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Dearest Lily, Rest In Peace

07 Dec

Lily Swamp - Copy

The story behind the photo of Lily, the dog I dedicated my debut novel The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World to, unfortunately, is a sad one. It has been almost two years since her passing but not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, especially when I drive past the streets where I used to walk her.
I am used to making money off of other people’s misfortune, and in Lily’s case this was no exception. Lily’s owners were a married couple in their sixties, and the man (whom I never met) died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Left to her own devices, the woman hired me to help care for the dog, a wolf/German Shepherd hybrid. In my line of work I have a lot of clients like this, elderly women whose husbands have passed and are kind and caring enough to realize that their dogs need exercise and are willing to employ someone if they can’t do it themselves.
Lily’s owner was a very nice woman, but one thing I noticed over the almost three years I walked and pet-sat for her was a lack of intimacy between them. I never saw her petting her or brushing her, nor did she ever express any such desire. In fact, she told me that Lily had been her husband’s dog, one they had found in the small mountain town of Ramona, which I also feature (briefly) in my novel. Her story was that a male wolf jumped the fence where a female German Shepherd lived and, well, the rest is purely physiology. Lily was one of seven in the litter, and the man fell instantly in love with her. I believe he paid only two hundred dollars for her as the owner of the shepherd simply wanted to get rid of them.
When I came into the picture Lily was nine years old, and she was one of the sweetest dogs I’d ever met. Looking at the previous sentence I’ll graciously admit that almost ALL the dogs I’ve had the pleasure of knowing were very sweet; maybe it is in her passing that I’ve made her a martyr. That very well could be, but she took to me immediately and we became fast friends.
I was in the second year of operating my business full-time, and I must confess I was a bit of a whiner. I was gradually becoming aware that running a business by oneself (if you wanted to be successful) often times demanded a seven-day workweek, and I was having trouble adjusting to it. Sometimes the walks with Lily (with all of my dogs) were tedious, boring, and throughout I’d have a running litany of complaints going through my head about how I worked all the time and would rather be doing something else, even though this was solely how I made my money. But, with Lily and with the other dogs I came to know very well, it passed after my affections grew for them, and I began to see the walks as quality time that we had together. After the first year they became enjoyable, and I looked forward to them.
Time passed by and autumn of 2010 saw changes with the owner that I’d never suspected. I believe she was beginning to suffer from the earliest onset of Alzheimer’s as there were notes posted all around the house, reminding her to take her pills or take out the trash or run this or that errand. These notes were on index cards, taped up in various spots in the kitchen and living room, indicating that this was a permanent ritual, not something in passing. Yet she seemed to be fine, and Lily was in good health and spirits. I have to hasten to add that by this time I’d pet-sat for her over a dozen times, besides our three walks weekly, and I never deduced there to be anything that lie beneath the surface, any hidden animosity.
This became apparent when one day she called me and told me she wanted to get rid of Lily. She simply wasn’t an animal person, she explained, repeating that the dog had been her husband’s. She’d simply been taking care of her because it was what he would have wanted. And now, as it were, she was through. She complained that Lily got into things and destroyed furniture. Some of these grievances were true, but the reason for this destructive nature was that she was kept in a small enclosure alongside the house, left alone for hours on end. She was acting out because she was angry at being virtually abandoned. This is why Lily loved me so: I was, in fact, the only one who gave a damn about her, and when I pet-sat for her I kept her with me always, I never put her in the yard.
I was shocked, but told her I would do everything I could to help her find a new home. I wished I could take Lily myself but the nature of my business then and now is that I stay in other people’s homes fifteen to twenty days a month (sometimes more). I was and am single; I had no way of taking care of her and she couldn’t come with me on any jobs because she was mildly dog aggressive.
So I contacted everyone I knew through the animal hospital I’d previously worked at as well as past and present clients. A woman I’d worked with told me of a friend who rescued wolf hybrids and, excited that I might be able to help, contacted Lily’s owner. This was two weeks after she’d told me the news and, before I could tell her, she instead told me that she’d decided to keep Lily after all, was resigned to it in fact. I was relieved, of course, because this way I’d still be able to see Lily, so I kept the news to myself.
Two months went by, and in that time I pet-sat for her again. We spent quality time that I now treasure immeasurably, as it would be the last time of any significance we’d spend together.
