A day after I last wrote about him, Gandalf died. I was never blind Gandalf’s owner in any official sense, but he owned my heart. Part of the attraction, no doubt, was guilt because the loss of his vision – at least in one eye – was partially mine. He was one of the earliest litters I saw born at Pugdom, my friend Joan’s home. I named him and his brothers – each after wizards, magicians or spells of some sort: Copperfield (who we officially called Copperfeld because of some AKC rule not allowing us to use the names of real people); Merlin, Dumbledore, Hocus Pocus and Gandalf; two fawns and three blacks.
Shortly after their birth, Joan, our friend Jessica, and me were scheduled to take a trip to Joan’s condo near Florida and Joan being Joan piled the litter of five and their Momma into the van, not to be deterred from our travels. They made the thousand-mile trip south before their eyes even opened. It was Thanksgiving time and in typical Joan fashion we traveled with few stops. We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner in the condo and turned back for Vermont a few days later. On the way home, the puppies began to open their eyes. Ghanny, however, seemed to have something wrong with one of his. It was crusty and gooey and I worried that Joan, who had developed a bad cold on the trip and was in a sleep-deprived state. might not be staying on top of things. So I bugged her and then bugged her again to give him some medicine, which she finally did. Problem is she had two types of eye drops along – one with steroids and one without. One was okay to give, the other not. We gave the wrong one. In the morning, little Ghanny’s eye was bleeding. We had stopped at Joan’s son’s house in D.C. for the night and he rushed the puppy to the vet only to learn he would probably lose sight in that one eye. It was sad and I felt horrible. We didn’t talk about it. Joan, too, felt guilty and over the years memory has kindly blanketed these feelings with a new version of the tale. Sometimes Joan recalls Ghanny being born blind, other times she remembers only the accident that took his second eye, believing it took both. That time a small stick got him while he was playing outside and our one-eyed boy became officially blind.
He never seemed to mind. Ghanny was born docile with a gentleman’s disposition and after the loss of his vision, he settled down even more, developing a trotter’s high-step prance as he would feel his way from his livingroom nest outdoors to the deck and down the steps to the backyard. This was his routine for much of his life – sun on the porch, strolls in the backyard, warm slumber in his corner bed broken by dinner and the occasional concert by me. I always hoped he saw something, that my song would evoke a momentary return of vision, a small grace, but he adapted and never seemed to complain. When he heard my voice, he would rise from his bed, cocking his head and high-stepping it to the livingroom gate where he would wait for me to pick him up and sing. A brush of his cheek to mine and then the anticipated kiss.
For many years I had dreams of taking him home. I knew I could not have three dogs where I lived, so I daydreamed of a camper or building my own home in time for him to become mine. These dreams never saw the light of day and by the time my other dogs passed, Ghanny had grown accustomed to his life at Joan’s. He was a Pugdom dog.
In his old age, the other dogs turned on him as they often do. Perhaps triggered from some pack mentality where weakness could hurt the whole group, they attacked him leaving him wounded. Not long after, he suffered a stroke. I wanted to grab him up then and take him to the vet, make sure that the wounds had not caused an internal infection. But, Joan nursed him and bathed him and I knew that in spite of any ministrations we each could give that his time was drawing near.
We took him on a rare outing to the Tunbridge Fair his last weekend and out the day before for a visit with our friend Norma. He was better the first day, almost comatose on the second. I leaned down and whispered in his ear. I sang his song. On the first day, he still managed a kiss, on the second it was me who kissed him, right below his chewed up ear. In that moment, I hated dogs for being dogs, for the beatings they instill on each other. I hated Joan for having so many, for not taking him to the vet, for not being able to do more. I hated me for not being able to give him a better life. But then, as he stirred beneath my hot whispers, I felt only compassion. We all live by our instincts, we each adapt. I felt an amazing grace settle on us both. No judgments. Things could have been different, things might have been worse. Gandalf might have come to live with me and had snacks and toys and known the noise of a busy home, but he had sleepy days in the sun, home-cooked meals, a dry bed by the stove. He was independent, loved and serenaded, and in his final moments, he knew the comfort of Joan’s hand. Blind, he knew the smells of home.
The amazing thing about grace is it swallows guilt whole, leaving the sweet aroma of love.