Kate Erickson

Guest Blog by Kate Erickson

An Hour More or Less: Remembering Tucker
My kids were going off to middle and high school, and Wilson, our dog, was no longer a puppy. The house needed new energy, so I went looking for something little and fluffy.
            “There’s a cute dog in that bottom cage,” the Humane Society attendant said.
            I bent down to look. It was cute, but not exactly what I had in mind. As I rose to full height, I came face-to-face with a tiny hedgehog-looking puppy in the top cage. The excitement bursting from those obsidian eyes said, “I’m your boy.” And indeed he was.
            Eleven years later, I would caress his thick fur, gaze into those dimming eyes and whisper, “Sh, it’s okay. You can go now. I promise we’ll be fine.”
Our Tucker-Boy died on November 6, 2011, the day we change the clocks to standard time, the day we get an extra hour, but it gets dark an hour earlier so it’s not really a net positive.
My husband, Gary, and I are normally alert to the depressing one hour shortage of daylight, starting the morning with a brief argument over whether the clocks get turned back or forward and spending the rest of it saying things like, “It’s two o’clock, but it’s really three.”
During last year’s switch from daylight savings, our grief over watching Tucker die left us little energy to give a crap about anything, let alone a mere gain or loss of an hour.
            From the moment Tucker came into our lives, he charged the air. Our lab-border collier mix, Wilson, was an active, yet aloof dog. Tucker was eager to give affection and hungry to receive it. During that first year, the little hedgehog grew into a 60-pound moose. We never knew what breeds combined to make him, but his head was reminiscent of a Rottweiler which gave him a menacing look.
Tucker was far from menacing. He maintained the demeanor of a small, anxious dog. He bounced and danced whenever any of us got up in the morning, returned home, or offered a walk.
He needed to be close to either Gary or me, those brilliant dark eyes always alert to our movements. When I was working from my home office, he’d position himself in the narrow passageway between the edge of my desk and chair, forcing me to step over him every time I went to the filing cabinet or the fax machine. If I made him move, he’d seek out Gary.
Tucker was so adept at pretending to be small that he’d sneak into our cramped galley kitchen while I cooked dinner, moving nimbly around me. I wouldn’t notice he was breaking the no dogs in the kitchen rule until he’d start bouncing with delight when the other family members entered to serve up their plates.
He was easily spooked by thunder, fireworks, and balloons. His certainty that scary monsters haunted the landscape caused him to hesitate at the door and look up at us for reassurance before going outside.
            In the last few months of his life, his energy diminished and he appeared to be in pain. Our vet put him on medication, which helped for a while, but he quickly went from one pill a day to four.
He had a habit of lying on the bathroom floor each night while I bathed. On his final Saturday night, I was upstairs preparing my bath when I saw him struggling to climb the steep staircase to be with me. When I rushed to stop him, he looked so sad that I coaxed him the rest of the way and petted him until his heaving breath returned to normal. He followed me to the bathroom where he laid, like always, next to the tub.
At three in the morning on that Sunday, Gary woke me to say he’d been up with Tucker since midnight. Tucker was breathing heavily and unable to lie in one spot for any length of time. I took him outside to see if he had to go potty, then tried to get him to lie down on his bed, but he wouldn’t. I spread blankets on the floor, made myself a bed, and invited him to join me. He would not. I asked Gary to lie down on the sofa, and after a few minutes Tucker laid down near me and we all went to sleep.
At daybreak, Tucker seemed better, but clearly not well. I gave him a pain pill. Gary and I discussed keeping him comfortable until we could take him to the vet on Monday. By late morning, I was in my office doing some work and thought Gary was napping on the sofa until I heard him yell for me.
I ran into the living room to find Tucker standing, his breathing labored. Gary was petting him and crying. He said that Tucker had come over to the sofa and put his face near his, but when Gary reached to touch him, Tucker had a seizure.
“He was trying to tell me it’s time,” Gary said, his words choked with tears.
Our veterinarian’s answering service connected me with the on-call vet. Sobbing, I told her I didn’t think we’d be able to bring him to her office. In a calming voice, she said she would come to our house. However, she’d have to wait for her husband and he wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours.
As Gary and I waited for the vet to come put an end to Tucker’s suffering, we sat by his side with classical music playing in the background. Through tears, we petted him, thanking him for being our pal, for bringing such vibrant joy to our household, and keeping us always alert to dangers lurking outside our front door.
An hour after the vet removed Tucker’s body, I took Wilson on a walk. This would be our new normal—just him and me; we might as well get started. My heart actually hurt—as if blood was draining from it faster than it was being replenished. What I really wanted was to walk out my sadness.
I had to coax Wilson into his collar and leash. He kept looking around, waiting for Tucker.
“This will be fun, buddy.” My tone was upbeat, but he wasn’t fooled and balked at being led outside.
We headed down the alley behind our house. Every dog walk for the past 11 years had been with Wilson on my left and Tucker on my right. I felt unbalanced without him. I kept remembering how hard he’d worked to control his enthusiasm and learn to maintain a proper heel. I could tell that Wilson felt it, too, as he kept glancing over to where Tucker should be, and then back towards the house.
I let Wilson off his leash when we were deep into the cemetery where the two dogs were free to run and play, but Wilson ran back to look for Tucker.
I called Wilson, put him on his leash, and started to bawl, wiping my eyes and nose on the sleeve of my jacket. He patiently waited for me to cry myself out, then he led me home.
As the dinner hour crept up, Gary and I sat into the sinking darkness, barely able to speak. We chose a meal that held the promise of easing our grief: Jenny’s giant burgers, fries and chocolate milkshakes. Its sedative effects only lasted for the time it took to consume the food.
I doubt that Gary and I will ever forget which way the clocks need to turn in the fall or the spring. The day when we relinquish daylight an hour earlier will always be the time of year when we lost our Tucker. That loss will carry us into darkness until spring arrives and the forward turn reaffirms that grief diminishes as life goes on.

Kate writes an hysterically funny blog about small town adventures on the Mendocino Coast: www.ithappenedatpurity.com

Kate & Tucker
November 8th update: Kate just posted this on her blog and it's worth sharing.