim away, which he could not take the chance that his new little daughter bear would do. How surprised you were that there was such a thing in the world, Rooki Bear Beker. And when this Rooki saw the water, what did she do? Well, she is after all the bravest bear in the world, so she went right in the water. Do you remember how cold and delicious is the water? Of course you know, because of all the dogs who there are, Chig, no dog has swimmed in more of the waters of the world than Rooki Bear Beker. In all the rivers and oceans and lakes and brooks and creeks and ditches and puddles of the world. You are the best swimming bear of all the dogs.

“And your old daddy knew that you were the kind of bear who would need to go swimming every day. And so, this Rooki swimmed. She swimmed and swimmed. Rooki went to all the parks of the world and she swimmed and swimmed. She swimmed when it was hot and she swimmed when it was cold. But, Chig, you have to admit that the best swimming is mouse checking swimming. How hot gets the Chigi when she checks the mouse. And then – swimming. Cold, delicious water for my little bear.

I put my hand Roo’s powerful chest. With my palm on the center of her chest my thumb and pinky rested on the pink skin of at her armpits, the softest on a dog. The side where my pinky was, behind the lump at the top of her arm, was swollen. I ruffled the fine fur on the center of her chest gently and said, “Do you want to go swimming, Little Bear?” I saw shining in her eyes her love of the question. 

Yes, she answered

I saw in her eyes how she remembered how she asked for permission before going into a new lake or stream. “Oh, yes, Little Bear,” I said, “you can go in the water,” and her eyelids lowered the tiniest bit as she felt the water, first on her belly and then and all around her as she lowered herself to cover her back and then as she felt the rushing sound of water in her ears as she dunked her head underwater and swept it from side to side and came up with a happy snort.

I stopped talking to watch the look of happiness from her memories of water linger in Roo’s shining eyes. She gave me a lick on the nose, her tongue moving sluggish with exhaustion. 

Go on, Daddy, I saw in her eyes.

[Continued.]

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Part 7 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week, Our long talk

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Roo and I lay nose to nose on the floor. Her paw was on my shoulder and her brown eyes were calm now. She kept them fixed on mine. She was filled with love and I could see it and I knew that she could see that I was, too.

“My little country monkey,” I said, pulling the flap of her ear through my hand the way she liked. “My little bear. I know you are sick now and you don’t feel good. But you are my daughter bear and you are the best girl who ever lived and there is no one your old daddy loves more than Chigi Bear Beker. You are my girl and I am your daddy. You will always be my daughter bear and I will always be your daddy. And where goes the Rooki goes…”

A small smile appeared in her eyes and I felt her move her arm to prompt my answer.

“… the daddy. That’s right. And where goes the daddy goes…”

Again the glimmer of a smile in those deep eyes.

“… Goes the Rooki. That’s right.”

I was determined not to let Roo see how upset I was and somehow, I still don’t know how, I found a way. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I knew I was going to have to keep doing it without fail for what little was left of her life. It was the most important thing I could do for her now and if I couldn’t do it I would have failed in a way worse than all the other way I failed her and it just could not be. Roo’s nose was close to mine and I could feel her breath. She kept her eyes on me, almost never blinking. I don’t think it was because of the Xanax. I think that only made it possible for her to be as present now as she wanted to be.

“Before you became my little bear, no one knows what you were named or even if you had a name. All we know is that someone was mean to you and the only thing they taught you was that the world is a terrible place where even a little puppy can get in trouble for things they didn’t do. And then, the next thing you knew you went to jail. The jail was scary. It was hot and it was filled with dogs and they were all sad and frightened and they all barked and screamed. And what did they do with this little Rooki bear but put her in a cage, with nowhere to hide, not even a corner to put the nose, and the noise never stopped and it was so hard for the little puppy. You didn’t know what to do. You didn’t even know how to hope, so you didn’t know that someone would ever help you, because no one ever did before, even though every little puppy needs help. 

