The Shoeless Horse, Episode 29: The Long Goodbye

Duchess’s breathing was shallow, mechanical. Tiny puffs. Her eyes were glazed.

When the black-and-tan dog was laid on the examination table at Bonnie’s waist level, she suddenly saw with fresh eyes how beautiful her dog was, how impressive in size.

Duchess. Her dog. The dog she had begged for, the dog she’d carried home in her arms when it was a tiny six- week- old puppy. The dog she’d taught so many tricks. The glossy-coated sixty-pound dog who was so athletic and had often made Bonnie burst with pride. The dog who had often caused serious trouble.

Now, Duchess was utterly still except for the rapid, small breaths that convulsively moved her ribs.

The young man was miserable. He was new, he said. An assistant. He’d called, said it was an emergency, but the vet was home with his family eating dinner.  He’d come as soon as he was finished.

Bonnie helped the sorrowful assistant slide a clear plastic tube down her dog’s throat. They waited and waited, praying the vet would finish dinner and come to make the dog alive again.

Time passed. The two young people stood miserably beside the surgical table, out of things to say. The dog was limp. Her small puffs counted off the minutes.

Bonnie seems to remember trying to fill the awful silence with stories. She told the young man about some of the bad things Duchess had done when they lived in Vancouver- knocked over a newspaper boy, bit the pant leg of a police officer, started horrible dogfights. The dog was smart and devoted to their family, but sometimes chased people on bikes.

‘People always called my mother at suppertime,’ said Bonnie, trying for humour,    ‘ with complaints about this dog.’

Always suppertime, she thought to herself, thinking of the absent vet, home at his own dinnertable. She felt sorry for the young assistant. He’d run out of ideas.

Bonnie remembered now how many times people had called about Duchess. She knew it was stress her mother hadn’t needed. The family built a huge expensive fence all around Grandma’s property to keep the dog contained, and rules were made about keeping Duchess on the leash- but still things had happened.

‘I thought about putting the dog down when you were about twelve,’ Bonnie’s mother once confessed. ‘But then it was Open House at the school. When I got to your classroom, there were drawings of yours everywhere, and they were all of Duchess.’ She’d laughed ruefully and said,

‘ I knew then if I put the dog down, I’d have to do you in too.’

Bonnie and the young man waited for what seemed like hours more, and the vet finally arrived. Bonnie doesn’t recall him being sympathetic. Maybe he’d seen too many cases like this one ; people were always letting dogs bolt into traffic.

‘The dog’s neck is broken,’ said the vet flatly. ‘There’s nothing I can do.’

Bonnie felt the world go dark.

She’d felt the presence of death the moment she’d seen the brake lights on the black road. She’d clung desperately to the possibility of a miracle during the rescue, and in the bright lights of the surgery room.

During the minutes that had turned into two hours, Bonnie and the vet’s assistant had been ministering to a dog that was mostly dead. She now confronted the magnitude of what she had done.

Again and again, and to this day, a voice inside told Bonnie it was her fault completely. Her stupid decision to have Duchess run beside the road in the dark had killed the dog she’d loved since she was ten years old. It was her fault, and Duchess was never coming back.

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