Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare



Today I just want to write about my dogs. I should be blogging and twittering according to the people who talk about author platforms. My book’s official publication date is today. I just want to think about how things are strung together. Not how I am supposed to be paying attention to my social media presence.

Today is also town meeting day and as new writer Matt Sumell has said in his NPR interview of last week, “Bad choices make for good writing.” We made bad choices and now we live in a place that has a town meeting on the first Tuesday in March, which is my publishing date and the day we will put our dog down. I wrote the book because it was a way to make sense of the outcome of our bad choices. In my book’s acknowledgements I thank my dog for getting me through, “my loyal assistant,” I called him. “No one can feel dumped for very long with a Golden Retriever by her side.” My dog has cancer. The chemo got him through to my publishing date.

The friend who gave me the book that I have chosen to read at this time has cancer. The book is Abigail Thomas’s Three Dog Life, a memoir of her husband’s traumatic brain injury, ensuing dementia and death. Last summer a writing instructor told me to read Thomas’s Safekeeping, so I read that instead. Now my friend’s blood work isn’t so hot and my dog is dying and another friend has cancer. I may get to meet Thomas in Atlanta this April through another friend who contributed an essay to my book. The book that officially comes out today. So it makes sense that I am now reading Three Dog Life, waiting for my life to soon be a one dog life. I know I will not lose my moorings but the more rope I can tie around things the better. This is grief.

The friend in Atlanta writes about how to write about grief. Mostly instead of writing I am watching television, opening and closing both my book and Thomas’s book, and wandering about the house eating snacks which I share with both the healthy dog and the dog who is dying of cancer. I cooked him hard boiled eggs. I share my Milanos. I bought him a new toy. We are up much of the night as he stares at me and I pet him and tell him thanks. I am angry at my own fatigue even though I know that’s ridiculous. My breathless cough has been around as long as his cancer, now. Both of us breathing in unsteady rasps. We are loud and annoying. My husband can sleep through anything, which is good, as I cannot stand to see him cry. At 3:35 AM Amazon sends me a list of the 100 memoirs to read in my lifetime. If Three Dog Life had been on the list, as it should, I might have collapsed from the weight of so much synchronicity. I’m glad my husband sleeps through this quiet agitation. The rest of us, healthy dog, sick dog, and me, are in and out of the house in the below zero temperatures, because the sick dog can’t remember that he has just been out, and the healthy dog is just excited that there is so much activity. The healthy dog has stopped roughhousing. The vet would be glad of that, she has been worried about the sick dog’s platelet count. Not that it really matters, now. But the healthy dog instead places a paw over the sick dog’s paw and lies down quietly next to him. He is no longer fighting for the sick dog’s toy. He sleeps on the sick dog’s bed, probably for the scent, as the sick dog only lies on the hard surface of the floor, although most of the time he just stands and stares at me, his front legs too far apart, like an old man who is trying to keep his balance.

A suggested reading list:
Safekeeping Abigail Thomas
Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas
Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women Nina Gaby, editor
Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss Jessica Handler
Making Nice Matt Sumell

11 thoughts on “ONE DOG LIFE

  1. Made me cry…..god speed Chester

  2. I am weeping with you.

  3. Blessings, Nina. We went through this last year and know how painful it is.

  4. My dog, Nora, is truly my best buddy. Thank you for your eloquent piece.

  5. I have no words just now. Last night I lay awake thinking of a friend whose husband went from a routine dr appt 2 weeks, to an immediate stent placement, to a dissected aorta aneurism and then his death yesterday. So today tears are close to the surface. I cry for her, and for you and Craig, and Chester, and even Bentley who has all the beds and toys but no big brother. Love, Eileen

    “Kicking and screaming!”


  6. Dearest Nina,

    I cannot imagine your pain and I am thinking of you. Our pets are truly our children.

    Last night, when I went out onto my back porch, my two darling chihuahuas, Jeefus and Zoey, followed me. There in front of us was an adolescent ‘possum. He showed his huge mouth, which made up nearly 50% of his body, with a row of teeth that looked like a chain saw. As if he were a “big dog” Jeefus lept at him. All 2 pounds of him rushed frantically toward the open mouth. I screamed, ran to pick both chi’s up, and luckily got them inside. My worst fears were not realized, as the ‘possum was just frightened to death and ran for cover under the dresser that has been sitting on the porch for umpteen years. Another bite avoided. But I feel sometimes it’s only a matter of time before Jeefus really gets his comeuppance against some rogue ‘possum in the back yard, and I won’t be near enough to save him from the chain saw. I pray that day will never come.

    I adore my two children and am so sorry to hear yours is ill.
    I will be thinking of you and sending my thoughts to you, Craig and the babies.

    Lots of love and warm hugs, Carol

  7. The day that we put Happy down was heartbreaking, and even though we knew it was the last gift we could give to him, selfishly we just weren’t ready. Thinking about you guys on your heartbreaking day…

  8. My tears won’t help. I’d been hoping for Chester to go through one more summer. My condolences, Nina. And though they don’t help, I’m still crying and seeing the photo of the two of them sitting outside, Chester with his toy. Sweet babe.

  9. Oh, this hurts. By the time I’m reading it I guess the deed is done. You’ve given dear Chester a fine send-off, with so much love and so many Milanos. Sometimes I think we are meant to measure our own long lives by the love we’ve shared with short-lived pals. How long did she live? A horse, two geese, six dogs and a ferret. He’s old now, already twelve dogs gone. It’s been excruciating and so important, sharing your love for this old boy; I’ve often wished he could read to know how you’ve spread his spirit to so many. I hope the day wasn’t too brutal and that the others loves in your life bring consolation. Much love.

  10. Thank you for all the heartfelt posts. We have a most marvelous vet, and the send off was warm and tearful and funny. The staff cried with us. I asked the vet if i could please transfer my own health care to them. Then Craig and I went for poutine and soup while Bentley waited in the car, alone for the first time. I thought I was kind of OK till this morning when I was getting ready for work and suddenly felt slammed in the gut with a bag of rocks, out of nowhere. Decided despite an unceasing panic attack, to go to work. My coworkers are great, and even my patients (word gets around fast) were showering me with sympathy. It worked wonders.

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