“And as if the jail wasn’t bad enough, everything was also hurting the little Roo. You had big holes in your legs, here, and here –” I touched Roo on her forearms and her ankles where the sores had been where she had licked through her skin and down to the muscle “– and no one helped you with that. Those little paws of yours hurt because they were filled with sharp rocks and even that no one helped you with. And even though everybody could see how upset you were, no one took you to a quiet place. Do you know what they thought in the jail, Rooki? They thought you were so frightened that you could never get better. They thought it might be better for you to kill you down. They didn’t even know you were just a little puppy because you were so skinny and looked so sad and your teeth were so black that they thought you were already an old girl.

“Then, one day, someone came to take you out of the cage. Oh, you were a brave little puppy and I bet you put up a big fight. But they forced you out and the next thing you knew you were someplace even scarier, at a doctor, and that doctor cut you on the stomach, here.”

I put my hand on Roo’s belly. The cancer inside her had swollen under her soft skin and the short fur that only grew back to a fuzz after chemotherapy and her belly felt tight. I rubbed her for a few seconds and moved my hand back up to keep stroking her ear.

“And that hurt my little bear’s stomach. But then, when you came out of the doctor there was your daddy. No one knew that daddy was your daddy. You didn’t know it and even your daddy didn’t know it yet, but you came out of the doctor and someone gave your daddy the string and that was the first time Chigi Bear and her daddy ever walked together. We went outside because you really wanted to get out of there and you had to go outside and the first thing you did was make one of the biggest pee pees of your life, which is really saying something considering how long you can hold it, Chig. You did not want to go in the car and your daddy had to pick you up and put you in, and the next thing you knew, you went home with your daddy. That was what happened on the day you found your daddy and your daddy found you.

“My poor little bear, you were in bad shape. It’s hard to imagine it now, because you would go on to become a little bit of a fat bear, but you were the skinniest little girl. And even with all the beautiful fur of the Rooki, no one brushed you and your hair was tangled up and those little paws of yours had rocks stuck in them and no one checked those for you even though anyone could see that it hurt you to walk. And those black teeth of your, Chig. They were black because no one ever cared enough about you to give you anything to chew, even though you were just a little puppy and everyone but the biggest idiot in the world knows that a puppy needs lots of things to chew, but they didn’t care. Maybe you looked for things to chew where you were trapped, but there was nothing, and you probably got in trouble for trying. Even that little tongue of yours was skinny and weak. You should have seen how it flopped around, Chig. The only exercise it got was the you licked the foot, which no one told you not to do the way your daddy always would once you got a daddy, and you licked and licked until you had a bog hole and then you licked another leg until you got another hole. Those holes were terrible, Chig, but the worst thing was that you were all alone, and that’s no way for a puppy to be. You were all alone for a long time. And on top of everything, all the fleas of the world were biting you. The world is filled with poor little bears, Chig, but you were one of the poorest. It broke your daddy’s heart to see what a poor little bear you were. It still breaks my heart to remember you that way.

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“Do you know that when Rooki came home with her daddy she did not want even want to come inside? Yes, Chig. You had no reason to suspect that daddy was any kind of a daddy. You didn’t even know that there was such a thing in the world as a daddy, so how could you know he wasn’t going to be mean to you. You didn’t want to come inside because the old daddy had his hand on the door when he opened it. Well, that wasn’t good. You thought daddy was going to slam the door shut on you the way doors were always slammed on you. And every time a door slammed, you were locked up alone again. In the bathroom. Or in the cage. But your daddy saw how that hand worried you and took it away and didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do and when you saw that you thought about it and then you decided to take a chance. Oh, it took a brave bear to do that. And, come to think of it, that was the first time I would ever be proud of you. Of course I have been proud of you the whole time since then, which is why your daddy tells you that every day, but that was the first of all the brave things this good little puppy would do, Chig. In the house you ran straight to the bathroom and you went behind the toilet and curled your tail up underneath you and you pressed your eyes shut to keep from having to see any more things. After all, you were seeing too many things for the first time and it was too much and you were tired and sick and after such a long time alone being alone was the only way you knew.

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“Seeing you hide like that broke your daddy’s heart because when he was little he also used to hide from mean things, and so he understood why a little bear would do that. Daddy didn’t hide behind the toilet. He hid under his daddy’s desk. And do you know that you also hid under your daddy’s desk when you weren’t hiding behind the toilet? And so, the old daddy understood something about this little bear, and even though I would never know for sure what the mean people did to you, there was nothing a little puppy can do to deserve whatever it was. And, by the way, if we ever find out who hurt you, we will go and kill them down. We will kill them s-l-o-w-l-y and tear them up into little pieces and mix them with old rats and flush them down the same toilet where you used to hide when you were a lonely little puppy. This I promise, Chig.

