Thinking about Spencer.
I am not supposed to be doing this. I am supposed to be studying. But somehow the picture that his owner, Janet, gave me as a thank you for my assistance in his leaving this world, has caught my attention. He is a small terrier with a big bone in his mouth. His fluffy foxtail is blurred with movement. It is a dog’s joy, is it not, that captures us?
I know she is bereft. We have done what we can do, as humans. We have given him a calm and dignified farewell. A cancer in his belly was growing like a hungry gourd. He felt nothing as he slipped off a needle of very strong anaesthetic. I recited the words the Tibetan monk gave me so many years ago on a Buddhist retreat.
Geshe-La was surprised, wide-eyed, to know, that as a vet, I routinely killed things. He had not long been in the West. He had imagined only the healing. He didn’t believe it was good for my own karma and gave me a prayer for that. At the end of each day I was to use it for purification. I have not remembered it. He gave me another for the animals, and that, I have memorized. The words are supposed to ease the transition from this life to the next. Perhaps the rebirth following will be better, more enlightened. (Of course to believe that we are more enlightened than dogs to begin with is a whole other question.) The short prayer is said in Tibetan and repeated as I inject. I don’t know how it translates and all I have is how the maroon-robed monk told me to say it. What happens if I pronounce the words incorrectly? I carry the mantra in my head. Like Chinese whispers, who knows what wish I am finally asking for and for whom I am asking it? He told me it must be said out loud to the animal as it dies. It is what I do.
Tayata om muni muni maha munaye soha. Tayata om muni muni maha munaye soha.
We clipped some fur for her to remember him by and made a paw print too. We struggled to get the print right and somehow that helped us, the room of people left behind, meddling around looking for something to do, as a spirit lifted off. She wanted to be the one to carefully slide his body into the black plastic that, necessarily, was his transport to the crematorium. There was a feeling, at that moment, that Janet might gladly climb into the bag to stay with him. Spencer had with him a favourite blanket, a squeaky ball and a saliva stained hand puppet, Collin, who had been his chew toy. A dog needs little in the way of possessions to be joyful. A week later his ashes were returned in a well-crafted wooden box. Such a small bundle in the end. The crematorium rang Janet to say, Spencer was ready to come home. What else can humans do?
Janet tells me he still feels present in the house. A collar he wore will be cherished. His bed remains where it was and she senses him. Of course she does. It is only ten days. He was as loved as a child. The loss of him is human-sized. How long do you think it will take to no longer mourn him? A new puppy is on order and perhaps this will help. After all it’s a Griffin. Its piddly, bitey ways will surely distract. But an old dog is priceless. They know us. We don’t need to learn, as I have in my behaviour course, that dogs innately read human gestures, even better than primates. Dogs just get us. They see with our eyes. Owners know dogs understand them. They have always known this.
(Thanks to Janet and Spencer for permission to retell some of their story…)