I dug my dog’s grave today. It helped.

My beautiful black lab, Oso, had been heading towards the end for some time.  I kept hoping he’d die gently in his sleep but even in his last days, his mind was strong. It was his body that was tired.

After a stroke, Oso had trouble walking. He looked like a listing ship, tipped heavily to one side. As the months passed, he began to fall, too. I knew the day was coming when he wouldn’t have the strength to stand. Sadly, it arrived when I was traveling and far away.  But I didn’t want Oso to die without me. I didn’t want him to be afraid. He was my dog and I wanted to be the one holding him as he went.  I wanted to surround him with love in his last moments. And Oso must have known this, too. He managed, with the help of some cortisone, to hold on (even hobble about) until I returned.

Oso stood on shaky legs to greet me home. He licked my hand. We had a day together  but he was done. A friend told me, “El esta esperando.” “He’s waiting.” It was true. He was waiting-waiting for me to come home, waiting for me to be brave enough to help him go. And so I made the call to the vet I’d been dreading.

I will never know for sure what Oso’s life was like before I found him wandering aimlessly outside our house here in Mexico, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t good.

He came to us broken and dying. His kidneys were starting to fail. His coat was gray and brittle.  We gave him food and water and medicine and love. I think Oso was intrigued. I think he wanted to try out this new home of his. So, by sheer force of will, he pulled himself back into life.  For a year,  Oso was our shining star.  His coat turned black and supple. He learned to sleep inside and pee outside. He lumbered out the door for the early morning walks to school. He began to enjoy belly scratches and back rubs and rawhide bones. And sniffing. That was perhaps his greatest joy, big black lab that he was.

But he was old and time was catching up.

His was a slow fade. He had the stroke. His eyes turned milky white. One day, he could no longer make the walk to school (I think that broke his heart a tiny bit).  Soon he couldn’t manage walks at all.  His legs hurt. He cried out sometimes with pain. Finally, it was time.

After talking to the vet, I sat with Oso and rubbed his bony head. I do not like having the power to take a life. But I reminded myself that what Oso had now was not really life anymore. In nature, he’d have died long ago. Still, I thought,  here he is, looking up at me with his sweet, dark eyes. I had to wonder, is this really the right time, should I give him longer?

These were the thoughts going through my head as I rose to dig his grave. I sobbed when my shovel cut into the soft earth for the first time. But digging a grave is not easy or fast. Soon the tears were mixing with sweat.  Then they stopped. I focused on the work. My shovel kept hitting bricks from some structure of long ago. I found a couple of old bottles. I noticed the soil, how heavy and solid it was. I liked the idea of my Oso wrapped in this soil. It would hold him tight, embrace him  even.  The rain began to fall. I had to chop through the deep roots of the Bouganvilla and the Jacaranda tree. I had to dig out a big stone with my hands.

I stopped digging only when I couldn’t go on. I was exhausted. My arms shook, my back ached.

It  felt good.  I had done this for Oso. I had dug my tired dog a deep bed to keep him safe. I was ready to say goodbye. He was ready to go.

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8 Responses to Oso

  1. Annie Stocker says:

    Jenny, one of the hardest things about owning a pet is that you are almost guaranteed that they will go before you do. They become the best companions and give us the most unconditional love; especially the ones that are homeless because they are so thankful that someone cared enough to take a chance on them and love them too. Oso knew that, that is why he waited for you, to thank you one last time for making a part of his life happier, easier and comfortable. To let you know that he loved you too. You have done so much to make Mexico dog’s lives better and families happy even if for just a little while and I thank you for that. My heart goes out to you in this very difficult time, if you need anything, please let me know.

  2. pia says:

    Oso was lucky to have found you and your family. I saw his change and often watched him coming back from the walk to the school. He was old when he was found. He learned what it means to recieve love and to give it. Thats a lot.

  3. ericka sherman says:

    Querida Jenny, tu no me conoces, pero yo conozco tu dolor, pues a lo largo de mi vida he tenido la dicha de tener familia animal, y se la profunda pena que causa su partida, es una tristeza que jamas se va,.
    Me llena de amor el alma leer tus pensamientos, pues me da un inmenso gusto saber que hay mas personas como yo, en este planeta, personas que sabemos que no hay amor mas puro que el que recibimos de un compañero de vida, de un gran amigo,pues para quienes tenemos la fortuna de sentir el amor hacia nuestros perros sabemos perfectamente que el dolor es el mismo, estamos perdiendo a un semejante nuestro, a un miembro mas de la familia, solo nos queda en el alma el orgullo de haber sido los elegidos por ellos , para darnos su indescriptible e inmenso amor.

  4. Just beautiful, Jenny. What a gift you were to one another – I’m so glad you had that. These dear ones really change our lives for the better.

  5. Jacqueline says:

    Jenni dear to this day have the courage to read the post of our beloved Oso, I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to live and care during these two years … and also for giving him such a dignified death he deserved, was that you were hard times but no longer Oso this suffering, Oso was just waiting back from vacation to say goodbye to you.
    See you soon my dear Oso, we miss you much

  6. Jenny, I don’t know you yet, and I cannot believe this is the first blog entry of yours I am reading. I am so sorry for your loss, and so thankful for the love you shared with Oso…to love an animal so deeply, as you obviously did, brings this deep heartbreak. But having loved like this…well, there is nothing but good that can last and last. The good feeling you will always have every time you think of him. The good memories. Ironically, my brother (in New York State) and his family has to do the same with their lab this weekend. I got the name of your blog from Kelly with SAMM. I had met some very sad strays outside of Cholula this weekend and was determined to find a way to help. I began to e-mail rescue sites, and tonight she and I exchanged e-mails. I am living in Coyoacan…hope we can get together…when you are better, of course! I loved this entry, despite its tremendous sadness.

  7. Katie says:

    No wonder he didn’t want to leave, he’d found love!

  8. Reyna Paniagua says:

    Jenny querida: You made me cry. I knew Oso and I think he was a great lab. Todos los perros van al cielo.

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