Thursday, December 4, 2008

A year ago today ...

... I knew the time had come to let you go.  It was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do. When I left for work that day, I knew that the time was coming; I just thought maybe we had just a little more time together. All day at work, listening to grown adults bicker like children, it was all I could do to hold back my tears, thinking of you there at home without me. 

I came to the realization that it was I who was holding on - not you - when I left work to come home and spend time with you. It seemed you couldn't find any position that gave you comfort, and you didn't even seem to realize I was there. I watched you struggle to even raise your head off of the floor, and I cried, remembering better times:

You were my 21st birthday gift, the best birthday present I ever got in my life. I remember walking by your run in that filthy animal shelter, the way you just sat there, staring at me. Our eyes met and I knew that I was yours from that day on. Walking out of the shelter to the car, Kate's new dog Titan grabbed your tail and played a one-sided game of tug o' war with it. We got you to your new home and unleashed you in the tiny, fenced-in yard. You ran a circle around the perimeter of that yard for what? 20 minutes straight? You were so happy to finally be home. 

You were by my side through good times and bad. You moved with me 8 times in your life. I remember coming home from work at our first apartment, only to find you had pushed the screen out of the window, and were sitting on the roof, right next to the power lines going into the house! You liked to sit out there and scare the crap out of people walking down the street, barking at them from above. Remember living by the Clydesdale farm? You'd take off and come back hours later, wild-eyed, grinning ear to ear, and covered in horse manure. We moved in temporarily with Grandma while waiting for our rental house to be ready. How she loved you! You must have gained 10lbs in those couple months; all you had to do was look at Grandma with those big soulful eyes and go to your bowl, and she was hooked. You were famous for your appetite. I'll never forget coming back from a storage unit run during one move. We had left more than half a large pepperoni pizza up on the counter; when we got back we found an empty pizza box on the floor and a guilty-looking, yet satiated, Gunner - lying there right next to the empty pizza box. You were my comfort and my confidante in the bad times. I remember having to coax you out of the bathtub, where you would cringe and try to make yourself invisible when my ex and I fought. You were there for me during the messy breakup, and the moving around before I bought the house. Wherever I ended up, you were with me, and that was all you ever seemed to want. 

You made the funniest noises! You would never lie down without a long, drawn-out groan or sigh. I loved the little oinks of joy you would utter when I would lie down on the floor with you and rub your fluffy belly. Anyone who met you, loved you. You captured peoples' hearts with your big bear-like head and your gentle nature. The fact that, at 85lbs, you could sit up and beg like a little dog, left people wide-eyed and laughing at your talent. There was nothing in the world like a Gunner-hug to lift up a person who was feeling down. You would stand there, your head burrowed into my chest or lap, and all of my tears and cares and hurt would melt away into that soft, thick fur of yours. 

For 16 years you stayed by my side, wherever I went. On your last day, I brought you your own little pepperoni pizza, and I finally saw a little spark of the Gunner I remembered, as you scarfed that sucker down in about 4 bites. Then I helped you into the car for your last ride. When we arrived at the animal hospital, you weren't scared. You were never scared of the vet, because a visit to the vet to you meant that you got to see your friend Dr. Kate  - the one who had been there on your adoption day and who became your vet the moment she graduated veterinary school. We lay on the floor together, and I fed you cookies from the jar on the exam room counter. You didn't even notice the needle being inserted into the vein in your back leg; Dr. Kate had done it so gently. I saw a flash of blood in the syringe, indicating it had hit its mark. 
"Are you ready?" she asked, tears in her eyes. I can't imagine having to put your best friend's dog to sleep. She was almost as heartbroken as I was, but she had helped me to see that it was time. 
"Yes", I said, barely audibly. 
And with that, she slowly pushed down the plunger on the syringe. And you were gone. 
You hadn't a clue what happened, because you were busily gobbling cookies from my hand until the very moment your breathing stopped. If there is a better way for an old friend to go, I don't know what that might be. 

I miss you, Gunner. Rest, old boy. 

?/?/1992 - 12/4/2007

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