Speak: 2003-2016

Yesterday we said goodbye to our dog, Speak.

I’m not really a dog person. My wife is, which is why we had three dogs at one point. Working at home, I’m the one who usually feeds and cleans up after the dogs. Yet my wife is the one they adore. I tend to resent them.

I sat down this morning to blog my thoughts on Speak’s passing, because I’m a writer and that’s how I process. It’s what I do. I thought I’d do a quick post, maybe do some work and come back to it, but that should be good.

Then I wrote 1,500 words and realized I was just getting started. I’m still not a dog person, but that dog had a hold on this person. He was part of our life for 13 years. He was there when I came home unemployed. He welcomed our kids into the family and grudgingly approved of the other two dogs. He had his own mini-career as a Target model. He’s there in so many family pictures, he’s sitting on the laps of our parents and friends. In the beginning he was always in the center of the frame, and as life has gone on he may not have been the center of our lives, but he was always on the edge of the frame. He’d look on with disdain that his nap had been interrupted, but there he was.

Speak died in my wife’s lap last night. I spent the day with him, taking him to the vet in the morning when his labored breathing wouldn’t settle down and laying with him in the afternoon when he worked to breathe, then struggled to stand and flopped around like a rag doll.

It was hard to watch.

Congestive heart failure was the vet’s diagnosis. He had a shot if he responded to the medicine. Yet he sat there on the floor of my office, fighting to live. I couldn’t sit there at my computer doing work, seeing him struggle.

So I laid down next to him. I pulled him into my lap and sat with him. For a few moments he’d rest against me, but then he’d move his head around. He’d try to stand up again and I’d catch him when he wavered. I’d ease him back down and lay next to him, trying to keep him calm and help him breathe easy.

I remembered one of the things Speak loved was attention from any guests who came to our house. One of our friends in particular, Nicole, was the best. Speak would plant himself in her lap and she would pet him all evening. She gave him the equivalent of a doggie massage, and he leaned into it.

So as he lay struggling—dying, really—I stroked Speak like Nicole did. And he leaned into it.

When Abby came home after work, Speak’s tail wagged. He lay there on the floor, unable to get up, working for each breath, his tongue grey and lolling out of his mouth. But my wife came home and his little stubby tail moved. I don’t think I’d seen him wag his tail all day. But there it was, his brave spirit in that small, happy gesture.

I ran to get dinner and the kids started eating in the kitchen while I went upstairs to check on Speak. Abby was sitting in the chair with Speak sprawled in her lap, sitting on a heating pad and covered with a towel.

Speak’s labored breathing had stopped. He wasn’t struggling anymore. Was the medicine finally working? It looked like he had a little more color. All afternoon he refused to lie that still. We didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

We watched him for a moment, and then that was it.

“I think his heart stopped,” Abby said.

I don’t think she wanted it that way, but Speak died in Abby’s lap. He waited until I got home, the not-a-dog-person, and then he went peacefully, quietly.

We told the kids and there were tears. Milo asked if we could name our next dog Speak. This morning they asked me if we could get another dog.

“Now I just have two dogs,” Milo lamented.

“That’s two more than a lot of people,” I said, always with the consolation.

I looked at pictures of Speak last night—literally hundreds—and tried to write a few words today. I’m cutting this short at 800, but I’ve got so many more words to say about that dog. It will likely become some too-long, self-indulgent essay, but that’s the way it is. As much as I want to say it’s just a dog, he was so much more.

Our Speak-a-ma-dog had a good run. We’ll miss him.

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