Many years ago my beloved Old English Sheepdog, Nigel, passed away. It was just a month after 9-11, life was pretty dreary, and the old boy couldn’t make it up and down the back steps any longer. At 90 pounds (ribs sticking out) there was no way we could carry him out and in to do his business for the winter. His body was weak, and he was just tired of it all. For two years he’d been wearing diapers. Yeah, I’m a little nuts, but it didn’t seem like it was time until the stairs became an issue.
On the afternoon of the day he died, I sent an email to my friends and family. I was hurting, my wife was hurting, and I needed to talk about it with someone. My mother has often commented that it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Perhaps. But her words of praise got me going on the journey of being a writer as much as anything else has in my life.
Here’s the email I sent that day- typos and all.
It is a sad day in our house, because shortly after noon today, Nigel was put to sleep. He couldn’t climb stairs or move about too well, and he’d lost his ability to control himself. He was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. But he was my best buddy ever.
Nigel had shared over half of our married life with us, and we knew him from the time he was a lump in his mother’s belly until his final moments as an old dog.
During his time on this planet, Nigel was our friend, protector, and resident cartoon character. He was there when we went to bed and upon our arrival in the morning, holding the fort in the hours in-between the dusk and dawn. Often that time was spent comforting Kip in the darkest hours of her night. Racked with insomnia, Nigel was her beacon toward the day’s light.
Nigel made us better people. We quit smoking because it made him sneeze. He encouraged us to remember that a warm heart is much more important than an extra workout. This past week, before I knew he was leaving us, he asked me to forego my workout and stay home and play, catching the bus instead of walking. I’m terribly glad that I did. He didn’t fetch much, but stood there supervising while Edzell (our Sheltie) carried on the day to day work of being the dog in the house.
Nigel was our Guardian Angel. I know that probably sounds silly to some of you, perhaps an opportunity to think we replaced kids with our dogs. Maybe. All I know is that he saved my life one night when I started falling backwards down the stairs while on crutches. Nigel pushed me upright. He’d never before been the second one up the stairs. That night he followed me and saved my neck.
On more than one occasion he saved Kip as well. I could always tell when she’d had an especially bad day, for I’d come home to find her in bed, and nigel standing guard over her. He wouldn’t leave her side until I was aware of her needs.
He went from a bossy puppy to a bossy old fellow with lots of smiles in between. He looked silly at the end in his flowered diaper, DEPENDS snugged around his strong chest with masking tape. Maybe we were nuts to go so far to keep him around. All I know is that if I live to be 250 years old, I will never have another friend like Nigel.
And so this very sad day winds to a close. Kip is quietly crying next to me, my ares are wet and Edzell is sleeping under the edge of the table. He’s not all the wa under it: that’s where Nigel sleeps. Forever.
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