Grief is often a communal event, but may be private. Death is often a private event, but may be communal.
Animals prefer a private death. A dying animal will isolate itself, find a private place to die.
So when Shiloh disappeared, we knew why.
Our rural property has graveled drives and plots of lawn and stands of mature trees with cleared understory. Olga labours to create magnificent flower gardens. But we retain wild patches, with lush ground cover and thick, verdant understory.
I searched those wild patches for half an hour. No trace of Shiloh.
Our property slopes towards the lake. I’d made the assumption she’d drag herself downhill. I finally found her uphill, in a bower of shrubs. She wagged her tail, but she was immobile. Left a bowl of water and some biscuits for her, and made some calls.
Olga and I agreed – she’s have to be euthanized.
No vet in Greenstone. Not a single person licensed to administer a merciful drug.
Could find someone to take her out into the bush and put a bullet in her ear. No thanks. Not a death I’d wish for myself. When I die, I don’t mind if it’s a communal event, but I’d insist on clean sheets as I’m pumped full of drugs. If that’s not merciful and quick, then okay . . . A bullet in the ear will have to do. But I’d insist on the clean sheets.
A clinic in Thunder Bay agreed to euthanize her.
I called a neighbour, Mel, to assist me getting her into the car. But Shiloh had moved again. Another quarter-hour search and I found her at the woodshed, next to the car. Was she asking for one last ride? One last adventure? I don’t know.
I had prepared the back seat. Slung the dog hammock and spread a shower curtain to catch the usual business associated with dying animals.
Mel and I used a blanket to lift her into the hammock. Olga said her goodbye. She was bawling, of course.
Shiloh, as always, was the perfect passenger. I checked on her frequently, stroked her, talked to her, eased up on the gas when I choked up and my vision blurred.
Three hours to Thunder Bay. The usual business at the check-in desk. It dragged on and dragged on. Then, Would I stay with her? No. Cremation or burial? Cremation. Take the ashes? No. How will you pay? No, we don’t accept that, sir, so how will you pay?
I lifted her out of the car and handed her to the vet. He waited as I stroked her head. “Be a good girl, Shiloh,” I said. “That’s a good girl. Be a good girl.” She understood. She was a good girl.
I’ve stroked other animals in an antiseptic environment as a drug did its work. It’s merciful and quick.
Back in the car, I bawled for a while.
Later, I checked the shower curtain. Not a single spot or stain. I stuffed it in the trash.
What a good girl.
(Continued in Chapter 3)