My neighbour’s dog misbehaves. She doesn’t respect my routine, the fact that I still come home for lunch. She barks and lunges as though I am headed toward her food dish. I am not. I have no business with her.
I glare, despite knowing direct eye contact is perceived by dogs as confrontational. I glare because I am angry. I am here for solitude. I check personal emails and Facebook; her barking is faint now through the walls, but I hear her while I play Lumosity games and eat my bean burger, which is salty but tastes like nothing. She is not able to get me; she is held back by a fence, and her owner is just inside the door yelling at her to quiet down. She does not attack, but she tears me apart.
My neighbour’s dog is named Mary—a precious name that doesn’t seem right. Mary knows I have no reason to come home at lunchtime. It’s not as though I couldn’t find solitude in a quiet corner of my office or at the park. There are conference rooms that are never occupied, where I could easily hole up and read.
I used to come home to give my own dog medicine and walk him. He met Mary only a few times; her owners moved in a month ago. Her owners seem nice, if unable to control their dog. They often apologize for her, ask if she’s loud. I tell them it doesn’t bother me, but I glare at her in front of them. She looks a lot like him: cattle dog mix, black coat, dark nose dotted pink at the very tip. I tell them the barking doesn’t bother me because I know it won’t one day, not like it does now.
Our dog was well behaved, if a bit shy. And with the exception of his fascination with neighbourhood skunks, he didn’t much lunge. Sure, he ate the cat’s food sometimes or woke us up late at night, but we all have a few bad habits. I had bad habits too, such as checking my email during our walks, spending too much time working afterhours and not cuddling on the couch with him, my buddy, for the hours upon hours he thought appropriate. Our dog was a rescue, had been abused, thrived on the basics: food, attention, water, and love. He quickly learned to dodge our cat.
When I am home at lunch, my cat stares at me; she used to stare at him as he stared at me. I give her a treat, and we eat in silence. Mary barks.
My buddy’s heart leaked. It leaked until it began to fail and his lungs filled with fluid. He was medicated and hung on until he couldn’t. I hung on with him. He wouldn’t look at me, refused to eat, and still, I worried I was making the wrong decision. He fainted. He seized. We were making the right decision.
I was there as his pain released, his body collapsed with a shot. His fur became coarser in that instant. His eyes remained open, and the fluid that had been on his lungs gushed from his nose and onto the plaid blanket beneath him. The blanket he used to sleep on. I petted him, but there was no buddy left to pet. He was not his body, but I said goodbye anyway.
My buddy was never his body. My husband used to call him my shadow when he followed me around. He had been stoic, a Buddha when he went to that place of peace, when he was still alive, standing still, inviting the breeze to his face. We called him boo when we fed him; we called him boy “Come on, boy,” when we walked; we called him buddy most.
Mary barks as I walk to my car. I realize I left my key card at home and turn back toward her. She lunges, and I glare; I open the front door and feel the pang of empty. The cat has already retreated to her nap. I glare at Mary as I leave, too. I feel the empty in my feet as I lock the door to the sharp soundtrack of barking. My eyes swell, but I breathe. I invite the soft, wet breeze to my face, and I realize I’m not angry at all. Not one bit.