When I Buried My Dog

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by Joshua L. Durkin

Sugarboo Designs "Man with Dog"

I was sixteen when I buried my dog. It was in the afternoon and my brother and I threw dirt on our dead dog wrapped up in his favorite puke green throw that even when washed smelled of him. I can still smell it, and we never minded it because he wasn’t much of a smelly dog at all. He had short white and brown hair, brown-black ears, and a mug bigger than his American cousins.

Chips, fully Merryall’s Chocolate Chips Durkin, named by us, was a European bred Dalmatian.

by Joshua L. Durkin

 


 

“If worthy their prominent part in the play,
do not break up their lines to weep.”

—W.B. Yeats, “Lapis Lazuli”

I was sixteen when I buried my dog. It was in the afternoon and my brother and I threw dirt on our dead dog wrapped up in his favorite puke green throw that even when washed smelled of him. I can still smell it, and we never minded it because he wasn’t much of a smelly dog at all. He had short white and brown hair, brown-black ears, and a mug bigger than his American cousins.

Chips, fully Merryall’s Chocolate Chips Durkin, named by us, was a European bred Dalmatian. He could have been a show dog, but we didn’t want that. He was big, ninety pounds or so, even when healthy, and had broader shoulders than American Dalmatians. He was also much nicer, quieter, and smarter than the American Dalmatians were—or at least the ones I’ve met then and since.

Sugarboo Designs "Man with Dog"

The last of the worries about the decision came in his twelfth year. His hips ached. He would look at us with eyes that I won’t bother describing, because they had such indescribable clarity and ’til his last day he would look at me and know…. He had bouts of diarrhea. The worst was at the bottom of the stairs. I found it. I smelled it, actually. I came up and he had just about done lost his bowels. He looked at me with a face that said so many things… but what hurt me was that he was ashamed. An accomplished friend, in his elder years, ashamed and not wanting me to see him.

We didn’t get mad. It was cleaned up and he was almost back to normal in under an hour. I couldn’t get the image out of my head. His hips shaking from pain. Barely a whimper. I rounded the corner into the hall and saw him, and he showed me that he was trying not to loose his bowels, and he looked so sad in the yellow light of the hallway.

One time when I was seven, maybe, I walked Chips down our road, him pulling me, strong and young—stronger than me for sure. He took a dump near the edge of the road. Some guy came out and yelled at me. Normally I would have run, or quickly apologized. I said something that pissed him off. And, it felt awesome. And Chip was there. It was because I didn’t want that guy to pick on Chip.

I called him Chip, or Chippy, or Chips. We all did. Mom, Dad, and Pat.

He was a brilliant thief. He could take an apple out of your hand and you’d forget you even had one to begin with. He stole all fruit. Anything, really, if it was near the edge of a counter. And he was quiet about it. When we clipped his nails, he was some variant of Robin Hood’s best dog and companion.

That’s what he was to me, a buddy, a friend. I loved to let him out when a deer was in the yard. He’d go running full tilt so fast down his line that when he’d reach the end he’d have to slow down or he’d get choked. He’d bark and then he’d walk back flushed with adrenaline and mandogliness. We had him on a line because he liked to wander. But the strangest thing about it was we never really needed to line him. He was smart enough that if he wrapped himself around one of the porch columns outside where we let him out on his line, he’d just look at the poll and figure out how to reverse his mess.

Chips knew the vet well, but he was nervous. The vet had to give him diazepam or something like it to calm him down. That is my regret. If I would cry about anything about my friend, it would be that he spent his last hour a bit hazy. He loped and we played with him until he grew too tired to play.


He was a brilliant thief. He could take an apple out of your hand and you’d forget you even had one to begin with. He stole all fruit. Anything, really, if it was near the edge of a counter. And he was quiet about it. When we clipped his nails, he was some variant of Robin Hood’s best dog and companion.

 

My dad wasn’t there. I understood. He’d seen dogs die before. He was at work. Watching a friend die is hard. My dad loves animals. My whole family does. My Dad had a way of telling stories about some of the times he had to put animals down, that led you to believe it was both hard and the right thing to do. Never because of the animals character. Always because the animal was in severe pain, and it wasn’t going to go away.

At around an hour after Chips was dosed we gathered on the sun-lightened blue rug in the living room. You could tell where the sun was in the sky by the silhouette of the window frames cast over Chips and our knees and the spots of darkened carpet where my mom was crying lightly. Mom was a wreck. Chippy was her third son. He helped rear Pat and I.

The vet ran a stint or something like it into Chips forepaw. Mom cradled his head and the vet ran the drugs and we hugged him and the vet politely walked out and left us, and my mom started crying harder than I’d ever heard her cry. She hugged him and held her face against the distinct bone of his head that I won’t ever forget.

I can’t remember if Pat cried, because I was stunned. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. Pat and I carried Chips out the front door and lowered him slowly into our old and grayed wagon, onto his favorite puke green blanket that smelled just like him. His weight caused the wagon to sag.

The day we got Chips I was four years old, I guess I’d have to have been. I remember meeting Chips’ parents, and all his siblings. We played with him for about three hours, but we knew sooner. He wasn’t the runt, but he was the slow pokier one, as Mom put it. The owner had named him Harry. His father was black and white, and big. His mother was brown and white and small. So he got the best of both worlds. The father’s name was Spook, and the mom, Liza.

When we got sick, at first, Chippy wouldn’t let Mom near us. Dalmatians adopt young children, and they become very protective. He’d push her out of the way, and he was big and could easily do that. So, he would check us head to toe, and if there was nothing wrong he’d walk away, and Mom actually paid attention to that too, and used Chips’ analysis to help us. If we sneezed he would clean our noses. If we didn’t wipe, when we were young, he would let my mom know. When I was older, and angsty or depressed, he usually knew how to get me going right again.

We wheeled him back towards a hole in the ground we dug in our garden. It was deep. My brother and I brought the wagon to rest and took Chippy out and laid him down into the ground where he would be for a long time.

It doesn’t matter, but I don’t remember who placed the first dirt on him. He was neatly wrapped in his favorite puke green blanket. And then he was covered. And then we gingerly stamped the ground. And then we placed a slab of rock as large as his body over it to protect him.

I wonder about not crying sometimes. And he comes at me with intensity every once in a while. In a dream, or a thought during the day. I spent so much time with him. But that was many years ago.

I’ve never written this story down—not in nine years. Next month is the ninth anniversary of his death. But this month is the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. On the ride home from work, this was all I could think of. Writing this up. I wanted to choose a quote to begin with.

Eventually, a line from “Lapis Lazuli” popped into my head. A poem I’ve found necessary to survive the shit and dim grime of life. And I realize… that’s what Chips wanted. Him and I built on each other characteristics to fend off the belligerence and bullshit of life, and to remember the important points with respect. I didn’t cry when he died. I knew what his part in the play was, and that the memory of him would build something again.

 

 

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