My Bonster: Part 2

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As Bonnie paced back and forth behind me in the back seat on the way home, I thought about the vet’s “diagnosis.” Maybe Bonnie’s temperament was a good thing—after all the kids and I were alone. What if someone broke into the house? Bonnie would no doubt make short work of any intruder. I pulled the car over and motioned for Bonnie to jump in the front seat. When I looked into her eyes that day, really looked for the first time, I was convinced that it was no accident that Bonnie and I, a couple of damaged mutts with trust issues, had found each other. I gave her a scratch behind the ears and started to pull my hand away, but she moved forward and nudged my palm with her nose as if saying, “Do that some more.” I gave her a generous rub down her back, and then said it was time to go home, but she batted her paw at me when I pulled away. I then put my hand up, palm open, to pet the top of her head—she cringed. My heart broke. What had happened to this dog? I hugged her close and nuzzled the top of her fuzzy head. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in love.

Bonnie’s man-phobia, which at times could spill over to strangers in general, caused her to lead a fairly limited life. I had to walk her after dark in case we would run into another dog walker. Other dogs would send Bonnie into a frenzy. I didn’t take her on many rides because she would become so agitated upon seeing a pedestrian, I feared losing control of the wheel as she leaped from front to back seat. She also couldn’t travel with me to the New England shore to visit my extended family because my mother refused to have anything to do with that “crazy mutt” who had scared her so on her last visit to Pennsylvania. So no long frolics along the beach with my puppy dog, no salt-sea drenched fur or sandy paws. Yes, Bonnie’s life was a little limited, but she loved us. And as time went on, it became obvious that she loved me in particular.

Four years passed, and Kurt came into our lives. The kids were now ten and seven, and busy with school and friends. I was finally willing to at least consider the possibility that there might be at least one decent guy out there who would go bowling with me once or twice a year. A friend convinced me to go online, and a brief post caught my eye. I left an even briefer response, just my name and phone number. The next day, there was a message on my machine: “Hi Bonnie. This is Kurt….” Yep, I lied. But you can’t be too careful these days. If the guy turned out to be a nut, it was Bonnie’s problem, not mine. I called back; we talked, and, sensing that I was dealing with a fairly normal human, revealed my real name. (“By the way, there’s one more thing you should know … “) He came to the door the following Friday with a box of candy for me, an apple pie for the kids, and a box of Liver Snaps for you know who. I was sold, but the real Bonnie wasn’t quite as welcoming. It took a few months, but by the time Kurt had taken me to the Newport shore to ask me to marry him, he had plied Bonnie with enough snacks to have become tolerated, if not totally accepted. Bonnie eventually began to look for his affection as she did mine, but mommy always remained number one.

Eventually Bonnie and I began to slow down and get thicker around the middle. She and I were aging together. As her faculties started to diminish, Bonnie just could not be in a room without me. If I got up to go to the kitchen, she would push herself up, arthritic in the hips as she now was, and come after me. At night, she had to sleep in my room on the floor because she could no longer jump up on the bed. She couldn’t make it up the steps on her own so Alex or Kurt would carry her up. If they weren’t home, since she was too heavy for me to carry, I would push up and steady Bonnie’s backside as she pulled up each step with her front paws. If I went upstairs for just a moment to make the bed or to get the laundry, Bonnie would yell at me from the bottom of the steps. The first time I heard that basso profound yelp, followed by the glissando of a banshee-like shriek, I feared our puppy was possessed.

Bonnie started to have trouble leaping on her chair in the living room. She would back up to get a running start, hesitate a moment, then let fly. If she miscalculated and hit the edge of the cushion, she would try again. Once she made it, the kids and I would hoot and holler and applaud vigorously, which we could tell she appreciated. Huffing and puffing, she would settle into her perch then let out a great sigh of self-satisfaction, as if she’d just scored a ten on the uneven parallel bars. If I even dared help her, she would have none of it. Either she did it herself or she stayed on the floor. The dog had dignity.

Time passed as time does; both kids grew up and left home. Kurt, Bonnie, and I had an empty nest. The pup that was with us on Alex’s first day of kindergarten and his first day of college would curl up at my feet while I watched television or read or flop on the floor in the kitchen as I cooked. She still sniffed every blade of grass on her walks and ate with abandon, but the arthritis was getting much worse, she could hardly hear anymore, and cataracts clouded her eyes. She was over sisteen years old; I needed to start facing the inevitable. How miserable was she? Bonnie was never one to show pain. Was she suffering? Kurt assured me that it wasn’t time yet, that she’d let me know. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to make the decision, that I would wake up one morning and she would have peacefully passed overnight. But on May 11, 2011, Bonnie stopped eating. When Kurt came home from work, I had my head against the wall fighting back the sobs. “I think she’s telling me,” I said.
I took her to the vet the next day who said she would run tests, keep Bonnie overnight, and finish the next day. I shook my head frantically and said that she had to do the tests that day because Bonnie wouldn’t live without me overnight. The vet respected my distress and agreed. I gave Bonnie a hug and looked into her eyes, saying through the tears, “Mommy will pick you up later, okay?”

The vet called me throughout the day to update me about Bonnie’s condition. The final call confirmed the worst. Bonnie had cancer of the spleen. The vet told me that they would know more if they operated the next day, but I said no. At sixteen and a half, Bonnie wouldn’t make it through the surgery and if she did, the recovery would be long and painful. I told the vet I would pick her up right away, and then bring her back the next day for her last appointment. Of course, I jumped on the internet to look up spleen cancer in dogs. I found out that her diseased spleen could burst, leaving Bonnie in agony. I needed to do the right thing for my little gal.

I had been sleeping downstairs on the couch with her for some months because the stairs had become totally impossible, but that last night I slept with Bonnie on the floor. The vet had hydrated her so she wasn’t as nauseated anymore, and we spent the next day eating roast beef, Klondike bars, peanut butter crackers, bologna, barbecue chips—anything that I could find that she could relish. Then at 4:30, we put her on that flimsy old leash that I had kept (the dirty collar was long gone), and led her out the door for the last time. After Kurt lifted her into the car, Alex, who had just finished his first year in college and whom I told not to come, pushed into the back seat with Bonnie. Emily, in her last week of college finals, had said her good-byes over the phone.

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