Live Through This

The Last Walk

I never want to say goodbye.

Illustration by Dylan

Illustration by Dylan

When I accepted a summer internship in rural Washington, I instantly imagined a picture of quaint small-town America. I grew up on the western side of the state, and the eastern side, where I’d be working, was where my family often went to vacation—once you cross the mountain pass, the landscape turns from the damp green rainforest of Seattle to the gold rolling hills of the inland Northwest. I started dreaming about rafting down the nearby rivers and driving to neighboring tiny towns to go thrifting. The area is home to one of America’s highest-yielding agricultural counties, and produce stands dot the highways; I was already planning my meals around local cherries and asparagus. I would be careful to avoid rattlesnakes and sunburns on daily hikes over wildflower-covered hills. I would listen to anything on my iPod that featured a lap-steel guitar, because I was in the country, feeling country vibes. I’m here now, and I know you’re waiting for a big record-screech and then I’d say, “It was nothing like I’d imagined”—but it is! All of my postcard-worthy fantasies have come true, except for one thing. I realize now that the whole time I’d been dreaming of Eastern Washington, I’d imagined that my dog, Sammy, would be with me—in the passenger seat on those day trips, window down, snout to the wind; running along the bank of the river to the secret chill spot where he’d wade in while I listened to my portable tape player in the shade; accompanying me on morning walks along country roads; barking to scare snakes away on our hikes. In my mind, it was a given that this would be our greatest adventure yet. I don’t know why I thought that—I knew that the lodging provided by my internship didn’t allow pets. It’s just that Sammy is my best friend, and it’s hard to imagine life without him. And pretty soon I won’t have to imagine it.

My family adopted Sammy as a puppy when I was seven. He and I grew up together. He greeted me every day when I got home from school and was my constant companion till I left again the next morning. He’s been my playmate during happy times, and a great comfort during bad times (my parents’ divorce, bouts of typical teenage self-loathing, adjusting to an “adult” life with adult responsibilities). I can’t count the number of tears I’ve cried into his fur as we lay on the floor together in my bedroom. Sammy is my miniature emotional shaman never tries to “fix” my problems or force me to talk when I don’t want to. He can’t talk or even see, but he knows how to help me relax by just sitting with me. He teaches me how to enjoy where I am by walking slowly and absorbing everything.

To be a grownup, I’ve had to give up attachments to big parts of my life—e.g., my old bedroom, my old neighborhood, certain family traditions. And, to some extent, Sammy. I left home for college and couldn’t bring him with me; it felt like unfastening industrial-strength Velcro, except one side of it was attached to my HEART. You can’t really talk to dogs on the phone (yes, I tried), so I had to learn to manage stress and emotional pain on my own. It hasn’t been easy; I haven’t found anything that can soothe me the way Sammy can.

Sammy is currently 14 years old, blind, and arthritic. Last time I saw him at Christmas, his vision was just beginning to fade; now, he can’t even see a toy held right in front of his nose. He lives in my dad’s apartment now in the middle of urban Seattle, where he can sniff his way to the elevator to spare his surgically repaired knees the impact of stairs. He seems happy, but I think about the summer trips to Eastern Washington we used to take when I was little, and how much Sammy seemed to belong out there, instead of on leashes in city buildings.

There’s talk of my dad visiting for a weekend, so Sammy could come for a day or two. I want to take him on all the adventures I dreamed of before I arrived here, letting him romp down hiking paths and country trails, saying hello to the goats and cows that live just off the main road. Some people say that when old dogs are ready to die, they wander away from home to go to rest. When we walk together through the open fields of this state, I’ll wonder if he’s looking for a quiet place to say goodbye. When he does, I hope it’s in a place like this, lovely and friendly and golden—just like Sammy. ♦

20 Comments

  • Sophie ❤ June 20th, 2013 7:21 PM

    This is so sweet! Sammy seems like such a great friend! I have to say, great job with the writing.

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • billie June 20th, 2013 8:05 PM

    This made me tear up! I lost my dog, Belle, last year. She had been my best friend for fifteen years and I still miss her every day.

    I have a new dog now. A five year old Beagle that I adopted from a shelter. His name is Jax and he’s the biggest sweetheart ever.

    I honestly believe that everyone should have a dog at some point in their lives. They give so much joy and love.

  • giov June 20th, 2013 8:17 PM

    Dylan, so many feels! Here is a video of my childhood dog Kiwi, three months before she passed away (four years ago this week). I am so grateful for the 17 years I got to spend with her (the moment I met her is my very first memory): http://vimeo.com/67201339.

  • Panda June 20th, 2013 8:42 PM

    Aw this is lovely. My dog helped me through heaps of stuff when I was a teenager and the idea of her passing away makes me so sad.

  • sarawawa June 20th, 2013 9:38 PM

    My dog Dudley, passed away in December after we spent 16 great years growing up (and older) together. This post brought up literally all the feelings I had prior to his death… it’s almost impossible to imagine life without your best friend, like someone who has always been there for you. And then it happens. They’re just gone. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the pain but I know he had a great life and he was super loved – down to the very last second. Enjoy every moment you have with Sammy, he sounds like a really cool guy/dog :-(

  • Unicorn Heels June 20th, 2013 11:20 PM

    Awww <3 Today is my dog's adoption anniversary from her shelter. A year ago she was practically starving, much happier now.