“At first, Rooki Bear, your daddy didn’t know if you would ever be okay. Everything worried you. It wasn’t your fault. Everything you saw you were seeing for the first time. Even lights, even leaves on trees. Even a stick. Everything you heard you were hearing for the first time. Everything that moved was moving in a way the little Rooki never saw before. You were locked up all alone, so you never had a chance to see anything or learn anything. There you were, the littlest girl of the world where no one ever helped her or protected her. No one played with you. You had nothing to do and no reason to expect anything good from people. They were mean and all they ever did was push you around and yell at you.

“But right away your daddy found out that you weren’t the little scaredy-dog some people thought you were. Yes, Chigi. Daddy saw that what you really were was the bravest little puppy in the world. Even though you were just a little puppy, you were already the bravest dog in the world, with the biggest heart any dog ever had. And dogs, as you know better than anyone, have the biggest hearts in the world. This heart, here, Chig,” I put my hand on the fine fur on the hard curve of her rib cage. “Here is the big, strong heart. And do you know how the daddy knew you were so brave, Chig?”

Roo’s brown eyes were shining and looked so deep and she kept them steadily on mine as I spoke and any time I paused for longer than it took to take a breath, she let me know that she wanted me to go on with a twitch of her paw on my shoulder. I choose to believe that she understood it all, maybe in the way of a dog, but she understood. She understood the love and she understood the connection and this time with her was as important to her as it was to me and I know that as surely as I still breathe and she doesn’t and it was the only thing that equipped me to believe that I had not prolonged Roo’s life for too long.

“Daddy found out that of all the brave bears in the world you were the bravest because soon you came out of hiding and came to me. Even though, for all the life of little Roo, all you knew about people was that they were mean and they threw you in bathrooms and cages and yelled at you and hit you and threw things at you and didn’t give you anything to eat or chew or take you out when you needed to go – still, you came out. Maybe you don;’t think that’s brave, but I do. I could see how hard it was. I could see what a big chance you were taking, and how it took more bravery than your daddy ever saw before, and your daddy, who has been many bad places and in a few cages of his own, thought he had seen some pretty brave things. Never anyone as brave as you. You are such a good girl, Chig. The best bear who ever lived. And every day of our life together you have been a good girl. I didn’t even know there could be such a good girl in the world. And you will always be. Of course that’s not to say that sometimes you didn’t listen to your daddy when you were checking mouses over the years, but even then you were a good girl and it made the old daddy happy that you were checking mouses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk about the mouses later.”

The only reason I stopped talking for a moment was to gather myself, but when I did Roo licked my nose and eyes. In her eyes I could see everything.

“After that, there was no stopping the Rooki. You are a very smart girl and you wanted to learn everything, and the more you learned, the braver you became. You let your daddy cut all the rocks out of your feet, which took a long time and is something that nobody likes, especially if they were worried about everything and still sick from the doctor who cut you the stomach. The doctor tied the stomach up with wires, and you held as still as a lizard to let your daddy clip those out. You learned to go for walks. You loved that, Chig, and that’s why we always take so many walks. But in the beginning, Rooki and daddy had to walk very slow. For one thing you had the string* tied to your neck and you weren’t sure about that and then there were so many noises in the street and naturally you had to stop to make sure they weren’t going to hurt you. Even that showed what a brave puppy you were because you learned to listen to your daddy when he told you that something was not a noise. Every day your daddy still says, ‘That’s not a noise, Chig,’ and still you trust your daddy when he says that, which, my little girl, is the biggest honor of my life. Oh, you had to learn everything. You had to learn how to go in the car and how to go to the park and how to play with other dogs. You went everywhere with your daddy. How proud your daddy was to have such a good, beautiful bear with him. You went to the airport and saw the airplanes. Do you remember the airplane, Chig? What a big noise it made? I know you remember that, because still even today when there comes a noise from the airplane all daddy has to tell you is that that’s just the airplane and you stop worrying. You learned to go to the store with your daddy and you were always such a good girl. Maybe you still worried about things, but every day all you did was get braver and braver.