It was in the end of January 2011 that I received the call from the owner. She very brusquely told me she’d found a new home for Lily, a place where she would get more attention, would be happier. She was bringing her there that very afternoon. I’d just walked Lily earlier that day, and when we returned from our trek I’d spent some extra time with her, just petting her and letting her lick my face. In retrospect (this is always easy to say after the fact, but I absolutely believe it to be true) I felt she was trying to communicate something to me, something I couldn’t quite understand. After speaking with the owner, I felt as if Lily was trying to say goodbye.
Sadness overwhelmed me after I hung up the phone, the thought of not seeing Lily ever again clouding my eyes with tears. Over the course of the next couple of days I resolved to visit the owner, to ask if I could get the new owners phone number so as to visit Lily from time to time. This story would get very long if I tried to explain every nuance, every detail that endeared her to me so, suffice it to say that in our shared experiences I loved her more than most.
I met with her three days later to pick up my final payment and return her key and after inquiring she adamantly refused, telling me that Lily was beginning a new life, she didn’t need any lingering vestige of her old one. Crestfallen, I pressed and, after several minutes the owner sighed and asked me to have a seat. I have never been one for precognition, but in her demeanor I instantly knew what she was going to tell me, in fact could have told her instead. After working in the veterinary field for as long as I had I’d seen many tragic, terrible things, and I knew that what she was about to tell me was going to fall in that category. Feeling a weight like a lead ball settle on my chest, I collapsed into an overstuffed chair.
“You’ll think I’m a terrible person, but I suppose you have a right to know…” she began, and sorrow clutched my heart. She’d gone and done it, the one thing you simply cannot take back.
“Lily and I never really got on that well, she was my husbands dog after all.”
I stared at her mutely, unable to say anything.
“She’d cost me so much money, destroying the fence, chewing the boards on the deck…when she kicked dirt into the air conditioning unit that was the last straw.”
“You had her put down,” I said through numb lips, feeling tears well up in my eyes but fighting them back. My anger was so strong that I was determined not to let her see me cry. Instead I stared at her impassively, keeping a poker face.
“Yes,” she said at last, her eyes dry, her manner unaffected. In her words I could plainly hear indifference, in her body language anything but quilt. “I feel bad, but it had to be done. I simply couldn’t keep her anymore.”
I let her ramble on for a while, on the outside calm but on the inside steaming. I couldn’t get out of her house fast enough, and once my back was turned to her the tears flowed down my face like a torrential rain, giant sobs making my chest hitch and shudder. I cried all the way home, and then cried some more once inside. Those haunting last few minutes with Lily played over and over in my head, the way she seemed to be trying to tell me something. And here I’d found a home for her two months previously…if only I’d known her owner was going to resort to this I could have helped her. I slept poorly for a week and, when the owner called one day and asked if I would keep what she’d done to myself, it was very difficult to be civil with her.
Two weeks later I needed to call Lily’s old vet regarding another pet I was caring for, a completely unrelated matter. I loathed the doctor for what she’d done, for assisting in what I’d come to think of as murder, but I required her advice. Surprisingly she took the call herself (most times you speak with a technician) and, after what she said, I knew she’d done so with the express purpose of speaking to me directly.
“It’s very sad about Lily,” she said, and I quickly agreed, not knowing what else to say. I didn’t want to criticize her judgment as I’d known her a long time and had a very good rapport with her. So instead I held my tongue. “But after what the owner told me, we had to do it.”
“What?” I asked, perplexed. She euthanized Lily for kicking dirt into an air conditioning unit?
“I never thought Lily to be the type of dog to attack children, but I guess we see a lot of surprising things in our business, don’t we?”
My mind whirled. Attacked children? What the hell? And then I realized what she meant, and with this sudden awareness I at once stopped hating her. Here I’d thought she’d been in cahoots with the owner, putting down a perfectly healthy dog, but instead she’d been lied to. Lily’s owner had made up a story so that the vet would take care of it, no questions asked. I should have known.
“Yeah,” I replied, seeing no reason to share with her the true nature of the situation. “It was really surprising.”
We spoke for a few more minutes and I hung up. It was then that I decided if I ever finished the beast of a novel I was working on I would dedicate it to Lily, so that I’d always remember her. Not that I could ever forget her, but I wanted to immortalize her the only way I knew how. A friend of mine later commented on the photo of her, after I published it, saying that the picture was a bummer because Lily looked so sad. My response was that it was supposed to look sad, given the circumstances but, in all honesty, it was the only photograph of her I had. Rest in peace Lily. I’ll always love you.

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1 Comment

Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Companion animals, true stories

 

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One response to “Dearest Lily, Rest In Peace

  1. AMIR

    January 20, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Yeah the picture is a bummer, she was given away ….. fucked up

     

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