Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

She's shivering, but it's not cold. The two grown dogs she lived with are sprinting down the street followed closely by this classified ad stranger and my father. She was thrust into my arms. She's bigger than any puppy I have ever held. Calmer. Quieter. If I wasn't holding her I wouldn't know she was scared, but I can feel her quivering. Something comes over me, let's call it maternal instincts,  and I begin rocking her from side to side, whispering to her "do you want to come home with me?". Come on girl, I've got you. I get into the passenger seat of my Dad's SUV and we drive away. 

Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

I'm so tired. She's never tired when I'm tired. We went outside. I impatiently danced in the rain urging her to do her business while she trotted around in the sopping grass. Just a puppy. That yard must have looked like a forest to you. We went upstairs with our wet feet and wet hair and got back into bed. I'm a large teen but I slept in a twin bed. She is still a small dog, there is plenty of room for us both. Propped up against my baby blue pillows, I must have closed my eyes for a second. I always slept with the windows open. The pitter patter of rain on the roof shingles soothes me. This pitter patter is louder than what soothes me, though. In one motion I jerk my eyes open and throw myself out of the window. I wrap my hands around her warm squishy belly and drag her backwards. It's okay girl, I've got you.  I pull her in close. I release her and she flops away, curling into a twenty pound ball of fluff at the foot of my bed. 

Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

We've been doing this a while now, her and I. Exploring, adventuring, making mischief. We are the same age, in dog years and mental maturity, and we act like it. We are equals on the mountains. She beats me on a straight away track. She wasn't built for swimming and I can pull ahead in the water. She loves the water. We have come to this camp site every year, we know the terrain. We have to cross the tide flats to get to the Ocean and then return within the hour or those small tidal pools will fill with rushing sea water. We spent too much time chasing seagulls. Well, one of us did. We are racing the Ocean. I take the lead, trying different routes and testing the ground for firmness. She watches me and follows when I beckon her. We are almost back when it is apparent I have led us astray. Come on, girl, I'll get us through this. She is apprehensive, but trusting. I swim to her, I pull her by the collar and lead her into the pool. Come on, girl, I've got you. She leaps in. The ground keeps giving away, she doesn't know if she should swim or stand. I move my hand from her collar to her waist, propping her paws on my legs, numb to the cold but not to the pain of her sharp jagged toenails digging and dragging across my exposed flesh. Digging, dragging. I pull her in close. It's okay, girl, I've got you. We make it to shore, she saunters away. She resumes chasing seagulls. 

Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

She's older now. Her days of endless squirrel hunts and peak bagging are in the past. She loves to walk, I love to walk, but we walk slower. There seems to be more purpose behind these walks, or, maybe, a different purpose. She lays on the couch more. She would always visit me on the couch but now she lays there, stays there, for hours. Those strong wild legs of hers begin to betray her. She loves to go outside, but the return journey up the flight of fifteen stairs has become a challenge. She wants to come in, but she can't. I meet her at the bottom of the stairs. Come on, girl. I've got you. My left arm wraps around her chest, my right wraps behind her back legs. Her expression is grateful. Slightly perturbed, but mostly grateful. Her eyes say "let's not mention this again". I pull her in close. That's okay girl, I've got you. I set her down at the top of the stairs. She gives me a gentle nudge with her cinnamon colored head. She trots away, finds a suitable spot on the couch, and curls into herself. 

Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

I don't know who is in more pain. Her, with a tumor covering her entire back hip, down through her leg, or me, with a shattered soul. I think it's me. I hope it's me. It is clear now that the time has come to relieve one of us from our pain and exacerbate the others exponentially. I haven't known a world without her for eleven years. Eleven important years. I walk to the backyard with her, to her favorite spot. A stranger with a soft voice is explaining the science behind what will happen next. Her head is in my lap. I want to cry, I want to wail. I don't cry though, because she isn't. I'm not ready, but she is. My hands grip into her layers of deep, wild fur. I pull her in close. It's ok, girl, I've got you. The stranger tells me that she is gone. I already knew she was. I felt her leave. I wrap her in blankets and pick her up. I carry her body away. 

Can you carry it? Can you carry the weight of a dog?

I didn't want to know a world without her and I never will. Not really anyways. I spent eleven years carrying her. At every stage in her life I carried her. She feels heaviest now, at this stage, when I carry her everyday... when I carry her in my heart. 

This poem was written for Sadie, my first dog, my first love.

Sadie came into my life when I was in High School and travelled to New York and back again with me as I changed professions over my adult life. She lost a battle with cancer that she had been silently fighting for months in October of 2015. She had been with me for eleven and a half years. It has been said, and repeated, that time heals wounds. The days without her may become more manageable, but Sadie has a piece of my heart that I will never get back. 

I have a tendency to keep quiet about my suffering, but as more dogs enter my life and as I hear of stories of others suffering great losses I found myself needing to speak about the powerful bond that is shared between a person and their canine partner. Maybe part of me also wanted this poem to serve as a warning, or a cautionary tale of the strength it takes to love something so fiercely; to carry the weight of another both physically and emotionally.  






All photos were taken by Joe McKinney. After Sadie got very sick and we spent a week in 24 hour care at the vet hospital I realized that maybe I wouldn't be so lucky as to outlive her. Joe, a dear friend who was part of Sadie's life from the moment I brought her home, took us to a local park during sunrise to capture these beautiful photos of a beautiful dog. These were taken two months before we said our goodbyes.