“And, Chigi Bear, all those things your daddy showed you, but the truth is that you showed him even more. Your daddy was in bad shape, too, when you came along, and it was you who made everything better. You were the one who gave daddy something to be happy about. You showed your daddy how to be gentle and how to think more about someone else for once instead of only himself. Yes, your daddy teached you many things, but you teached him more. Everything good that came to daddy came wrapped up in this little bear. That good will never end. Roo is such a good girl that that will always be. Your daddy loves you because you are the best dog ever. There has never been a day when you weren’t. Thank you for being such a good girl, Roo. What a good job you do of being such a good bear.”

In the seven years Roo and I had been together, she had never kept her eyes on me for as long as she had been now. It was past two in the morning. Roo must have needed to sleep. But any time her eyes began to close and I stopped talking she opened them and moved her arm on my shoulder. She seemed to be, as her life was ending, living for this.

And so we kept talking into the night.

[Continued.]

Part 6 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

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In the camper on Tuesday night Roo became too uncomfortable to rest. I wished I knew if it was pain or discomfort from the lumps in her or sickness from the end stage of her cancer. She became increasingly agitated and I didn’t know what to do to help. With her eyes half closed she panted and made an effort to keep her head off the floor. Maybe she knew, in the way dogs seem to, that she was dying. My worst fear was that she could sense that I was ordering her death the next day, though I relied on the hope, as does everyone does who has to have a dog’s life ended, that her trust in me ran too deep for that thought to occur to her.

I didn’t want to give her morphine because of how bad that had seemed to make her feel the last time I gave it to her. In spite of my decision not to give her any more pills I had given her anti-nausea meds earlier, but they weren’t helping. She was so sick of being given pills that I hated to give her another one, but it seemed that the possibility of calming her outweighed that and I gave her a milligram of the Xanax that had been prescribed to her for there Fourth of July, apologizing to her for the last pill as I slid it quickly down her throat. Then I kneeled on the floor with her with my arm across her forelegs so she could rest her chin on it. When after some time the pill began to relax her she lowered her head and I felt the soft fur of her throat on my skin. Kneeling like that, my face was positioned at the base of her skull, between her ears. I thought how the fur there seemed too healthy, too rich and soft and golden to be the fur of someone who was dying.

As she began to rest, it was a struggle to make good on the obligation I had begun to feel was my most important: I could not let on to Roo how sad I was. Maybe it was unreasonable to hope that the fact that she was about to die might not occur to her if I didn’t let on that I knew. It was the same thing, a version of, the way I had taught her to trust me when I told her that some loud sound wasn’t a noise, something she had learned to take my word for. It might not sound like much, but this was a key accomplishment that kept her from doing things like cramming herself into a culvert at the sound of a tree stump being dropped into a truck. It was a trust I never abused by telling her that a gunshot or thunder or fireworks wasn’t a noise so that she would always know my word was good when I did tell her not to be frightened by something, something that had happened many times each day. It was one of the great successes of raising Roo. Now, there was nothing more important to me than helping her believe that I believed, as I told her, that tomorrow she would be better. I didn’t want her to know that now that was because tomorrow her pain would be ended forever.

Over the years, I had given Roo a long list of nicknames. When we drove in the car and she lay sleeping beside me in the passenger seat, anytime she woke up she would bat at me with her paw to make me pay attention to her. Because Roo grew up in confinement and without the necessary environment to learn language in a place where whatever human voices she heard must have come from whoever had been cruel enough to abuse her, she always had more difficulty than most dogs learning words. It was different with her dozens of nicknames. She knew, presumably from the hints she detected with her fine dog senses in my tone of voice, that theses names were hers and referred to her alone, that every one of them was a variation on the idea that they simply meant her, my girl, and nothing else. She knew they were a demonstration of the connection I had to her and that she felt in equal measure to me. Maybe in her mind she also thought of herself by those grand and heroic-sounding and dignified names. These names constituted a secret language of dozens of words that amplified the idea, the very essence of, Roo, and to Roo these were her love song.

