Pet Stories: In Your Own Words
Black Labrador Shape Shifter
For Max (1989-2003)
Even now I can feel it.
I kept rubbing your ear
against my cheek.
It always felt to me, like velvet.
I wanted to burn the sensation
hot into memory, to keep
your scent in my mind.
I knew you were really sick
gave you what the vet recommended:
milk thistle, supplements,
Jane's magnetic mattress,
acupressure, tried to heal your body
with love that burned my chest.
You waited 'til I got home,
I know you heard the car.
Your chest rose once, then stopped.
I crawled to you, held your head
as if my hands could hold in
the life force, keep you here.
I looked straight into your eyes,
something you would never let me do,
the obedient Omega, avoiding
the eyes of the Alpha dog.
'No,' I screamed 'You were the Alpha!'
Black Labrador Retriever, shape shifter!
You were the master—A Master
come back in the body of a dog!
I cleaned you gently, wiped your body,
moved you from the foot of my bed,
placed you dignified, black regal soul.
Wrapped myself around you
held you until your body cooled,
told you how grateful I was
for being a part of your life.
How can I ever thank you
for all that you gave me
for all that you brought, you taught.
For being there for me
through the most desolate hours of my life.
For making me laugh,
for teaching how to live in the now.
For making me live, and loving me
like no one ever has.
We had our own language, you and I.
I never commanded you but asked you
politely, 'Please to come.'
Oh the memories you left behind—
pet therapist voted dog of the year,
cool noses, wet feet, big heart,
Frisbee, the slimy balls you brought me,
high fives and Dairy Queen where I'd
have to buy two cones instead of one.
How I had to get a queen size bed
and still you left me no room.
It was a game you played.
Ice cream and yogurt,
every drive up window in town,
where you'd whine 'til they gave you a treat.
Drum circles at High Cliff in cool night air,
the fire keeping us warm.
Hide and seek in the columns under the freeway,
behind trees in the woods where you loved to run.
Swimming in the lake where the ducks bored you
but the squirrel alerts made you quiver
and I would say, 'You leave alone' and you would.
I stopped taking you to the dog park
when you gave up your dominant dance
and it was too humiliating
to be with the other dogs.
The last few months
you had trouble walking,
climbing onto the bed.
I never minded lifting you
so long as you were there.
I knew you were tired, grandpa dog.
I'm glad we were together
for our last road trip,
our last drum circle, the retreat.
How many have we done
in your fourteen years?
And each time they met you,
they all wanted to sneak you inside;
you rarely slept in the car.
You captured hearts and
were always invited back.
You were the only animal I knew
who collected people.
Friends arrived to help us that day,
the day you chose to leave.
They spent time stroking you,
talking with you about how
magnificent you were,
how much you were loved.
Then gave us some time to be alone
to have our last conversation.
I had a hard time removing my arms
where I wrapped them around you,
untangling my fingers from your big furry neck
where I buried my head how many times
'til you were wet with my tears?
How many nights did you will me to live,
your warm body the only comfort, your brown eyes
knowing all—yet never betraying.
Even when I couldn't stand my wretched self,
you never abandoned me.
I was like a deer caught in headlights.
My friends understood, held me up.
Held us both, then respectfully covered you,
lifted your body, carried you gently to the van
where I lay on the floor beside you
stroking your fur, your eyes, your chest,
your nose, your magnificent soul,
rubbing your ear against my cheek
all the way to the hospital.
I couldn't go home or sleep in the house,
a black void empty space.
My spiritual teacher said,
'He really loved you, your protector.
Go home now and take him with you.
He wants to be at your side;
he'll let you know he's there.'
She said dogs that are loved that much
get to become human in their next life.
You never knew you were a dog,
preferred the company of humans,
thought you were one in this life.
She said you'd be waiting for me
in the light on the bridge
at the end of the tunnel.
It amazes me, Max, how we humans
make room in our heart for animals,
bring you into our homes, your home,
rearrange our lives around you
while you quietly crawl into our hearts.
And how steadfast your devotion,
how fierce your love that never changes
no matter how or what we are.
And Oh how huge the pain
and unabridged the emptiness,
when you decide to go on.
I can't imagine another being
ever filling my heart the way you did.
I honor your life, unconditional love,
and I make you this promise Max'
I will bring your ashes home
place them on the altar,
visit you in meditation,
feel the velvet of your ear on my cheek,
and say this prayer daily'
'May I aspire always to be the kind of person
my dog believed I am.'