For T-Bone, aka T., T-Boney, Mr. T., Buddy, Bub, Best Dog in the World, Little Fucker, Sweetness, and, in Italy, Tiaboni. Long May You Run.
A common bumper sticker around town, adhered to the back of sporty SUVs with bike racks, on Suburu station wagons, and Prius (Prii?), reads: “Dog is My Co-Pilot.” I’ve never quite understood what this means, beyond the obvious dyslexic play on God, but you do see a lot of dogs riding shotgun in these cars, looking eager and contented, some with their heads out the window, floppy ears blown back, tongues lolling.
G’s dog, T-Bone, has been, if not his co-pilot, then his constant and loyal sidekick for almost seventeen years. (This is three times the length of any relationship G. has had with a woman—a fact I do not take lightly.) T. is a blue heeler/beagle mix, with a handsome blueish-black merle coat, beagle ears, and a bandit mask. There is something noble about him; he has a profile that should be stamped on a Roman coin. He is dignified, even as he hoovers the kitchen floor, or sniffs another dog’s butt. The dog is incapable of looking bad.
T-Bone’s Achilles’ heel is his obsession with food. He is constantly craving it, seeking it, or making himself anxious over the procurement of it. This is especially hard for him, because G. is strict about his diet—no people food ever; two meals a day of dry dog food; an occasional milk bone treat—still, T-Bone is ever on the look-out, sharking around the kitchen in the rare, but wonderful event that we might drop a morsel of something delicious—a piece of cheese, or a grape. In lieu of this, he resorts to drinking voraciously and forever from his water bowl, scarfing tissues from out of my purse, or, in the summertime, incessantly licking our bare legs.
When I got my dog, Ninja, from the animal shelter, five years ago, T-Bone barely acknowledged her existence. She tried to get him to play with her, jumping all around him, waving her front paws, yipping, even swatting him in the face with her tail, and he would just turn away with a look of infinite forbearance, or, once in a while, give her a short, perfunctory growl. I have a video of Ninja as a puppy, running around the kitchen, pouncing on an ill-fated squeaky toy. Pan to T-Bone. “What do you think of your new baby sister?” I ask, off-camera. Another view of Ninja shaking the toy in her mouth. Squeak, squeak. Pan to T-Bone, his face in profile, as he issues a profound and monumental yawn.
My cancer diagnosis, in 2014, coincided with T-Bone’s decline. He was going blind and deaf; his normally bright black eyes were clouded with cataracts; he had a gimpy back leg. I was, that first summer of chemotherapy, listless and nauseated, unable to taste food, or to do much of anything. Often, when I lay in bed all day, T-Bone came upstairs to sleep in his bed beside me, or, if I lay on the couch downstairs, he would jump up to keep my feet warm. G., who suffered a major depression years ago, says that T. was the same with him. He would lie on the couch with him all day, for days on end, intuiting G.’s mood and offering his stolid companionship.
When I felt better, we went on walks together, Ninja blazing up and down embankments, chasing squirrels, while T-Bone stayed right beside me, doing his little hobbledy-hitch, like Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. I came to deeply appreciate T-Bone’s stoicism, his always game, you’re going that way, I’m going too, demeanor. Dog is my Buddha. His is a calming presence, a reassuring one.
I am confused over verb tenses. T-Bone is. He is to me. To G. His smiling face, his shining eyes. Once you have loved a dog, you love it forever.
Last week, a vet came to our house to put T-Bone down. His last few months had been rough; he’d lost his ability to walk without falling over every few steps; he was almost completely deaf and blind, and his mind seemed to be going. He forgot to ask to be let out, and had daily accidents in the house, or he stood on the hinged-side of the door, and seemed confused when we tried to get him to go around to the part that opens. Still, his appetite was as voracious as ever, and he seemed to like just being with us, in proximity, while we were cooking, or watching a movie, and especially, while we were eating.
On his last day, T-Bone, who could still manage a short turn in the park, (he walked much better on grass), simply lay down, and refused to even try to stand. At home, he turned his face away from a full bowl of food, something he had never in his life done before. Something in his expression changed, his eyes seemed blacker, his gaze already beyond us or anything that we could see.
The vet first gave T-Bone a sedative. He was lying on his own bed, with me and G. on either side, hugging him, saying our goodbyes. After about ten minutes, she administered the IV, and in another two minutes, it was done; life eliding into death, in a moment so still, so serene, as to be almost imperceptible.
I was struck by how gently but resolutely T-Bone had let us know that it was his time. He died at home, surrounded by the people who loved him the most, peacefully, and without pain. It was a sad moment, but it was also a surprisingly beautiful one. In this, and in many other ways, I wish to emulate him.