The phone rang 20 minutes ago. It was my friend Jane leaving a message. Her pug "Sadie, My Lady, My Love" had died. "She is with her Lady from Connecticut," she said. Jane was referring to Sadie's previous and lifelong owner, who passed away earlier this year, resulting in Sadie's entrance into pug rescue where Jane recently adopted her.
Jane hadn't had Sadie long before receiving a diagnosis several weeks ago of a tumor in Sadie's head. The vet recommended she put her down right away, but Sadie was still eating and running around and Jane allowed her to live out her remaining days. Although she looked worse for the wear, Sadie remained fairly active up until this weekend where we all knew the end was near. Still, she didn't seem to labor and rested with the other pugs at our friend Joan's house where Jane was staying this weekend.
One of Joan's pugs, Soup, kept a deathwatch, snuggling up to Sadie and keeping her company throughout the night. Joan said she had never witnessed anything like it and wouldn't have believed anyone if they had told her the story, but I have heard other stories lately of animals doing similar things -- my friend Jon Katz's dog Red remained the constant companion to an ill sheep on their farm. I know people debate the emotional lives of animals, but it doesn't seem strange to me that living creatures sense and acknowledge death in this way, that some choose -- whether instinctively or consciously -- to provide warmth and comfort in light of an inevitable end. Life bends to death, to that which is most profound, and those living draw close together, to each other.
Jane and Joan returned home in time to spend Sadie's last moments with her. "God is good to me," Jane said, "I got those last moments with her and while it is always sad when a dog dies, this death was sweet."
Jane told me the other day that although she felt it a kindness to Sadie to give her extra time, some peaceful final days rather than putting her to sleep, she also felt it was a kindness to Sadie's "Lady," who loved her all her life.
"I would hope someone would do this for me someday," she said.
People also debate the spiritual fate of dogs -- do they go to Heaven, the Rainbow Bridge, or somplace else entirely? These are philosophical, ethical, theological questions that are challenging at best to answer. It is not so hard to see, however, that whether or not dogs have souls, they do our souls good. They make us look beyond ourselves, to address the spiritual. They keep us company on our journey, drawing close to provide warmth and comfort as we wend our way to an inevitable end. They become the stuff of religion, helping us ask the questions. In many ways they become the litmus test for what we believe.