Saturday, March 08, 2008

Good Night Sweet Girl, MV 26

Note: In twenty years of writing for newspapers, this piece got more feedback than anything I've ever written. I received many kind emails from friends and strangers relating their story of losing a pet or just expressing their condolences. Writing it and sharing that pain helped me deal with the hurt, and I think and hope it helped others as well. I thank all of you who shared your story.

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

I lost a member of my family this week. There won't be a funeral. There will be no well wishers. No one will wear black. Some will even casually dismiss as absurd the melancholy that permeates my soul right now. You see, Shelby Turbitt wasn't my wife, child, parent, aunt or uncle; she was "just" my beloved dog for twelve years.

Shelby greeted me every time I walked in the door. She walked on the Oleai Beach Path with me. She watched television with me. When the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, the first time they did so in my mature lifetime, she got as excited as I did -- she just didn't know why. Friends move, stop calling or start ignoring our emails, but our pets are always there, especially if we take care of them -- at least for the relatively short time on Earth they grace us with their presence. She went to the vet each year. She was spayed. She got her preventative medicine. That gave her a relatively long and healthy life. I would urge all pet owners to find a way to do the same. In return for that investment, our pets add a bit of a soft touch to us -- even to a cynical SOB like me. They make us smile. They do things like give sight to the blind and teach children about love, loyalty, friendship and responsibility. They also act as companion to a lot of lonely senior citizens that tend to be forgotten.

It is indeed true that animals aren't people, and lots of good arguments can be made that we dote on them excessively. I "get that" on a pure reason basis, but we people aren't just Apollonian and guided only by reason. We have a Dionysian side that makes us human, not robot, and that makes the pain I feel very real and not the least bit diminished by any rational arguments from those purely practical people capable of minimizing this event -- an event that traumatizes many people who probably feel they need to hide their very real grief.

As couples tend to marry and have children later in life these days, pets tend to become surrogate children. Pet spending has doubled in the U.S. from $17 billion in 1994 to more than $34 billion today. When real children enter our lives, pets do tend to take that backseat. I noticed that trend myself. Shelby understandably went from being the only other living thing in my erstwhile bachelor pad, at least if I cleaned away the mold in the bathroom that week, to the dog that was part of a human family of four. She wasn't as prominent in my life. My older boy took on more of that role as her prime companion, but she and I still had all that history.

I still remember shamelessly walking with her when she was a puppy in the parks near Rutgers University in my mid-twenties for the express purpose of meeting college women. It worked, too. She was a great ice breaker. Every woman I dated had to pass the Shelby test. I knew I was going to be a hell of a lot more difficult to deal with than her, so she was a pretty good filter for potential romantic partners. When I took her into my life, I never imagined becoming an overseas teacher, but that was what I decided to do. I thought briefly about giving her up given the complex journey I was about to make, but she had woven herself into the fabric of my life way too deeply, so I brought her to travel the world with me. I like to joke that this little dog spread fertilizer further and wider than the John Deere Corporation.

In humans our hearts are our weakest organs -- perhaps our pets play a role in softening them. In our pets, kidneys are their weakest organs. Kidneys filter away toxins, kind of like Shelby did for me. Hers began to fail. The veterinarian noticed she was having trouble concentrating her urine a few months back, but there were no other symptoms, and I was never going to do any radical steps to extend her life anyway. I don't believe in that even for people, really. She continued on without any sign of anything unusual for a few months. All of a sudden, I noticed she had lost weight -- weight she perhaps could afford to lose given how well my wife fed her, but there really was not much else pointing to a problem. In a blink of an eye it seemed, she went into kidney failure, vomited blood several times and died quickly and naturally in the middle of the night as I petted her and begged God for a miracle -- or at least to ease her pain. It was a harrowing experience. Nature and the circle of life can be a cruel and relentless mistress. It hurts really bad. There is a scene in Pulp Fiction where Butch asks Marcellus Wallace, after their encounter with the hillbillies, if he is "OK." Wallace responds, "I'm pretty f****ng far from OK." I feel a lot like Wallace right now.

Good night sweet girl. You touched me more than you could ever know.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog Hypercritical Thoughts at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.

20 comments:

bigsoxfan said...

Great looking dog. With mine, it was the heart. I miss her every time I see another dog, but I feel a little better than f***ing far from ok. Of course, dogs don't do you like a homosexual hillbilly rapist mthfckr. Anyway, I remember after my wife passed, the best thing I could always count on was our dog lying on the bed and looking out the window at me as I drove in the yard at 4:15 every day. I do wish dogs lived longer lives, but with good care and feeding, children do. Not to take away from your loss, just something fine and wonderful to look forward at. Then again, dogs don't hide your can of coffee in a place where you can't find it, until the sun is high in the sky. Little bugger, he doesn't put his toys away, why stick my coffee behind the potatoes and the dumpling steamer?

