My beloved dog Zola passed away on March 11, 2023.
I wanted to write about him, or post something, but for a while I just couldn't. We had our routine. I would walk with him and our other dog, Bucket, and the neighbor's dog, Mao—the three of them each morning with my coffee. The sight of them chasing each other across the field through the morning mist brought me immeasurable joy. No matter the night before or the day that awaited me, that morning walk brought me peace. All of us reveled in the scent of the morning air and the changing smells of the seasons, the simple happiness of being alive.
As with all relationships, Zola did things that frustrated me no end: the way he chased Camille's horses on our walk and twice caused one to jump out of their pasture. And the way he knew when I was angry and then he would pretend not to hear me. He believed if he could not see me, I could not see him. He would hide behind a tree but I could see his tail wagging from side to side.
He was beautiful, charming. He could quickly win over a crowd. But I told people that he was like a bad boyfriend, the kind who breaks your heart, but you always take back. Because he was always getting himself into trouble.
He caught Lachmiosis as a little puppy. For the first years I had to give him medications even injections every day. I did not have him castrated because of his health problem, and so consequently he became the Casanova of the neighborhood. Whenever there was a dog in heat, he would be gone, sometimes for five agonizing days. I tried to keep him in our fenced yard, but he got through every barrier, jumped over or tunneled through. He returned from these escapades exhausted, thinner, and often wounded, once impaled by a fence he'd climbed to get to the female dog of his desire. Some of the farmers were angry with him, but forgave him because he was so darn loveable. There were puppies that looked a lot like Zola. Camille, of the horses, has a little Zola.
Guests at the hotel nearby would adopt him. I'd see him walking with them and he'd pretend not to know me. The cook at the good restaurant expected him every day for lunch. When my partner George had a stroke, Zola would walk with him slowly and carefully staying in step with George. Zola's devotion to George won over the farmers who had chased him away or who had been awoken by his love-sick howling.
Zola was well-trained, mostly by my partner. We could take him anywhere. Never needed a leash. Except when we went to the vet. If I didn't have a leash on him, he wouldn't get out of the car.
Zola had a reason to hate the vet's—it was the site of recurring agony.
When I walked into the vet's they would ask, "Oh no, now what?"
· There was the impaling.
· There was another gash that he kept hidden from me for two days until I forced him roll over and saw the infected belly wound.
· There was the time he stopped peeing, some kind of kidney stone blockage probably caused by an accident while trying to get to a dog in heat. After drugging him, because he was in so much pain even I couldn't touch his belly, the vet extracted liter after liter and told me we were moments away from his bladder bursting.
· There was the paralysis when for a good two weeks he couldn't walk. We carried him in and out, carried him back and forth to the vets trying to figure out what was wrong. The vet decided on massive antibiotics just when we found a large tic.
· There was the time I had come home after a long trip, and we excitedly went on a walk together. He was used to healing and staying close to me by the road or when cars approached, but in his excitement, he ran into the road and was hit by a car. He bolted off into the mountains near my home. I spent hours searching for him, sure he was bleeding to death in a ditch somewhere. I was jet lagged and heartbroken and gave up at midnight. The next morning I woke up, absolutely shattered, ready to go back out, when he came limping home. He had broken his tail. It was awful. Whenever he was happy to see me, he would start to wag it and then cry out in pain. I was told we would probably have to amputate the tail, but with the help of a dog physical therapist he healed.
· There were the dog fights with the neighbor's dog, a massive German Sheppard named "Enjoy." Enjoy was a dangerous animal who would attack dogs all up and down the road. Most of the time Enjoy was kept enclosed in the yard. When Zola knew he was safe he would run up to the fence and bark and bait Enjoy. A few times, once when I was there, Enjoy got out and Zola was badly bitten. My throat was sore from screaming. Another time Enjoy was loose during a walk with George. Zola ran behind George and George hit Enjoy with a stick. From then on there were no more attacks.
· Then there was the cancer. It formed vascular tumors and when one burst he almost hemorrhaged to death. The vet removed his spleen.
· A second time, a few weeks later, we rushed him to the vets. They put him on coagulants and IV fluids. The vet told me she was doubtful he would survive. I went home and cried all night. But true to form, by the next morning he was better, and she called me to come get him. I took him to a special dog oncologist. With the kindest face, he told me it was hopeless. Zola had several large tumors on his liver. It was a matter of days or weeks.
I took Zola home and kept him quiet. Now he was allowed to walk only on a leash, no running. He lived another three weeks. Our last morning, he was in fine form. I took him on our favorite walk up to the Abbey Saint Hilaire.
In the afternoon I could see he was weak. But I knew how much he hated the vet, and I didn't want his last moments to be me trying to get him into the car and driving him there. Instead, I sat with him. Late that night he stood, walked to the door and looked at me the way he had so many times. It meant: "Let me out. I need to go outside." Almost mechanically I stood and opened the door. I followed him outside. He could barely walk. He made his way to where we had buried our old black lab twelve years ago. Zola lay down next to her grave and died.
For the past 12 years he has been my steady companion in writing. After our morning walk, and once I had done my morning things, he would be waiting. He would walk with me to the garage shed where I write. He slept on the bed next to my writing desk while I wrote.
And if I didn't go to the shed, he would sit in front of the door and look at me, as if reminding me about what mattered. To show up every day. Grief does that. Reminds us that we are here for a short while. That while we are here life is as generous as a dog's love, if we can just show up every day.