Today I had to say goodbye to my dog, Lakshmi. I’m not one for sentimental monologues–in fact I’m patently bad at them. I’m obligated, however, to at least a few words, as so many people absolutely adored Lakshmi. I was reminded of this just recently when I was in Portland, Maine, for the Food Bender. I lived in Portland for three years and anyone who knew me while I was there also knew Lakshmi–we went absolutely everywhere together. As I was walking down the street a few weeks ago, I thought I recognized someone walking toward me, and as she slowed down with a puzzled look on her face, it was clear she thought she recognized me as well. She said, tenatively, “Lakshmi’s dad, right?”
Lakshmi’s dad indeed. And this happened three times over the five days I was in Maine last month, a full nine years after I left Portland.
Granted, this phenomenon is common among dog owners. But some of these people would also just stop by sometimes–not to see me–but to walk my dog. And this has happened everywhere I’ve lived (except now in the burbs). There were a handful of people who actually couldn’t wait for me to travel somewhere by plane because if I couldn’t drive there, Lakshmi didn’t come with me and would need someone to care for her at home. People who hate dogs have professed love for Lakshmi, and she did her fair share of recruiting dog owners-to-be.
We really did go everywhere together. She crossed the continent with me at least 4 times and went on every single one of my epic two-lane highway roadtrips. I gather that over her fourteen-year lifespan she probably logged 150,000 miles. She slept in the car and in tents with me most of those trips and for a couple of months, we even lived out of my car, graduate student office, and a few Santa Cruz laundromats and cafes due to a pathetic housing situation. We traveled to glaciers and through deserts, to the center of North America, and the Center of the Earth (she’s got an official, signed certificate of her own for the that last one). She rode the subway in NYC as I had to get her uptown somehow and I had to pretend like I was blind to get her past the ticket booth. She backpacked with me all over the U.S. and Canada and has gone swimming in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. She’s growled at moose, beavers, raccoons, bears, buffalo, bison, whales, fish, and hippies. And she ran. Boy, did she run.
Last September she had a buildup of fluid around her heart which almost killed her. When she made a completely unexpected recovery (she had lost about 1/3rd of her weight and there was a very high likelihood of the fluid buildup returning), the vet christened her “Miracle Dog”. Though she was as sweet as she had always been since that incident, she was noticeably older and more tired. Today I noticed that her back leg had swollen and brought her into the vet thinking she had sprained it or something. Unfortunately, an ultrasound revealed that the fluid was back in her chest and the swollen leg was probably related somehow to the root condition. And I really didn’t want to put her once again through the medical treatment which a few months earlier saved her life but seemed to take her spirit.
I’ll admit, regrettably, that in the last few years, the business of life with Ray has made us interact with the dogs more as furniture than as pets and as such, Lakshmi didn’t get the kind of opportunities she’s had in the past to run back and forth at light speed on a beach. But she seemed to understand her new role. When Ray was a baby, she’d sometimes lick his face while he was crying. And she was so patient with him as he grew from a helpless larvae in a bouncy chair to a kid who liked to make loud noises, pull tails and stroke her head with more vigor than he should have.
As she went to sleep for the last time today, I probably also stroked her head with more vigor than I should have as memories of all the crazy adventures we had together came to mind. It was a lot harder than I had thought it was going to be. But she had a great run of fourteen years and played such a significant role in making my last fourteen years as memorable as they have been. So yeah, I’m extremely sad. But also extremely grateful.
If I can, I plan on taking her ashes to the family farm in Illinois and burying them there in a box I’ll make myself, by hand, with as much love, compassion, and devotion that she showed me all those years. If you knew Lakshmi and have a few words to say in tribute, do leave a comment below. I’ll print out this entry and put it in the box with her ashes.