Each morning, a friend from church sends out an email listing all those who are in need of prayer, mostly those who are ill, recovering from illness, or experiencing loss. She always adds a Bible verse at the end of the email. Today the verse was Psalm 30: 5b: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” So far the weeping still endures, and little joy has come in the morning.
Wednesday morning March 13, 2013, at 11:45, we had to euthanize Wrangler. It was my decision, and I know it was right. Trina and I discussed it, and we agreed. Tuesday afternoon, I emailed Rob, Tiffany, Andrew, and Dylan. I emailed Jon and Julie. I talked with Jon and Rob on the phone.
At 5:00 a.m., Wednesday, I emailed the following explanation to the Hardin-Simmons family.
I’m listening to Yusef Komunyakaa read his poem “Facing It” on You Tube, filmed at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, New Jersey. It is 5:00 a.m. As usual, I’ve been up since 4:00 when the alarm went off. I started the coffee maker, took Wrangler out back to “do his business,” then we went out to pick up the newspaper and also two of our neighbors’ papers to place on their front porches. Wrangler loves going out for the papers even though he has to stay on his leash. Now we are back in the house; I’m sitting at my writing table with my cup of coffee and three squares of Dove dark chocolate; Wrangler is lying on his orthopedic dog bed beside me, and I’m sobbing like I haven’t done since I was a child in my room with the door shut. What is wrong with me? I don’t recall crying when my parents died or when Frances and Jack died, nor when John Peslak died, nor in Viet Nam.
“I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.”
Yusef is referring to his visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. His tears are for his fallen comrades, especially for his friend Andrew Johnson. Mine are for me and for a dog, Wrangler. Who weeps for the loss of a dog when he didn’t for his parents and friends? What’s worse is I’m telling you about it. Nobody weeps for someone else’s pet. I’m trying not to sound maudlin. I’m failing. Wrangler will be euthanized at 11:45 this morning.
I’m writing you because you all know Wrangler. Most of you know him through the past three years, 76 issues, of the Hardin-Simmons University Light Standard. Others know Wrangler in person. All the funny, loving things you know about Wrangler are true. That is exactly who Wrangler is, who his family and close friends know, but he is also another dog, one he can’t help being.
I apologize for the length of this email, but in various ways Wrangler has been a part of your life, and it’s easier for me to tell all of you this way rather than in person. Monday afternoon, I had to run numerous errands around town; they took about half the afternoon. Trina called me after I had been out an hour or so to tell me that Wrangler had slipped out the garage door and run down the street. Trina did not realize he was gone until he returned and until one of our neighbors from up the street came to the house to ask Trina if she had seen this large, gray dog. Trina said the dog was Wrangler and that he had gotten out of the house. Our neighbor was surprised that the dog was Wrangler; she had not known the big, aggressive dog was he.
This is what she told Trina, and Trina told me on the phone: Two of her young granddaughters were visiting her. The girls were playing outside, and Wrangler ran up the street toward them. Apparently he barked and snapped at them, and they ran into the house. Their father (Trina thinks it was their father) came outside and went over to Wrangler to look at his tag and see the name of Wrangler’s owner. When he reached for Wrangler, he bit the man in the leg. He was wearing light jogging pants (something like that). Wrangler did not tear the pants, but his bite broke the skin beneath the pants. It was not a serious bite; Trina saw it later; the man had a Band-Aid over it. I guess he went inside after being bitten, and Wrangler came home. Our neighbor called Animal Control (which she should have; I would have done the same thing). They came to our house and talked with Trina. They asked if Wrangler’s vaccinations were up to date. Trina said yes. They gave her a Warning Citation about Wrangler. They said that if Wrangler had torn the man’s pants when he bit him, they would have had to take Wrangler to Animal Control for observation (ten days I think).
Last summer, Wrangler bit Mark Davis’s hand when Trina and I were walking Wrangler and had stopped to talk with Carol (she lives across from Mark), and Mark came over. I told Mark not to try to pat Wrangler, but he did anyway, and Wrangler bit his hand and broke the skin, only a small bite, but it drew blood. Mark was not concerned, but I was, and that was when I purchased the muzzle and put it on Wrangler every time we went for a walk. Earlier last year, Wrangler had gotten out, and Trina ran after him, and Mrs. Roy was visiting Carol (her mother); when Mrs. Roy tried to grab Wrangler’s collar, he growled and snapped at her but did not bite. I am certain that Wrangler will try to bite anyone he does not trust who tries to grab him. Trina and I thought we could keep Wrangler in the house or in the backyard, and we have done so, but like yesterday, if he accidentally gets out, he will take off down the street, and he could bite anyone, even children. I’m terrified of this happening.
