Last Friday I got a call I’d been half expecting for months. Duke was gone. Ol’ Dukers. The second-best worst dog I’ve ever had.
Seven years ago we had what I thought was a full household. I was married and we had Sasha, my heart and soul dog. She didn’t play well with others, so one was enough. Who am I kidding? Not only did she not play well with others, she tried to eat all the others. Ornery and protective to a fault, she ruled this roost with an iron fist. And lots and lots of smooshy wrinkles and the softest fur and the sweetest smelling ears….
One day my ex husband saw a muddy old dog wandering in a cow pasture near a pond. Loving animals was one of my ex’s best qualities, so he brought him home. The dog had recently been shaved, so we knew he belonged to someone. I put ads in all the papers, listed him at all the animal shelters in the nearby counties, even called all the vets in the area he was found. He had a pretty distinguishing feature-a giant tumor on his stomach.
Nobody ever claimed him and I came to realize nobody ever would, either. Duke was high maintenance. At the smallest clap of thunder he would lose his damn mind. Through the years, he broke out of wire crates, broke his teeth chewing the plastic to get out and once jumped through a glass window. I never understood how his desire to run away from thunder could be so strong it rendered him impervious to the pain. But the fear that would have him panting and running would eventually exhaust him, and he would lie there for hours, droopy eyed and spent.
Duke and I tried to stay together after the marriage fell apart but he missed his daddy and would do things like pee on the Christmas tree to show me just how much. So off he went to spend a little more time alone in his kennel than I liked but I wasn’t calling Duke’s shots anymore.
There was a time filled with anger and disgust and mistrust and all those emotions that go hand in fist with divorce but through it all we were still bound together by money that was owed and by Duke, the emotionally damaged dog that needed us more than we could ever understand.
Years passed and my ex and I made it through the minefields of resentment and righteous indignation. Eventually debts were paid off and I reached that moment when I could finally give him the big “$#&* off” I’d been waiting for but a funny thing happened that day. I realized I no longer had any interest in saying that. We’d reached a mostly peaceful place and he knew there was always room for Dukers at this inn.
The last time I babysat Duke I came home late at night to find him in a puddle of his own sick, unable to stand. That night was tough and I worried I was going to have to make a tough decision and take that out of my ex’s hands. Duke rallied and was able to go home with Jeff and spend another two months with his daddy. When the time came it was on my ex’s watch, as it should have been. Duke had been his faithful companion since the day he picked him up, muddy, lost, hungry and sad, such sad eyes.
I knew Duke was on borrowed time and I was ready for the phone call. What I wasn’t ready for was the pang of sadness I felt when I realized the last tie to my failed marriage was broken.
And while losing Duke fills my heart with love and sadness, it also fills my heart with gladness to know that I have finally made it to the point where I can look back and replace all those hard emotions with something softer, seen through a filter of kindness.