Marianas Eye said...

An incredibly beautiful and deeply touching piece, Jeff. You moved me to tears.

Beverly Mae said...

Jeff, this was such a beautifully written tribute to Shelby. She sounds amazing. So sorry for your loss=( Hang in there.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

In the descriptive language only another guy could understand, Dude, that sucks.

Anonymous said...

You surely made me cry Jeff. I know how you feel. Just think that Shelby is a much better place now.

My condolences.

Anonymous said...

This is a very moving tribute. I've never met Shelby, but her sweet personality comes through in the pictures that you've posted. I'm sorry for your loss, and may Shelby rest in love and peace.

bradinthesand said...

man, i loved your dog. every time i scratched her back, the resulting snow storm of white fur reminded me a little bit of home.

it's a shame that dongs only live for a short time. i never really thought about that as a kid, but the reality of it became clear to me as an adult.

not sure that i'd want to set myself up for that kind of a loss, but i love pets.

guess i'm doomed, that is unless kathy starts chasing after frisbees and tennis balls.

sorry for your loss, man. i loved that little girl, too.

jeff said...

I'm so sorry about your dog.I'm dreading when that day comes to my house.

Melissa said...

Jeff, I'm feeling your pain right along with you. I know some people may not understand, but to me, it is the exact same as losing a member of the family- since she was a member of the family. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

the un cheesy Bree said...

Sorry for your loss! I can't believe I never met your dog. Our dogs traveled to Saipan and back with us too. We couldn't imagine leaving them behind. They were our children before we had kids. hang in there, and i promise to never ignore your emails;)

Boni said...

Sorry Jeff. I only met Shelby once, but I l like her:)

Anonymous said...

man i dont even know you but i read your letter to the editor and i just had to come and sympathize with you! i know how you feel!! I cried SO HARD when i lost my dog...I took him for one last walk..and we went up to a grassy field and he just layed there..peacefully! i didnt wanna bother him so i just sat next to him..next thing you know, it was getting dark!! So i had to carry him back home! When we got home i petted him a bit..and he layed there..gave me one last look..and he died. :( I miss him so much..and this was January 2005!! I miss having a dog, but i don't know if i'm ready for another one. All good things must come to an end! and my dog definitely made me happy! i miss my champ!

Anonymous said...

I don't think you know me but I read your articles all the time online. This time you piss me off for making me cry this early during the day. I am so very sorry for your pain - losing your dog. We went through the same experiences twice, so I know how you feel. Not feeling any different from losing a family member, we ached for days then turned into weeks. We still think and talk about Zulu, Shaka and Chewy. The vet put Zulu down when he got so old 6 years ago and we did the same for Shaka and Chewy, early this year. They have been replaced with their own puppies who are now fully grown, but we still feel bad whenever we think of our previous pets. They do bury themselves deep into your heart, don't they.

May the sun shine on your back and into your heart today. My sincere Sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Shelby was blessed to have found you and to have lived such a wonderful and happy life with someone who had the capacity to love her as unconditionally as she loved you. You obviously gave her a wonderfully happy life. Your words were a beautiful tribute to Shelby - I have never met you nor Shelby but I can see how much you both meant to each other. Thank you for sharing publicly such a personal and deep pain.

saipanboonieman said...

sorry bout your dog man. i remember seeing you out and about with her along the pathway a couple of times i think.

Jeff said...

I thank all of you who expressed your condolences. I feel a little less horrible each day.

Cindy said...

Jeff - I'm so sorry for your loss. I know how hard it is to lose a pet, especially one you've had for many years. The bonds become so strong that our animal companions really do become a part of the family. Whenever I have lost a beloved pet, I always try to think of it as they are going to heaven (or wherever we go) and will learn the ropes so that when I get there (hopefully) someday, I will be greeted by the ones I have loved rather than being there all alone. Somehow, that thought always comforts me. I hope it does you also.

Mildred Yap said...

Sorry to hear that, Jeff. I feel for you as our puppy also died months ago. I cried soooo hard. Take note, he'd been with us for more than a month only while you spent 12 years of your life with Shelby. If Shelby could only speak, she'd definitely say before she died, "thank you for letting me see & feel how it was to live."

CNMI Blogger said...

Hey, Buddy--
I'm truly sorry to hear of your loss.

phyllis ain said...

There are no words to express the incredible pain and joy in coming across such a tribute. For those who have lost a family member, you know this story all too well. Perhaps the most difficult time of life is learning how to help those who face endings, and because I've been through this three times now since I moved to Saipan, I know the peace that comes with the end of suffering and the joy that remains with the pictures and memories, every time you share in the loss of another's beloved friend/child/companion. Thanks, Jeff. You touch people more than you can possibly know.