Her names were all strange and made-up fabrications. They were like the garbled syllables one might hear from solitary small children separated from remote and noble tribes and lost as they were driven from their forest or mountain homes and into oblivion. Their words as they might have sounded to the strangers they had been reduced to begging for food, when the children, now ragged, were asked their names and misunderstood when they said them. I won’t repeat those names. For one thing, I never quite figured out how to spell most of them, containing as they did sounds I was never able to work out in our alphabet, but also because repeating them might break the spell they still carry for me. I have nothing but words any more. Those few I’ll hoard.

But, when Roo and I drove all those hundreds of thousands of miles together and she slept curled in the passenger seat, and when she batted me with her paw to get me to talk to her, what she liked most was for me to string those names together in a sort of chant-like recitation. Had any other human heard this it would have sounded like someone practicing to cheat an audience of rubes out of their wages by speaking in tongues, but on Roo this had a hypnotic effect. She loved hearing this stream of words. If I stopped before she had gone completely back to sleep she would immediately object, insistently batting me on the arm and giving me her most serious and imploring look.

Now, on the floor, on this last of Roo’s nights on Earth, I began to whisper this litany of herself into the soft fur at her ears. It had the old effect. She grunted with approval and shifted herself into a slightly more comfortable position and relaxed her neck to let more of the weight of her head rest on my arm, just as she used to rest her chin on it as we drove and drove and, until only days before, drove together and never would again.

Lately, lying on her side had been too uncomfortable for Roo, but now she relaxed enough to want to roll onto her side. I helped her by lowering her left shoulder and her head to the floor and straightening her legs. Now I was able to lie down on the floor beside her. We were facing each other. My nose was near hers and she fixed her eyes on mine. Her panting had stopped. She wanted to bat me with her arm in the old way, to let me know that she hoped I wasn’t planning on getting up, but her arm was too weak now, so I lifted it gently and put her paw on my shoulder where she wanted it to be. She looked at me.

“What a beautiful little girl you are, Rooki,” I said. “Of course I know you’re not a little girl. You know I only call you that because that’s just the way daddies think of their little bears. I know that you are the biggest and bravest dog of the whole world. And in the world there is no one better than a dog, which makes you the biggest and bravest of everyone there is in the world, on top of being the most ferocious mouse hunter ever. You are my brave daughter bear and you will always be my big brave, beautiful daughter bear. And I will always be your daddy. So excuse me if I call you my little girl.”

She stretched her arm and pressed her paw on my shoulder. The swelling in that arm had made it so sore lately and it seemed uncomfortable, but she did not want me to move it to the floor.

“Rooki Bear Beker, do you know who the daddy loves her up and down more than anybody else in the world?” I said. It was a question I asked her every night. My hand was on her shoulder and I felt it move and her paw flex at my neck.

“That’s right. The Rooki. That’s who the daddy loves her up and down. And, do you know whose daddy loves her up and down more than anybody in the world?”

Again she moved her weakened arm to prompt my answer.

The Rooki’s daddy. That’s right, my little bear.” I said. I pulled the flap of her ear through my hand a few times.

With all the strength she had, Roo moved her head to give me several licks on the face, the way she had only recently in these last stages of her illness begun to do after a lifetime of limiting herself to a lick on my ear out of some uncertainty that a full licking might not be a proper thing to do, a relic of her troubled puppyhood.

“That’s right. Your daddy loves this little fat bear more than anyone.” I rubbed on the soft fur of her chest and held my hand there to feel her heartbeat.

“Little Bear, I want to tell you a story. The story of Rooki Bear Beker, Junior, the dog. It’s the story you daddy will always always carry with him, even after everything else is gone and lost. I want to tell you the story that will always be there. And will always be the best thing your daddy has.”

Roo’s eyes were steady on mine. They did not look like the eyes of a dying dog. Even in the dim light of the camper they were bright and full. And even though it was late and Roo was exhausted and ill, she breathed easily and her eyes, a snout’s length from mine, stayed unblinkingly fixed on mine.

“The story of Rooki Bear Beker. The story so far, anyway. Would you like that?”

Roo had never before kept her eyes on me as steadily as she did now.

“Okay, Little Bear. Here we go,” I said, and I began.