    Dogs have an amazing intuition, especially about comforting. Other previous dogs helped get me through some stuff too. OH GAWD I'M TEARING UP.

    LofL,
    AZ

    http://bluejadepress.blogspot.com

  • Elizabete June 21st, 2013 12:48 AM

    This is so sweet.

    I have a dog too – two and a half years old pug girl, she is kinda my best friend and when I was in hospital less than two years ago I missed her more than my mom,hah.
    I hope Sammy spends his old age happily and calmly and gets to see Eastern Washington once more~

    http://melodyfairitale.wordpress.com

  • izzybee June 21st, 2013 2:16 AM

    aw! my dog Jessie is only 6 so hopefully we still have lots of time left with her! lovely article x

  • Mary the freak June 21st, 2013 7:55 AM

    this is so sweet.<33

    it really reminds me of my cat – she's so awesome and although she's quite old, i hop we will still have a few years together.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • KatGirl June 21st, 2013 9:06 AM

    This made me tear up, especially the last line. Sammy sounds like a lovely dog.

  • wallflower152 June 21st, 2013 9:52 AM

    Ahh…so bittersweet. I have a cat, Casey who is like 15. She is the best cat ever and even though she is still healthy for the most part I know she’s getting old and it breaks my heart.

  • GlitterKitty June 21st, 2013 10:21 AM

    This makes me think of my cat. She’s about 20 years old and even though she’s still in fairly good health, I know she doesn’t have much time left. Sometimes I see her wandering around the house slowly with this confused look and it just makes me so sad.

  • elliecp June 21st, 2013 1:11 PM

    This is so beautiful. I got my dog Milly when I was five, and she died around this time last year. People don’t realise how important dogs are to people…she was the closest relationship I’ve ever had and her passing still brings me to tears even a year later. Sammy sounds like a gorgeous dog and I hope you get to spend some time with him soon, all my love x

  • mrsfigg June 22nd, 2013 8:21 AM

    It’s true what they say about dogs. We used to live on a 35 acre property and over the years had many, many animals. One of our rescued dogs, Jordan (a saint bernard) had gotten quite old and one day she wasn’t at the house anymore. We searched and finally found her body in a peaceful spot under a tree, where she had laid down for the final time.

  • Mode559 June 23rd, 2013 12:40 PM

    My chihuahua mix just died this Friday. She was seventeen, blind from one eye, and completely deaf. She was my pick of the litter, so it was, and is, extremely difficult. The days are taking an obvious turn, I don’t feel as horrible knowing she’s no longer suffering from that out of the blue attack that had left her foaming at the mouth. Although we miss her, we can’t be too upset because she lasted as long as she could, and most dogs don’t even make it as long as she did.
    I’m glad you’re grateful for your dog, and I hope when the time comes, you’ll be able to remember nothing but the good times you had with the little guy.
    Good luck!!!

  • HollyMargaret June 23rd, 2013 12:55 PM

    This is just beautiful! That relationship between you and your dog is just amazing; they always know when something’s wrong and even though they can’t say anything they can cheer you up. Losing them hurts a hell of a lot; it never gets any easier. :-(

  • Brownpaperbaggingit June 23rd, 2013 4:23 PM

    Beautiful writing, the last line brought tears to my eyes.

    I love waking up to my dog everyday and don’t know what I’d do without her friendship.

    http://brownpaperbaggingit.tumblr.com/

  • ale June 24th, 2013 2:21 PM

    Aw, this is relatable. I’m glad you’ve had so many years with Sammy and I hope you two have a while longer together. The bond created between a person and an animal is beautiful and strong; his energy will always be with you in life. Also, now I’m totally missing Washington and immediately want to pack my own pets up and move back already!

  • brookseidon July 7th, 2013 3:58 AM

    i have a 13 year old dog and i am constantly asking myself, “what the heck am i going to do when he dies?” my dog is my best friend. literally. he follows me everywhere, he sleeps by my bed at night, we take funny pictures together, and he has been there for me through everything. its hard to believe that any dog can even compare to my Bloo. i tear up quite a lot when i look at him very closely and just sit with him because he has so many things wrong with him that just comes with old age. i am scared for when he goes and hope its not painful for him and not painful for me either.

  • neenay August 21st, 2013 6:50 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this. It was beautiful and like everyone else commented, that last part really just sent me crying.
    My labrador retriever is 13 and you can tell he’s getting old. Heavy breathing, weaker limbs, that kind of deterioration. I’ve spent the whole summer hanging with him, especially outside, and it’s wonderful.
    But leaving him for another year at college is going to be so heartbreaking next week. Because I don’t want him to go without me by his side and I don’t want him to go at all. I’m just scared. There have been so many nights where I’m gazing at him sleeping on my lap and I start sobbing at the thought of losing him. He’s my best friend and it’s really terrifying to think of life without my baby.
    But I guess we’ll see. Thanks again, great writing!