I was working for a youth program on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It was my job to help 30-some mostly rich, mostly East coast kids grow, bond, and learn about the realities of life on the rez. One day, he just showed up — small, scared, probably starving, he wandered over to the kids I worked with and they just knew what to do — feed him. He was afraid of men; the sound of a man’s voice would make him cower and shake. But he liked cheese and bread and our leftovers (not good for him, but it was better than starving to death). They named him Rocky, because his head was soooo much bigger than his body. It looked like someone had just placed a rock on his neck.
One day, Rocky was apparently at the end of his rope. He was so hungry, he tried to eat a porcupine. He wandered over to us with a face covered in quills and eyes that begged, “Help?!” We pulled out as many as we could with a Leatherman before he started snapping. My boss told me that, if he came back the next day, I could take him to the vet.
He did come back. I took him to the scariest vet ever. We walked in and the vet cleared everything off of his kitchen counter (did I mention this was in a single-wide?). He knocked Rocky out and removed the rest of the quills as well as gave him the shots he needed and had likely never received. From that point on, I was his.
No matter where I was on the rez, he would just appear. At the end of my time there, I opened the rear hatch of my wagon and asked him if he wanted to come with me. He jumped right in.
I lengthened his name to Rockstar because his Sharpei/Shepard mix was so original, he needed an original name to go with it.
We spent the next month on the Blackfeet reservation, where he quickly became the protector of a momma dog and her puppies. No one could mess with her as long as he was around. Even with his rather small stature, he managed to scare off some pretty big dogs. He seemed to always want to save the day.
From there, we moved to Chicago, to an apartment in Hyde Park. He wasn’t so big on apartment life at first. He ran away a few times (once he was caught because he stopped to eat some sweet and sour pork someone had thrown on a tree lawn) and he needed to mark a lot of territory. Over time, he got used to our little box. We went for good, long walks together and he kept me company at the foot of my bed. He ignored the mice in our apartment. I chalk it up to compassion.
That time in Chicago was largely awful for me. I lost a lot of people I loved; most difficult of all, I lost my father. Some days, it was nearly impossible to get out of bed. I hated seminary, I was terribly angry at God, and I was so lost without my dad. Whenever I would cry, Rocky would wander over to me, stick his head under mine and nudge me. He was so aware of my emotions and so ready to help. He was the main reason I got out of bed every day. I don’t know what I would have done without him.
When I moved to Seattle, he was my only friend and constant companion. He was able to go to work with me (for which I am so grateful). We explored the Pacific Northwest together. He apparently knew I was a bad judge of boyfriends and would regularly place himself between me and the boys I had in my life. I think that the first time he didn’t do that was when he met my husband.
This wonderful little guy has been with me through so much. Through it all, he has been an amazing best friend. He is the only stable thing I have had in my life for the past 12 years, and the best example of unconditional love. He adopted my sleeping habits and I never had to get up early to take him for a walk, nor did I have to worry about how long I stayed out. He only barks at squirrels, and even then he only does it if they are a few feet away from his face. He doesn’t lick, but he does give out lots love. He was always amazingly loving to the kids in my youth group. He helped a number of people I know move past their fear of dogs. I can’t imagine life without him.
And yet, I must. Because he is 14 years old. Because his arthritis is so bad he can hardly walk unless he is on a lot of pain medication. Because he can no longer tell me when he needs to go out. Because he has a tumor underneath his eye that has not only rendered him blind in that eye, but it also makes him bleed a lot. His life has been wonderful, but now the good moments are shorter and more rare than the bad.
I am not okay with this. I don’t like making a decision for an animal that can’t tell me if he is ready to go. I am not comfortable taking the power of God into my own hands. But everyone tells me it is time. I know they are not wrong, but I don’t want them to be right. I’d rather he just decide to go to sleep one night and not wake up. But that is not his style; he is incredibly stubborn, just like me.
I am so thankful for the time we have had together, so thankful that God hooked me up with this amazing little animal just before I was going to need more love, comfort, and adorable cuteness than I ever thought I would. But I will miss him so badly, I don’t even know what to do with myself. I am terrible at dealing with loss.
Tomorrow night (Friday Oct. 12, 2012, coincidentally the anniversary of other deaths and painful moments in my life), Rocky and I will say our final goodbyes. We will have our last walk together and then our vet will come over to help move Rocky to the next part of life, the part of life that involves no body and no pain. I can’t explain how much I wish I didn’t have to do this. But his pain is real, and the only way out of it is for him to leave me.
I fucking love my dog. He is the best ever. Tomorrow, we will hang out for the last time.
Thank you to all of you who have cared for him over the years. He thanks you too.
God rest his little Yoda-eared soul.
See you on the other side, buddy.