It is a hard thing to watch your friend fade away. It is the hardest thing I can imagine—to see day by day as she slips from the world of the living into the long night of silence. She is still with me now, at my side, but I know beyond doubt that she is losing her battle with cancer and old age. Her 15th birthday is coming up next month, and I know that we will not see her 16th together. Sofia, my beautiful brown puppy turned beautiful gray dog—where has the time gone?
She has been with me now for so long that I cannot fathom what life will be like without her. She has been with me through the best and worst of times, through days when I didn’t want to go on and days that I wished would never end. Through moving across the continent three times. Through desert summers and Midwest winters. Through lonely nights when the sound of her snoring was the most comforting sound I ever heard. Through all these days and nights, it has always been Sofia.
Our relationship has grown since those early puppy days, when I didn’t understand very well how to relate to her. I wanted things my own way. Why get up so early to go for a walk? Why run so fast and chase rabbits? (She never caught any). Why destroy the furniture when she’s left alone? For a long time I failed to see things her way. But in the end she got through to me, with her patience, with her persistence, with her deep brown eyes. And though I think we understand one another pretty well now, there is still something in her that eludes me.
I know without her I would not be the person I am. Whatever patience I have has come partially from her. And whatever respect for animals and the natural world I possess is a direct product of my friendship with Sofia. It was her eyes looking back at me that I saw that day, at the Arizona State Fair petting zoo. In pigs and cows and sheep, I saw Sofia looking back at me. Giving up meat was the easiest decision I ever made, the only decision I could even imagine, once that realization hit me.
I have said that watching her grow old and battle cancer is a hard thing. But the hardest thing is still to come, ahead of us and approaching like the call of fate. Even now it is present with me, clouding my days. In all likelihood, and against everything in me, I know that it will be my decision that will end Sofia’s life. Whatever the case of her final illness, at some point she will need me to decide the right time to say goodbye. This will be the worst day of my life.
And all along, this is what the two of us have been headed for, from that day so many years ago when her thoughtless owner dumped a box of puppies in front of the Target in San Gabriel, California. I sometimes wonder if this painful truth is what keeps some people from caring more about animals, especially those animals we have domesticated. It is a melancholy fate that haunts all our dealings with our canine friends, this crushing weight that makes us responsible for their life and death. Who indeed could bear to have human friends if we knew that we would have decide their last day on earth?
I hope that when that time comes, I can view an easy death as my last kindness to Sofia. And I hope that somehow she knows how much I love her. I am looking over at her now as she wakes up from sleep, shakes off, and paces around her bed looking for the right spot to lie down. She wonders, I think, why I am so sad. Perhaps it is best that I cannot explain it. Summer is gone; fall is here; winter is coming.
Stefan Dolgert is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science.
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