Monday, April 09, 2012

Remembering Bo

 When I first saw Bo in his cage in the Humane Society kennel on Howell Mill Rd., he was the only dog not to caper and call to me for attention. He lay at the back of his cage, his front paws elegantly crossed.  He looked up as I passed, inquisitively knitting his brows.  When I doubled back to see the calm dog, he didn't move, but thumped his tail.  When I knelt, he came forward to lick my hand, and I'd made my choice. 

Back then he was called BJ, and the card said he was "hyper but lovable."  Within minutes of adopting him, I was sure that I'd made a mistake.  He tugged on his leash, ignored my calls and reassuring pats.  In the back of my car, he paced and fretted the whole way from Atlanta to Kennesaw.  Then when I let him out of the car, he unloaded himself on the garage floor.  Suddenly I knew what he'd been fretting about during that hour, and I was grateful to him for the first time.

As the young dog, he submitted to queenly Cleo.  She and I were both in mourning for my first lab, Churchill, and we had both just moved to Atlanta.   She had grown suddenly old; but Bo made her young again.  He was playful, and maybe too playful.  At first, I was alarmed at his tearing around the back yard and his determined lunging at me for the stick or tennis ball that I held. 

When Cleo died, I adopted our neighbor dog Luis, who had sometimes cavorted with Bo in my backyard.  My neighbor had tied Luis to a stake for more than two years, pegging him to the carport in all weather, hot, cold or stormy.  Bo solemnly assumed the role of Alpha, biting Luis to keep him out of our bed, putting the younger dog in his place.  Bo maintained his status with long-suffering dignity.

Dignity may be a word hard to associate with a dog who, just last week, thrust his snout up and out from behind the thighs of a woman visiting my home.  He licked the bowl of cashews at last week's choir party.  Whichever side of the road I walked, he always wanted to tug to the opposite side. 

Yet he had a sense of dignity.  In these last months, he looked at me with helpless dismay when his legs gave out midway across the road, or when he woke to discover that he had fouled his bed, or when he needed my help to stand and greet me when I came home.  Deaf and perhaps forgetful, he wandered around the house looking for me. 

He still could get a kick from a walk or a snack, but his enjoyment was declining fast.  I'd promised myself years ago not to let him lose that enjoyment.  So the time had come.

On Maundy Thursday, he had his last supper.  For the first time in weeks, I let him sleep in the bed with me (incontinence notwithstanding).  On the morning of Good Friday, I took him out for a walk with me in our battlefield park.  We used to walk four or five miles, but he was tripping after only a hundred yards.  Still, we made it one last time to the clearing where he stood, chest out, nose raised and quivering at the spring breeze, looking at the sun's rising under a carpet of grey clouds. 

My friend Suzanne sent me the photos of him from these past few months, along with these words from a hymn that we sang on Maundy Thursday:

God is love, and where true love is, God Himself is there.
I've been blessed by Bo, and he by me.  Thanks be to God, and to friends who helped me to care for him.

[I wrote about Bo and Luis in two other reflections:  "Dogs are Poetry"  and "Dog in Winter"]