When I adopted Dublin in the spring of 2000, it came with a price that I had not anticipated.
Found along the side of Route 7 in Delaware, he suffered from malnourishment and several bruises. He had been abused and left for dead.
The SPCA technician shared that the woman who pulled over in the rain first dragged his body to a safer distance from the flash and whirr of traffic. She had been only inches from him as she zipped along with the flow of almost bumper-to-bumper traffic.
As he recovered physically at the SPCA until he was well enough to be rescued, he showed all of the signs of a dog who did not know who to trust or believe. The staff laughed and shared their frustrations at trying to perform simple tasks such as giving him water or putting a collar around him. They reported he ran from people, or jumped into them full force, or writhed and urinated at any new approaching human. While I pet him in short clips with only the tips of my fingers through the cyclone fencing, the technicians pointed out his healing bruises, the paperwork detailing all the medicine and treatment that had gone into him, and then she detailed the growing issue--he was approaching being unadoptable.
His energy was unmatched and bordered on intimidating. In his SPCA pen, his frantic pace and frenetic yapping had turned all families away to other (deserving) dogs. But the longer I stared at him I saw things I hadn't noticed for the past thirty minutes.
His body trembled when he paused to sit or lay down for a moment.
He winced and cowered at sudden movements, a lift of an arm, or flick of a hand in conversation.
He sat in corners and only with his back facing humans.
And when I walked away, he stared at me. I felt his eyes on me. And I adopted the unadoptable.
Dublin lived with me for thirteen years. I estimate he just made it to his fifteenth birthday before succumbing to canine cancer--an aggressive tumor on his spleen and stomach. It appeared less than two months ago.
I think of the imagery of a locomotive in the distance--an old iron horse from the turn of the century--a single headlight burning--black smoke and white steam hissing and puffing--that is how I think of Dublin's cancer. It was the unwelcome machine in the garden laying its own track, cutting its path, coming for a dog I came to adore.
Dublin challenged me--to his dying breath he challenged me and often outfoxed me.
He learned to open a trash compactor by standing on the release and pulling at the handle with his teeth.
He opened the refrigerator--even unlatched a baby lock--and unscrewed jars of pickles and peanut butter; he unwrapped cheeses and meats--leaving the paper--and left no trace of meat or brine behind. For over a decade I had to block the fridge with a heavy kegerator.
Dublin opened pantries and the lazy-susan; he could unfasten bungee cords securing closet doors. Once, he opened an oven and used the open door to stand on to tilt the appliance towards him as a blueberry pie slid to the floor. I later found the pie tin perfectly polished, not a crumb remained. The only trace of blueberry pie was the deep blueberry stained tongue and the blue roof of the mouth he later smiled at me.
Once he experienced a home burglary; another time, he ran away in the morning to sit in the middle of a dozen elementary school children and their parents at a bus stop a couple of miles from my house. They pet him and fussed over him as only noisy young children could. He sat still and smiled and loved it.
Slowly, he recovered from his fear of sudden movements. But it took years. He flinched so much those first few years that I found myself comforting him as much as anything else. Obviously, for those who know canines, he suffered from separation anxiety--during good weather when I had the windows down in my car, I would hear him howl after I left the house and headed for work.
He grew out of destroying things and loved clomping around the White Clay Creek when I had a Jeep and didn't mind how wet he got it afterwards.
When our black lab, Rain, passed away in 2010, Dublin looked for him for weeks. Whenever he went outside, he would stop and turn and look behind him--Rain often trailed Dublin in his later, slower years.
He was a smart dog who was branded with issues he never asked for or deserved. I would tell students that even though Dublin had a tough first life, I wanted to be sure he had a perfect second life.
The price I had to pay for helping Dublin through all of that was saying goodbye. It was a hard one to pay, I'll be honest.
As I mentioned, saying goodbye to my first lab, Rain, in 2010 was difficult. He died at my feet as we discussed what to do in the vet's office--I hadn't seen it coming even though Rain was old.
This time though, with Dublin, I could see that train coming. The closer it chugged towards us the larger it became--and there was no avoiding it and no preparing for it.
I found him after work on Thursday with blood leaking down his back legs. A puddle had formed beneath him. He made it outside to walk beneath a tree where another one of our pets, Smudge (a cat), is buried. Dublin flopped down and stared at me.
He had not eaten anything for four days and had not taken a drink in over 24 hours.
He was suffering. I knew it. The train had come.
After speaking to the vet, and after my wife had a chance to spend some time with him, I scooped Dublin up like a child--his blood smeared all across my forearm and settled him in the back of my car on an old, clean sheet. He laid down out of my vision and I talked to him out loud on the five minute drive to the vet. I told himself everything I remembered that we did together, and that I didn't think our current labs would ever be as smart as him--so we can unblock the refrigerator now.
When we arrived, two technicians helped me carry him in on a soft gurney. I laid down on the floor with him. A sedative calmed him even though he was not moving much--he seemed to relax his muscles and was more comfortable than I had seen in months. He folded his paws beneath his snout and his eyes fluttered, half asleep, half still with me.
When I nodded that the time had come, I started talking to him again. This time, a line from Jane Kenyon's "Let evening come" fell out of me over and over. It was a complete surprise, unrehearsed, and comforted me and I hope comforted him. Again and again, as I held his face by mine (the whirr of the instruments working on his rear leg out of my vision) I caressed his muzzle and face and whispered "Let it come, as it will, and do not be afraid. For God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come...Let it come, as it will.."
I felt his breath on my face and recited those lines. I consciously held my face close to his so I could feel him breath and he could smell me. His exhales were cool and relaxed.
And then. Nothing.
His face was peaceful--so peaceful that it caught me off guard. The past two months had taken a toll on him, and my friend was tired. I had not realized just how tired he was.
When I stood, I thanked the vet and the technicians and left the building. I sent a text to my wife and my parents: "He's gone."
And then I drove home thinking about the unadoptable dog.
And just how fast time truly is.