Wrangler is gentle, patient, and easy-going with his immediate family and friends, but he has never been comfortable with people he does not know or trust. He was like this when we got him from Rescue The Animals. I know this sounds silly, but yesterday on NPR, I heard a story about the toll that being in Afghanistan and Iraq has had on military dogs. The story said that these dogs seem to be exhibiting the same kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that many veterans are experiencing. It may be that whatever happened to Wrangler and his sister their first four months of life has caused him to be so distrustful and suddenly aggressive. Wrangler and his sister were found wandering in the West Texas wilds by a farmer. Trina and I took Wrangler when he was four months old. He had to learn to trust us.
Trina and I cannot guarantee that Wrangler won’t slip out of the house in the future. We can’t take the chance that he might attack someone who tries to approach him. I’m especially afraid he might bite children. Even as a pup, he growled at Emily and Brittany, the two girls who live next door, and (as a young dog) he also growled and snapped at the elementary school boys (the triplets) who live at the end of the block and their friends who ran over to surround Wrangler in order to pat him one day when I was walking him. Many times when Wrangler has been out in public he has growled at people when they got too close or tried to pat him. One of the first times I realized Wrangler definitely had a problem was when the PetSmart groomers called me to come get him; he was growling and snapping when they tried to put him in a crate.
Trina and I have tried everything we know to help Wrangler be calm when strangers are around and when we go for a walk. I’m certain he can’t change. I don’t know how I’m going to cope without Wrangler, especially since it is my decision to have him euthanized, but I can’t risk his injuring anyone.
I don’t understand why Wrangler can be so gentle, patient, and loving with family and friends and so defensive about almost everyone else. He has gotten worse as he has aged, I think partly because he is in some pain from arthritis, hip problems, and related joint stiffness from his two knee reconstruction surgeries. He has difficulty lying down and getting up. Much of his personality is, I’m sure, genetic, and I don’t discount the trauma of his first four months. Wrangler doesn’t forget anything. He is the smartest dog I have ever known.
You have all experienced so much grief and loss, and I’m embarrassed to have gone into such detail about my sadness over Wrangler. There is no comparison to your grief or to the horrors people around the world experience each day. I’ll say this, and then I’ll quit. For the past three nights, Wrangler has suddenly started barking, not his bark for me to wake up and take him outside, but his protective, aggressive bark as if Evil were standing at our front door. When I got up to check, no one was outside. This morning when I took Wrangler out to get the papers, I was hoping a large, gray, wolf-dog would come rushing at us. Wrangler, of course, would save me, and I would know that the aggressive, gray dog that bit the man was not Wrangler. I knew better. I can’t save Wrangler.
This is my third morning sitting at my writing table without Wrangler lying beside me. It is so empty in this room. But then, it’s not. Wrangler is everywhere—the gentle, loving, funny Wrangler, the Wrangler of The Light Standard. The other Wrangler was not the true Wrangler. The wolf part of Wrangler’s brain, those deep, genetic codes and instincts, would just sometimes take control over his gentle, tender personality. I think that instinct, coupled with his strong, herding-dog trait to protect, sometimes combined to the extent that he could not distinguish between stranger-friend and stranger-enemy. I thought I could keep stranger-friends safe from that old-brain part of Wrangler, and Wrangler safe from himself. The incident last Monday confirmed I couldn’t.
Many friends have emailed me to say how sad they are about Wrangler. They talked about their pets and the grief felt when losing them, and most said they understood my questioning why I did not cry when my parents died, nor when I lost close friends, but couldn’t seem to stop crying over the loss of Wrangler. One friend said some losses are just too large to comprehend until later. I understood. The loss of Wrangler is small—close, ever-present, uncomplicated. The tears are immediate.
Wednesday morning at Dr. Lynn Lawhon’s office, I was afraid I would break down completely, but I got through it. Wrangler’s passage was peaceful; he fell asleep in my arms.
Trina and I, and Rob, Tiffany, Andrew, and Dylan have been together four times since Tuesday evening. They came over Tuesday to hug Wrangler and tell him goodbye; they came over again Wednesday morning to bring him some cards Andrew and Dylan had made. Wednesday night we had pizza and played this silly game, so we could laugh at silly things; it was good to laugh. Then last night, Trina and I went over to their house to give them some of Wrangler’s things for Clarabel, their Labrador retriever.
Jon has called each day to ask how I’m doing, how Andrew and Dylan are doing. Today I hope to tell him “Better.” If we are given a lifetime allotment of tears, then I think I have used up most of mine the past four days. Maybe the loss of a loved pet is so hard because dogs like Wrangler give their love unconditionally (well, Wrangler expected snacks). Their devotion may be the closest we can come to understanding what is meant by God’s unconditional love. Wrangler gave me that love for eight years.