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Pet Stories: In Your Own Words

Black Labrador Shape Shifter

By: Barbara Kaufmann

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.'

—Mom

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