The night we brought Boz home from the shelter to live with us, he had a good meal and passed out from exhaustion on his new bed in our bedroom. He hadn’t had a bath in who knows how long, and he snored. We couldn't sleep. John finally moved Boz, bed and all, into the laundry room and shut the door. If Boz noticed, he didn't complain. He just wanted to be a good boy. I hope he wasn't afraid, all alone in there.
The next evening after we bathed him, I made a place for Boz under a table in my home office with his pallet, some towels and a toy. I said goodnight to him there and petted him until he fell sleep. He was still tired from all the big changes in his life. He still snored.
I began to pet Boz to sleep every night. After he’d been with us for about two weeks we were going through this routine when he opened his eyes and looked into mine. He wasn't challenging me. He was checking me out. I don't put human emotions on dogs, but he might have been trying to figure out how to categorize me or wondering why I was being so nice. Or he might have held my gaze because I was holding his, and he was a good boy and wanted to do what he was supposed to do.
"I love you," I said. He sighed and laid his head in my palm.
It was Wittgenstein who said, "If a lion could speak, we could not understand him." Part of the reason for my overflowing love for Boz was that I couldn't explain it to him.
Every night, either John or I sat beside Boz's pallet to pet him to sleep. We made it clear in our cooing that we loved him. Every night I said the words, "I love you." Whether or not he knew what it meant didn't matter. It was part of his ritual and he liked to hear it.
Sometimes he would raise a front leg to allow better access for the petting of his underside. The more endearing gesture was when he pulled my hand to his chest with a gentle paw, saying, in effect, "pet me." Or "love me." Tickling his chest was the highest expression of love as far as he was concerned.
In our ten years with Boz we heard his low, threatening bark very few times. Instead he vocalized in little moans, or sometimes he’d simply breathe loudly to let us know he had a need to be met. At night he would send up a moan before he fell asleep, "Come pet me some more." In the morning I'd find him curled on his bed by the heating vent with his nose tucked into one of his towels. (He had a collection.)
I came to know the mass of his skull with its silky, pussy willow fur; the fleshy folds of his neck; the powerful shoulders; the string of big beads that was his backbone; the joyfully expressive stump where someone cruel and ignorant had chopped off his tail long ago; the waxy, black scar from his knee surgery; the slender bones of his legs, so close to the surface. His tummy was hairless. So, too, the soft, meaty spaces between his thighs. Between his footpads rose tiny, gold tufts, and his paws smelled like warm, buttered sand.
When he was young, he was smooth. He acquired lumps as he grew older. He had a little bump where the silky flap of his right ear met his skull. His fur was once reddish brown with black on his face and paws. As he aged the red-brown remained though it became less smooth, and all his black turned white until the only black parts were his nose, his eyes and his claws. Boz had the prettiest feet.
But he got old. He got cancer and a tumor. In his last few days the tumor bled. We washed and rewashed his things until he didn’t need them anymore. After, I saved one blanket and one towel. Like a spirit rising from a body, the scent finally left the blanket. The towel still smells of him. I won't let it go until there's no ghost left in it.
He was my little one. I miss him. That's just the way it is. Sometimes when I'm alone I hold the towel and try to smell him. My missing him builds up and I need to purge it with tears. I go longer between purges now. I don't want to make progress in my grief, but I have.
The box of Boz’s ashes sits on the built-in next to the fireplace, with his collar and a photo. All except two of his tags from over the years hang on a chain from my bulletin board. John took Boz's city I.D. for his own keychain, and I took the personal one, with Boz's full name and phone numbers on it. Funny that a dog should have phone numbers (both land line and cell) and a last name.
There are spots of dried blood on the front porch. They remind me of Boz's misery in his final hours, when we stayed up all night with him in shifts, promising we'd take his suffering away as soon as the doctor could get there. The spots remind me of the morning he died when I found him in the garage, weak and unable to stand. They remind me how much Boz needed us, how vulnerable he was, how I loved him. Like my grief I don’t want the spots to fade, but I know they will with time.
People told me we’d know the right moment to let Boz go because he’d tell us. We knew, but not because of any message from him. When I woke up next to Boz that morning he was looking at me, his eyes seeming to ask, “What happens next?”
And the doctor arrived, and she took his suffering away, and it was right. Which perhaps makes it easier, but I wouldn't know.
While he faded into sleep I told him I loved him. He knew what it meant. It meant he was a good boy.