Loss of a Different Kind

Loss of a Different Kind

In these terrible times of multiple losses and deaths, the separation of children from their families, widespread hunger and poverty, the forced isolation brought about by the coronavirus, it might be difficult for anyone to appreciate what the loss of my furry four-legged companion might mean to me. Until that last Monday of the year, at 11:30 a.m., when our beautiful Australian Cattle Dog, Django, took his last breath in our arms, I was never alone. He was a working dog, and I was his job. He followed me everywhere I went, sitting patiently by my side while I spent what must have seemed to him to be meaningless hours at my computer.

Django slept by our sides and shared in our food. He didn’t have to beg—he was simply included. He knew his place, and it was always with us. Django anticipated his walks with relish, scurrying around us and jumping up to kiss our faces when he saw us putting on our shoes. His happiest hours were when his pack went off together, and even when his pack was simply at home together. Django was a happy dog. He brought joy wherever he went.

I didn’t choose Django. Django chose me. While I waited to collect our Chinese takeout, I wandered into the Watermelon Ranch rescue store next door. My husband and I had decided that we would not get a dog, as my arthritis had gotten worse and I didn’t know if I would be able to handle one. But this skinny little fellow came over, sat on my foot, placed his head on my knee and asked me to be his person. I called my husband and said, “I’m in love.” Without missing a beat he asked, “Do you want me to come to see him?”

When we met him, Django was called Shelman. Shelman? Who could have thought of such a ridiculous name? This little guy was a gypsy wanderer who brought us laughter and joy, and so my husband named him after Django Reinhardt, the French gypsy guitarist of the 1930s and 1940s. Day by day, month by month, year by year, Django became so much a part of us that we did not even realize how intertwined we were.

When we took him with us on a trip to Mexico, we were warned that local restaurants might not welcome his presence. Those folks didn’t know Django. Water dishes were brought out for him. Treats were given to him, and they were not dog treats but lovely Mexican food. Our favorite breakfast place brought him his own egg, ordered by the owner. We sat with him on patios where dogs were not allowed. He was our family, and so it seemed, others regarded him so.

In November, we had to take a harrowing road trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for health reasons. We left Django with a dear friend who had cared for him before. We had no idea that he had an aggressive cancer that would soon take his life. When our friend took him to the vet after he vomited, the vet told her that if surgery was not performed that day, he would bleed to death. Our friend waited with him, put a $2,000 deposit down on the surgery and stayed on the phone with us and the vet until everything had been put into place. We had been heading home, but we were still in Lincoln, Nebraska. We got into the car and drove the 14 hours straight home.

We were lucky. Django survived the removal of his spleen and lived a joyous six more weeks. We knew that the diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma was a death sentence, and so we didn’t choose to spend his last weeks with him hooked up to chemotherapy treatments that had no hope of saving his life. Instead, we fed him all his favorite foods, took him on his favorite walks and on a hike with our friend to a place he’d never been. He was so happy to be with us, and we were so grateful to be with him.

There really are no words to describe the loss of a being with such unconditional love for you, who fastens his soulful eyes on you with an adoration that is almost impossible to find in a human being. Out of our awareness, the three of us became woven together in one tapestry, in one warm haven of love. Django made us better people. His spirit will be with us always.

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