How do you say goodbye to a friend?
Last night, Spouse and I were awake a little later than usual; she was idly catching up with some Facebook friends, and I had my nose buried in my newly arrived Maple Leafs Annual. Popeye got up from his usual resting place – in front of the couch, sprawled out on a blanket placed just so on the floor for him – and began to make some noises as though he was about to vomit. This was not a terribly unusual occurrence; after all, he was almost sixteen and a half years old. Spouse let him out the back door into the yard.
Recently, it had become his custom to (we felt) play a game with us, waiting out front for one or the other of us to finish our search for him, to let him back in the front hall and gently urge him to cross the tile floor just inside the door (with only one eye, Popeye had for years had a reluctance to cross smooth surfaces that was borne of depth perception problems). The next step was to stand by, showing him a willingness to help (but not actually assisting) as he struggled up the three stairs to the living room. So a few minutes after Spouse had let him out the door, I went straight to the front to retrieve our frail but mischievous little friend.
When he came back in the house, he went straight to the back door again. This was unusual, but we had decided to get ready for bed, so Spouse urged him to go out back again for a quick pee before turning in for the night. He did, then came back in again, but would not settle down. A few minutes later, he wanted back out again, and we were growing concerned. When he was out back on this occasion, wandering around the yard, he made a couple of unusual retching noises.
Before long, we became concerned that he was choking on something and Spouse was on the phone getting a number for an emergency veterinary clinic. We located a place not far away (no help to the frustrating automated Bell information attendant at directory information) and quickly, we took Poppy to the truck for a trip to see the doctor. He did not want to go down the stairs – it was becoming obvious to us that he was in some discomfort, but Popeye was always such a trooper about these things and he was never one to complain. He was told he had to come down the stairs, to the front porch, and he did. He was told he had to go down the stairs from the porch to the driveway, and he did. We lifted him into the rear of the truck and Spouse climbed in to the cargo area beside him to try and keep him calm.
When we arrived at the veterinary hospital, we lifted Popper down to the ground again. He didn’t want to walk across the deserted parking lot, but he did as he was told and came with us through the door into the little animal hospital. He hesitated briefly upon seeing the tile floor inside the door, but bravely walked across the waiting room and down the hall to the examining area. This was quite a feat for him, as we’d grown used to bringing a series of carpets to lay down across the floor of our usual vet, like the Army Corps of Engineers building a temporary bridge to get Popeye into the examination room. In our haste to get out the door and get him some help, we hadn’t thought to throw those carpets in the truck.
Upon examination, the news wasn’t good. Popeye’s stomach had bloated and twisted itself, and he was in a great deal of pain and distress. He needed either immediate surgical intervention. The only other option was euthanasia. Popeye was sixteen and a half years old and in failing health. The doctor could not recommend attempting surgery, and felt that even if he survived the procedure, he would not likely survive the recovery period.
It was obvious that the end of the road had come. Spouse and I made the awful decision and stood by, rubbing him behind the ears and patting his head as he went to sleep.
I can’t begin to communicate the sense of loss I feel right now, and I only knew Popeye for a little more than four of his years. His was a gentle, kind and playful spirit; he often stood by silently and without comment while our cat Henry sat in Popeye’s bowl of food or stuck his head full into the dog’s supper and began chowing down; he viewed his cookies more as playthings than treats to eat, often entertaining us with his “cookie dance”, tossing his head back and launching the treat into the air and across the room, then pouncing on it across the floor while making an odd thrusting motion with his front paws; he loved to go for what we called a crazy run, basically a unique hybrid between a series of bunny hops and a gallop, bounding across the lawn to our amusement, cheers and laughter.
He loved it when people came to visit. When we lived in our last house, children coming to the door on Hallowe’en were, in Popeye’s world, issuing an express invitation to join them for a bout of trick or treating that it would be downright rude to turn down. Visitors to our home were, Poppy was certain, here to see him and him alone.
More than anything, he loved it when it snowed. He would go outside and romp around in the drifts, often sitting down and facing the door, waiting patiently until the humans in the house got the message that it was time to come out and play. He liked to just stand in the snow and submerge his entire head in the biggest drift he could find. We thought it likely he found it necessary to do this to cool his brain down.
He had a way of sensing our moods. A couple of Septembers ago, while on a weekend visit with Spouse, Popeye and I to a lodge on Lake Nipissing, my brother and his then girlfriend became engaged. Upon announcement of the news, there was naturally much celebrating, hugging and hand shaking going on among the two-legged animals around the cabin. Poppy treated us all to an extended version of his crazy run, doing two full laps around the cabin, up and down the large rock on which it was situated, and jumped in between folks as they were hugging each other to make it clear that he was happy too.
A faithful companion to me, I can only imagine the way Spouse feels about this. He had travelled across Canada with her on a couple of occasions, by both land and air. He had been to university and law school with her – famously attending (uninvited) one set of commencement exercises to the general amusement of the formally enrolled humanoids assembled in the Hall. For sixteen years, as Spouse grew into the caring, loving and wonderful woman that she is today, Popeye was there. Together, they went to school; worked; loved; lost; travelled from horse show to horse show; and moved from city to city.
As I type this now, I’m sitting on the couch in our den. My feet are resting on the blanket that Popeye used to lie on, the one placed there just so by Spouse to make him comfortable as he snoozed away his days in his senior years. As much as I feel the empty space on that blanket, I can only imagine the size of the space left by a missing friend of sixteen and a half years.
Rest in peace, Popeye. You were a treasure to have met and a delight to have in my life. I will miss you, my friend.