Boo is very sick. Last night it was clear she was very puny and this morning I got up to find a whole lot of fetid mess on the floor, including blood. The sun was not up yet and the vet doesn’t open until 7:30 AM, so I got to work cleaning. I have always been beyond squeamish about nasty, gross stuff and always admired Sherod’s capacity to very matter-of-factly clean up in situations like this. I am ashamed to acknowledge that on way, way more occasions than I should have, I begged, cajoled, conspired to get his help because I didn’t want to clean up the mess, claiming all the while, “I just can’t”.
I still had to work hard against my gag reflex this morning. I lost the battle, stopped to take care of that, and then went back to my work. By 7, the floors were clean. I got ready and headed into Selma with my sweet dog and friend. The doctor took one look at her and the bag I brought in with some of what I had found and began to give his assistant instructions. Boo was led away and he asked me to head back home because it would take him all morning to do tests on her. I am still waiting to hear.
In this anxious time there is yet more learning for me. When Boo got sick last month, I was beside myself at the notion that she, who has been Sherod’s faithful companion, might die on my watch, as if that somehow would reflect that I had not taken good enough care of her. Last night, I could see how puny she was feeling and I actually started to dial our new vet’s home number and then put the phone down. And then I found myself stepping back, refusing to go into high drama.
Boo is almost 14 years old—that’s a lot of years for a dog, especially a Lab. To take her in last night would have been to start a chain of crisis responses that somehow felt wrong. Instead, I took time to sit on the floor with her and rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. That tail wagged the whole time. I got to think back and remember when we brought her home. Instead of trying to fix it, I allowed myself to accept her old age and infirmity. When I finally turned out the light, she was lying right next to Sherod’s and my bed, on my side—she hasn’t ever done that before, though she sleeps in the room with me. I woke up a couple of times in the night, heard her breathing and went back to sleep, assuring myself that she was still alive.
This morning, when I cleaned up the mess, I understood Sherod’s matter-of-factness. It’s about love. It is about doing what you have to do because that is what it means to love. Even when it stinks to high heaven, even when it is gross and especially, when the mess leaves no room for doubt that all is not well, you clean up. You do what you can to help, including leaving her with someone more competent to respond than you are. You surrender her and your own self to a mercy far greater than we allow ourselves to see most of the time. Now, I wait in fear, hope and trust that no matter what the outcome, my girl Boo is held gently in the hand of her creator and nothing can change that.