An Elegy For Casey
It’s fitting that this piece wings it’s way into the world today. This is the 16th anniversary of her adoption. We had just returned from a late Christmas with family in California. Just before Christmas, we’d moved into a new house. Our landlady, a dear friend, had bought us dog paraphernalia (including a food and water dish we’ve used all these years). She wanted us to know that it was all right to get a dog.
It’s often been said that I have a one-track mind, unable to let an idea rest until I’ve discovered a solution, or acquired the elusive thing I’m searching for. So it was with my search for a new dog. I began scanning the paper for just the right opportunity.
On the morning of January 24, a month before my eleventh birthday, I burst into my parents’ bathroom while someone was in the shower and began shouting. I couldn’t contain myself. I had found our new dog, I just knew it.
They were a mix between golden retrievers and border collies, just six weeks old. We drove out into the country to look at them, my parents telling us that we wouldn’t be bringing a dog home that day, no matter what.
The puppies were in a barn, most of them in a huddle, together with their mother. But there was one little puppy, a blot of black in the hay and sunlight, who peered out at us from behind a Sea Doo. I walked right over to her, and declared her the one. We’ve talked for a long time, in our family, about my choosing her. It has only been recently that we’ve been sure that she chose me. She chose us.
We took her home that day.
After a quick stop at the pet store for the essentials, we brought her home and took her outside. There was snow in the yard, and she was tiny, nothing but a little black form in the drifts.
We named her Casey.
Although my brother and I were delighted with our new dog, there is no denying that puppies are challenging. Our house became puppy-proof, and the sound of sad whining could be heard from the bathroom during the night. Every surface that could be chewed, was chewed.
As she got older, she began jumping onto the counter, to retrieve hot dogs, chicken breasts, or raw steak.
I wrote stories I called “The Casey Diaries,” written from her perspective. Hilarious monologues about her nicknames, and how things might look from her height. There may have been a song I wrote called “Please Help My Breakfast To Be Good,” a sort of prayer with three verses (one for every meal) sung in a rousing loud voice. When my brother and I played computer games requiring companions (like Oregon Trail) or an invented storyline, Casey always made an appearance.
I would torment her by snatching her off the floor and “dancing” with her across the room, as she squirmed in my arms. I would wake her from a dead sleep by playing with her paws. There are pictures of her dressed in all manner of clothes. Sometimes, though, she would come and sit in the center of my crossed legs, curled up into a little ball. She would stay like that for hours, until I didn’t think my back muscles could go much longer. But I didn’t want to wake her.
Once, after she’d grown too large to curl up on my lap, she tried it again. It was as if she wasn’t quite sure that she wasn’t still a puppy.
She was still very young when she was hit by the SUV. She was running after something, playing with my dad and brother, and the driver didn’t see her. It was a horrible accident.
The veterinarian told us that her leg was shattered and her abdomen was ripped to shreds. He suggested that we put her down.
My parents looked at each other and made another decision. Casey went through reconstructive surgery, her back leg was mostly wire, after it was done. My mom slept on the floor of the living room with her, applying salve to her tummy, and making sure she had her medication.
I was a young teenager in these days, and I’ll admit that I resented all of the attention she was getting. I would joke that the dog got more phone calls than I did. (But it was true).
But misplaced teenage rivalry aside, we all knew that Casey had cheated death, every moment from that one on, was stolen time.
It is hard to capture the breadth of my relationship with Casey. She was there before I had my first crush, and for every boyfriend. She was there when I started running (a very brief phase).
When I was scared at night, as was all too common, she would jump up on my bed if I asked her to, taking up half of it in the process.
She would bark when the TV got loud, with a high sound that made guests want to laugh.
At first, she was hard to manage on a walk, nearly tearing arms out of sockets at the sight of a squirrel. Later, she would stop every few feet to sniff something suspicious, lengthening our walks.
In these latter years, she became creaky and tired. Still, she rose every morning, painfully, trying to go on. My mother removed the rugs from the floors, and lined her path to the back door with old towels. Every time my brother visited, he spent a long time with her before he left, just in case this was the last time. Every time he walked in the house, she perked up, just as she did when I came in late at night.
My parents didn’t want to make the decision to end her life. It took a long time to talk about it, and a long time before the appointment was made. I spent much of the Christmas holidays pausing to sit with her. On one of these occasions, she licked my hand, as she had in the old days. Until she did it, I didn’t realize how long it had been.
I said my goodbye on Saturday, knowing that a hysterical woman was the last thing needed at the vet. On Monday, at the appointment time, I sat in silence, praying that Jesus would take my sweet puppy safely home, and that He would help her not to be afraid.
My mom texted me a few moments later: she went so peacefully.
I burst into tears, and drove the short distance to my parents’ house, to be there when they got home.
I sat in the empty living room, looking at the dog bed in the corner of the room. For so many years it had rarely been empty. Tears poured down my cheeks as I knelt, trying to catch a whiff of her scent, my nose so stuffed up that there was no chance.
Casey always knew when one of us was upset, whether we were crying out of frustration, pain, or sorrow. She would come over and burrow her nose under my elbow, comforting me with her presence. There was no comfort, on Monday. Casey was gone.
My parents arrived and my mom and I shared a tearful hug. I sometimes think that Casey would get jealous when people would hug. It was as if she wanted to be in on it, too. This time, she was central, right between us.
That night, after crying all evening, I tried to fall asleep, exhausted and dehydrated. Every time I closed my eyes, I started to cry again. But if I closed them long enough, I found a picture of Casey playing in a field of deep and vivid green. I watched her bend forward with her tail high in the air as she’d done not all that long ago. I watched her running through the grass, happy and playful. I’m still not sure how we’ll go on without part of our family. I still cry every time I think about her. But I know that she is free.
Come back on Monday for the final installment of the friendship series, and to link up with the friendship synchroblog!