~ ABC Dog School ~
Dog Funerals
  An awfully nice dog went away this week...departed for that place we call the Rainbow Bridge.  He was a patient dog.  A cooperative dog.  He waited a very long time to have some fun.  He's having it now.*  I picked the spot next to Dotty's, and dug a very large hole.  It took a long time.  On my left foot, my "heel" foot, I wore an old sock, and when Busch at last lay on his bed of straw, and the white cloth covered his face and ears, and the three treats and a Nylabone were there beside him, I added the sock with my scent on it, to comfort him on his way.
     These partings are never easy.  Some are more difficult than others.  This one was tough because the dog was not old, and because six years slid past as if by slight of hand.  As though part of my brain was in a coma.  As if I were on automatic pilot, no navigation necessary.  Whatever the circumstances, the ritual of the burial seems helpful in coping.  It's the buffer zone between  doing and not doing...the everyday things versus nothing left to do.
     Sometimes I write.  I may spend an entire day recording happenings and feelings and everything I can remember about the dog, until the living call me back and I have to lay it aside, not quite finished.  And although I never manage to complete the story, it serves to get me through those awful hours, and to know that I have created a memorial of sorts.  Something that says, this dog was here, and this is what he was like, and this is what happened to him, and this is how I feel about it.

      I used to build caskets.  The first one was for Tater.  He was almost 17 years old when he died in my arms.  The moment I had dreaded, and yet there was also relief that his pain was over.  And now I had to have a funeral.  And there had to be a casket because I would not leave him behind when we moved away.  And I wanted him to be clean and dry.  And I just wanted to keep on doing things for him.  So I planned it out on paper, measured him, bought marine plywood and roofing pitch, lined it with some kind of found drapery that resembled a shroud.  I snipped some hair from various parts of him, and I have it still.
     We buried him near the back door, fenced him in with plastic, and covered him with Impatiens.  And when we moved, he did, too.  My grief lingered on until Maximillian made his entrance, and the next cycle began.  When Max's life ended tragically a year and a half later, I built another casket.  But, surely, I could not keep digging dogs up and burying them again every time I relocated, so when the time came, I took them both to my parents' farm and buried them next to my horse.
     While Tater was alive I thought that I couldn't... wouldn't want to... live without him.  He was a part of me.  And it says so on the concrete marker I fashioned for his grave.  The things I did for him after he was gone, served to help me in my grieving process, but the best thing I did was to begin again; to smell puppy breath and buy toys and play keep-away with a stick.  And now, after all these years, I can remember Tater and chuckle over having a dog that was buried three times.

     Max and Buffy were pups together, along with Spanner.  It was ten years after I built Max's casket, that I built one for Buffy.  Together, Shelly and I transported her to the cemetery, a two-hour drive, equipped with shovel, tape player, long-stemmed flowers, a poem written just for her and a jar to put it in, along with some treats and one of her blue ribbons.
     As strains of Andreas Vollenweider's, "Ascent From the Circle," floated over the grave, we  contemplated Buffy's silent run as she streaked toward that meadow and her long lost Maximillian.  A golden blur against the sky, and now bedecked with blossoms, spirit unbound.  The poem was read with difficulty as tears fell, the jar sealed, cedar chips over all, and three flowers on top.  Then we closed her safely in, covered her over, and marked the mound with the remainder of the flowers.  A memorable service for a memorable dog.
     As much as we hate to say goodbye, it's even worse when we have to make the decision ourselves.  I should have done it for Tater, but was unable to.  When the veterinarian told us Buffy was full of cancer, we knew it was best if she didn't wake up from the anesthesia.  I regret now that we stayed in the waiting room instead of being with her and saying goodbye before the fatal dose.  I've never made that mistake again.
     When it was time to end Spanner's suffering, I failed miserably.  I tried choosing a significant date for his euthanasia.  November 4, 1994, would be good, I thought.  Star Spangled Spanner, 7/4/80 to 11/4/94, 14 years old.  Lots of fours.   But when the day came, I couldn't go through with it.  I used the appointment to get him another accupuncture treatment instead.  I wanted Spanner to spend one last Christmas with me, but it was painful and meaningless to him.  My veterinarian was patient and understanding, but unhappy.  Who was I doing this for, he asked.  Certainly not for the dog.  He was right.  For this, I find it hard to forgive myself.   And every time I am faced with the decision to end a life, I remember Spanner.
      On January 20th, he was released, and leapt for joy as he bounded off for the reunion with his pals. This time there was no doubt, and no hesitation on my part.  I had finally come to terms with it.  A long seizure that morning, was further confirmation.  I built him a casket and kept him in "cold storage," covered with snow and evergreen boughs, until the ground was thawed.  I had taken many photos and written many pages.  There was nothing left to do but take him to the cemetery, where he was laid to rest next to Buffy.
       When it was time for Dutch Boy to join them there, I built him a casket and buried him beside the garage.  This was supposed to be temporary until I could get help to move him.  Years went by, and he remained where he was.  Eventually I had to sell the land and cemetery, so there will be no more burials there, and Dutch Boy has been moved next to Fritzie and Boop.  I try not to let it bother me that Dutch Boy isn't lying next to Buffy, his best pal.  What goes into the grave is only the dwelling place of the spirit, and the spirit has been set free.  My four pups are together forever.
    Dogs don't know  what death is, nor contemplate the afterlife, but when one of their own goes away, they need to know why.  One day I took Shea-Shea away, and no one knew where he was.  When I brought him home the next day, he was different.   We had a funeral in the lath house and all his comrades attended.  They said their goodbyes, and then, as I had done for others, I  closed the casket and  arranged his bowl, leash, collar, etc., on top of it for a photo.  And then I put him in the ground, facing the sunrise, his back to the north.  When I buried Fritzie, I let Tammy see where he was.  She stood by the grave and looked very sad.  Then I covered him up, placing his bowl, collars, leash, and High in Trial ribbon on top of the mound for a photo.  Always there are photos. 

      I don't build caskets anymore.  They served their purpose in days gone by.  Now I would rather my dogs return to the earth, to be transformed into something new and living.  I'm even starting to lean toward cremation, as some of my friends have done.  The spirit has fled.  Where it has gone is a matter of imagination, like the myth of the Rainbow Bridge.  We cannot know what form we take beyond the great divide, nor where we then reside, but it is our lively hope that when we get there, we will be greeted by those we've loved and lost.
     So, when your sad parting comes to pass, do that which will bring you comfort.  If you must opt for euthanasia, I hope your veterinarian is sympathetic, and helps you through it, especially if you want to be present with your dog.  I have been fortunate in this respect.  I'm with my dogs to the end.  Do what you want to do, and don't worry about what anyone else will think.  After all, I buried the same dog three times...
Copyright 2004 Carole J Sulser
* See Barkin'