Boris had been on medicine for congestive heart failure for the past month, when the seizures and rasping breaths started. The medicine didn’t get him back to 100 percent, but it helped. This weekend, the medicine stopped helping. He was having seizures again, worse ones than before, and losing control of his legs, whimpering on our kitchen floor. He couldn’t breathe. The vet did everything she could. We gave him chicken sausages – the good stuff for humans, not the pet food kind – and a ride in the car with all the windows down. And then we said goodbye.
I feel compelled to say something about the power of companionship and love in unexpected places. My husband Erik is a doting pet person, but not a cutesy one. I was banned from dressing up Boris for Halloween, despite what I swear were fabulous costume ideas. Boris wasn’t our ring bearer, much less a wedding guest. He didn’t “sign” the Christmas card. This is not that kind of pet story. In 1999, several years before I met him, E’s dad died. E’s dad was a healthy, vibrant and athletically gifted man. The brain tumor was totally unexpected. He was only 56. In the months after, E, who’d never been a pet owner, decided to adopt Boris as a way to help cope with that crushing and irreplaceable loss. The little schnauzer puppy brought him some joy and comfort during an otherwise unbearable period. When we held Boris this weekend at the vet’s, and watched him slide, seconds after the injection, from Here into the Out There, I rubbed Boris’s back and thanked him aloud for caring for my husband in a time when I couldn’t be there. I thanked him for being needed brightness in a time of terrible dark. I meant those thanks. I’ll be forever grateful to Boris for a job well done, for helping out someone I love. Boris isn’t the only one who did a good job. People say you can tell how a man will treat you based on how he treats waitstaff, his mother, and animals. E gets 5 stars in all three categories. Pet ownership, for all its joys and rewards and zaniness, is also expensive and often inconvenient. For 12 years – longer than plenty of people maintain friendships, stay married, remain in one job – E took care of Boris. He never complained. Never shirked responsibility. Never made excuses. Never lost his temper. If 90 percent of life is showing up, E shows up. Boris was lucky to have him, and so am I. We’ve been sharing good memories, stories about the way Boris seemed to build forts out of pillows and ran like a cantering horse. The time we tested out baby equipment before T was born by putting Boris in the Ergo carrier and bouncy chair. The time Boris came in from his night-time pee with a headless squirrel in his mouth, and my screams echoed up and down Chicago’s North Shore. It’s funny, when E and I first started dating, it was pretty casual – my family said they started hearing lots of stories not so much about this nice guy I’d met, but about his dog. The joke was that I had a crush on Boris before I had one on E. Who would have guessed we’d end up a family? Now we have a daughter who happily shrieked “Bor-zis” before she even tried to say Mommy. No offense taken. Boris buddy, I know you’re in dog heaven, eating sausages and riding in open-windowed cars all day long; breathing easy, legs strong. Thank you for everything. We’ll always miss you.