Daisy died at 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2018 at the Copake Veterinary Hospital. I was there along with Dr. Johnathan Duryea and Vet Assistant Jeanine Rizzo.
Daisy was a dog, a female Bullmastiff, 115 lbs. of gentle, if insistent, affection, her paw giving frequent whacks if she wasn’t being paid enough attention. She was 9½ years old when she died as a result of Degenerative Myelopathy, an incurable, progressive spinal cord nerve disease that attacks the functioning of a dog’s rear end. We were constant companions, 24/7, for six years.
While she was dying (her actual death did not take long), it occurred to me, as it does now, that we are often kinder to our pets than we are to our fellow human beings. We are more giving, more forgiving, more loving, more generous, more willing to make life and death decisions on their behalf all the while trying to keep their best interests at heart.
I don’t claim that this was a momentous event except, perhaps, for me and my wife, although it was certainly felt in the circles that radiated out from around her. A stone dropped in a pond, disappearing concentric ripples in the water. There is not a single human that met Daisy that was not entranced, entertained, greeted cheerfully by her, always with toy in mouth. Friend or relative, strangers, delivery men, repair men, contractors, all became her friends. Would that could be said for any of us.
She and I would talk, my language primarily consisting of words, of tone of voice, of stroking her fawn colored fur, or my hand just resting on her. Her language consisting mostly of eyebrows that rose or fell independently of each other, of liquid brown eyes that stared unblinking but knowingly, sympathetically, without judgement. She would curl up in one corner of the couch, me in the other, her eyes always on me, or she would lie curled on my lap – well, not exactly curled on my lap because she was too big to fit but her head at least would rest on my thigh.
Daisy and I never talked about politics. It wasn’t a subject that interested her. She couldn’t care less about Donald Trump, about the Muller investigation, about elections, about immigration or free trade or the economy or climate change, all things that are of vital interest to me. She was primarily interested in being loved, being paid attention to when she wanted attention, in touching and being touched, in being fed, in lying in sun on the deck or the driveway. Perhaps that’s one reason why we love our dogs. They aren’t really interested in the life of the world outside their immediate vicinity. They are only interested in their own wellbeing and ours. I’m not sure they think of them as separate things.
A few days after she died, my wife and I drove to Louisville to pick up another Bullmastiff, this one a 12-week-old puppy named Max or, to be official about it, Aria’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. His breeders were the same people who had given us Daisy as a 3-year-old six years ago. As luck would have it, when Daisy was diagnosed with DM we wondered about getting another dog. As it turned out, Michael and Nancy were considering breeding Iggy, one of their female Bullmastiffs, with the frozen sperm of Gabe, Michael’s “heart” dog, as he still thinks of him, who had died a few years ago. As it happens, Daisy had helped to mother Gabe, whose actual birth mother wasn’t much interested in the responsibilities of mothering. So, Lee, my wife, thought it particularly fortuitous that they were considering breeding Iggy and Gabe and that it was fitting that we have a descendent (if only a metaphorical one) of Daisy.
And so, we returned to Copake, to a house that was filled with memories of Daisy yet was now emptied of her quiet spirit, but now quickly filled with the energy of Max, the energy of a toddler, one who required much of the attention that a human one requires. He is very definitely a Bullmastiff, one whose behavior would be very familiar to anyone who has ever spent much time with one. He is joyful, enormously affectionate, playful, a bit mischievous, stubborn, displaying great bursts of energy and periods of quiet chewing on toys, elk antlers and blankets. But he is not Daisy.
Love never completely disappears, does it? And I suppose that’s the way it should be. If it does disappear, then perhaps it wasn’t love in the first place or we were in love with something, with someone, who we never really knew in the first place. If it disappears then, perhaps, we were in love with an idea of who or what something was rather than the real thing, the real person.
In the days following Daisy’s death, a friend wrote to me, “Do you think it is possible for you to write something fresh about dogs and who and what they are . . . at least you can reflect on the subject in a new way. Bet you can.”
I’m sorry, my friend, I don’t think I can. There’s nothing I’ve written that feels in the slightest bit original or revelatory. I daresay that there isn’t a writer who has had a dog that he loved who hasn’t felt compelled to write about him or her. And I’d bet that many of them, like me, had sworn to resist the temptation because, well, everybody else has done it already and what more can be said? But writers, sooner or later, write about what they care about most deeply and I’m no different. Good writing, bad writing, original, unoriginal, published, not published, we write because it’s our way of putting outside what’s inside of us. So, despite my desire not to write about Daisy, I found out that I couldn’t write about anything else until I had done so. And now I have put it on paper (even if it’s a metaphorical page), put it outside, and left it for you to do with, to make of, what you will.
But I still miss her.
Michael Saltz is an award-winning, long-time, now-retired Senior Producer for what is now called “PBS NewsHour.” He is a resident of Hillsdale.