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Under The Apple Tree

1. Morning

The day started out cloudy, which can be a good thing when you’re locked up at home, easily distracted by blooming flowers or blue sky or green grass. So we got right to work in the morning, Trudy in one room, I in another, both of us clicking on keyboards and talking on teleconferences. (In truth, the fair and industrious Trudy rises before the sun and is already at her desk before I stumble out some time later, lucky as I am not to have to worry about billable hours.)

Izzy of course, was up and eager as soon as the fair and industrious Trudy went into the kitchen. Charlie, on the other hand, was in no such rush. He never is, Zen dog that he is. And so, as is always the case, Charlie slept in, visibly comforted by the ample space given him on the bed now that the man and the mommy were gone.

And sleep in he did — until he didn’t. He fell out of bed with a crash, and when Trudy found him, he was spinning frantically trying to get up, unable to get any traction with his out-of-socket hips, the situation made worse by the mess he was spinning in.

2. Charlie

Charlie has been our senior dog for three years. Our Zen dog, blinking his eyes slowly from various positions of meditation. Our police dog, keeping watch on the house and yard, walking patrol around the peripheries, keeping Izzy in check should she misbehave, which she often does by his estimation.

But his fall today was a bad one. Afterward, he could no longer stand reliably. And as the day went on, unless he was napping in Trudy’s lap or mine or a dog bed on the floor, he couldn’t walk, and he couldn’t drink. Trudy had to hold him up so that he could eat breakfast, which with her aid he did with vigor — ground turkey and quinoa and celery and carrots and a little something extra for enticement. So at least he did eat a big meal.

But during the day, we would find him sitting Zen-like in the middle of a room, his collapsed hind haunches refusing to hold his weight anymore. His gaze suggested he was resigned to his plight. But when we’d lift him up, he’d turn in tight circles to the left, spinning around his z-axis, craning his head to the left, falling down when we’d let go. So we took Charlie out to the car in the pouring rain, and the three of us drove to the vet.

3. At The Vet

A vet tech came out to the parking lot and took Charlie inside. A few minutes later, the doctor, who has known all our dogs, called us on the phone from inside and told us what she could without telling us what to do. And as we sat without him in the car in the parking lot, we realized that this was his last day. 

For situations like this, even on shutdown days like these, they have a protocol. After they inserted a catheter, the doctor came out to the car with two masks and led us inside. Two masks and they let us go inside — a measure of their empathy. 

Charlie was lying on a table in a dog bed with his front left elbow neatly wrapped in a pastel blue bandage and his head propped up on a tall pink pillow. He looked up at Trudy as she bent toward him, his eyes as clear as that day he came home with us three years ago. She picked him up and rocked him in her arms. Trudy looked down at him. 

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” she said. And she began to cry.

She handed him to me, and I rocked him in my arms and held his chin between my fingers. He gazed at us as we traded him and wept.

4. The Back Forty

“You’re going to a new body,” the doctor whispered to him as she gave Charlie the anesthetic and then the final shot. “You’re going to a new body where you’ll be strong.”

I’ve never done this before. I didn’t realize this. It doesn’t take long. They fade away so quickly. So little time for one last kiss. I wasn’t ready for this. They go limp in your arms. And their eyes stay open. Charlie’s last sight was of his loving mommy’s gaze. She loved him so much. He was such a wonderful dog. We are so grateful that he spent his last three years with us.

“Don’t worry about anything,” the doctor said. “Go on home.”

When we stepped outside, the rain had stopped. The sun was shining from behind some white billowing clouds in the west. And as we looked to the east, we saw a rainbow. Charlie’s rainbow. Its colors were bright, just like his eyes. And it arched across the sky, out somewhere along the periphery.

Then just as quickly as the sun had come out, the sky was dark again, and it started raining. The two of us drove home in silence.

We know where we will bury him — out in the strip of yard we call our back forty. Out past the chain link fence. Out where the compost piles are. Where the sheet of corrugated aluminum that he loved to walk on lies on the ground. It was a place he patrolled regularly. He was even out there once this morning, teetering and turning, barely able to walk, but patrolling it, because that was what he was supposed to do.

Out there in the back forty. Under the apple tree. That is where Charlie will lie.