Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Walking the Dog – Walls

The middle part of the last decade was pretty rough for me. In 2003, my mother was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). My father had passed away in 1999, so my mother lived alone. She was a very independent woman, but eventually she could no longer manage on her own. That’s when I became her caregiver.

Being a caregiver is an all-consuming task, as anyone who has ever been one can attest, especially when it is a debilitating disease, like ALS. One of the hardest things anyone has to experience in life is watching a loved one wither away. When the end finally comes, it can seem like a blessing. That’s a tough thought to deal with. Wanting someone’s suffering to end is basically wishing for him or her to die. There can be a lot of guilt mixed in with the grief. It’s no wonder many caregivers fall into depression after the death of their charge.

That’s when Alex came into the story. Al came to live with me shortly after my mother’s death. He was about 6-years at the time. I had been thinking about getting another dog for years without ever acting on the thought. Quite typically, for me, I had dithered until the decision was taken away from me. My son was forced to move and could not keep both of his dogs. The thought of Al, who was a somewhat emotionally fragile dog, being forced to live with strangers wasn’t a very pretty one. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore.

In the poem, Walls, Langston Hughes wrote, “Four walls can hold / So much pain.” I’ve discovered those words are only too real. Thankfully, that pain is easier to bear when there is someone inside those four walls with you. While dogs may not be able to carry on a scintillating conversation, they listen very well. They also help in other ways. The first thing a dog owner has to do upon awakening is to let the dog out and check their food and water. Thus, he or she starts the day thinking about and caring for someone else. This is much better than starting the day dwelling on what makes you sad. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I went from being a caregiver to having a caregiver. Al had become my emotional caregiver. Luckily, for me, he was quite good at the task.

Unfortunately, for everyone involved, he was forced into that role once again a few, short years later.

On this date in 2006, Al and I arrived in Olive Branch, Mississippi so that we could live with the love of my life.

Both of us were totally out of our element. Al’s mother or father must have been a husky or other kind of sled dog. He had beautiful blue eyes and an extremely thick undercoat. He loved snow and cold weather. There isn’t much of either in northern MS. I was even more out of place. There aren’t a lot of liberal atheists in MS, although I did meet a few, but that’s another story.

Al’s blue eyes seemed to enchant every woman who met him. Regina was no exception. It was love on both sides right from the start. Al even took to sleeping on the floor on her side of the bed. That was a real surprise, because he usually wasn’t happy unless he could see me. Sadly, that friendship never really had a chance to develop. Regina was buried one year later after spending most of that year in the hospital.

This time, Al really had his work cut out for him. My friends and family were 800 miles away. He was all I had.

The two of us hung on down there for nearly another year. It was during this time that I really appreciated how much he gave to me. Al was my responsibility. I had to care for him. I was still a caregiver. I had a purpose – a reason to get out of bed in the morning. That may seem like a small thing. But it’s not. It can be huge.

Eventually, I let go and allowed family and circumstances to bring us home.  The two of us packed up and headed north. We made that trip shortly after the launching of the Moose. It felt good to be home.

The next two years were spent living with my son and his family. Al was happier with more people and other animals around. So was I. A lot of my grief washed away during this period. Al went from being my emotional caregiver to being the star in a series of online essays. We were both happier than we’d been in a long time.

That all ended today.

Yesterday, Al started acting as if something was bothering him. His back legs seemed weak and he didn’t want to eat. He even turned his nose up at a piece of hot dog bun. That was a sure sign he wasn’t feeling well. He loves loved bread. The vet thought he had cancer. She said he had two weeks or less. The prognosis was not pretty. I decided that euthanasia was the most loving thing I could do for him. I stayed with him until he was unconscious.

Tomorrow morning is going to be tough. That’s when it will finally hit home. I’m going to miss him, but he will live on. Al will likely make an appearance in future essays right here on the Moose.

Adios, mi amigo. Muchas gracias.



Four walls can hold

So much pain,

Four walls that shield

From the wind and rain.

Four walls shelter

So much sorrow

Garnered from yesterday

and held for tomorrow.

Langston Hughes




  1. spacemanspiff

    I’ve had a rough stretch at work and my eyes got hot after the first sentence. I’m not a dog person but this story and the vividness of the details really made it spring to life. I felt like I didn’t want the diary to end. You’re a great writer John and thank you for sharing this. We might have never met IRL but I assure you that I have a lot of cariƱo for you. I care a lot about what goes on with my Moose peeps. Be strong and know that people are sending positive thoughts your way. Big hug bro!

  2. Kysen

    I lost my best four-legged friend last year….12 years of taking care, and being taken care of. I still miss him…probably always will.

    Your last kindness for him was your greatest…he’s gone to where the rabbits run slow and straight.

    Big (manly) hug your way, bro…


    I have done mostly what most men do,

    And pushed it out of my mind;

    But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,

    Four-Feet trotting behind.

    Day after day, the whole day through —

    Wherever my road inclined —

    Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”

    And trotted along behind.

    Now I must go by some other round, —

    Which I shall never find —

    Somewhere that does not carry the sound

    Of Four-Feet trotting behind.


  3. Jjc2008

    Something about losing a cherish, dependent pet gets to me more than anything. I lost my mother when I was in my twenties. It was shocking, sudden and devastating.  But I made it through. It will soon be forty years. Then I lost my dad, a man I admired, hero worshipped all my life, 20 years later.  But that was easier.  He lived until three days before his 78th b-day.  Again, it was sudden.  Ditto with my sister and only sibling.  My best friend lingered with cancer and died in her forties.  THAT was hard.

    But nothing was harder than losing my beloved cats.  If an animal can be a soulmate, my black cat Ebony was mine.  Just seeing her made me smile.  She “talked” to me (she had a bit of Siamese in her); she fetched, she was so funny.  Seven years ago and I still miss her.

    My niece is getting ready to put down her 13 year old lab. I cried with her on the phone.  Something about our animal friends is so special.

    I am an agnostic yet these words touch my heart, and gives me comfort:

    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

    There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.

    There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

    The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

    Author unknown..

  4. I’ve lost a lot of friends and loved ones in this life. I would not presume to claim that the death of a pet, no matter how loved, compares to the death of a lover, child, or other person that you love. However, you are never truly alone when you live with a dog. They express their love constantly. Now he’s gone and the house seems very empty. It will take some time to get used to that.  

  5. Rashaverak

    You have my sincere condolences and hopes that pleasant memories of Al will bring some measure of comfort to you.

    Everything we love is only loaned to us.

    When they leave us, those whom we love

    live on joyfully in our happy memories of them.

    Ludwig von Beethoven: Elegie auf den Tod eines Pudels, WoO 110 (1787). (Elegy upon the Death of a Poodle.)

  6. sricki

    It is a terrible thing to know your best friend is — or will soon be — in pain. And more terrible still to have to be the one who makes the decision to end that pain in the only merciful way. As Kysen said, however, that excruciatingly difficult decision… was a great and selfless kindness.

    No, losing a much loved pet is not like losing certain people in one’s life. But it is still a beloved friend. And it is, in fact, such a unique friendship… that nothing can really compare to it. It’s a different kind of pain because it’s a different kind of relationship. And though I was crushed by the deaths of pets I have lost, I know that what I felt still pales next to what you are going through. Al helped you make it through painful life events that I’ve never even experienced.

    I wish I had a poem or a quote for you like some of the others have. I thought on some poetry I know that has touched me — especially about loss and loved ones. I looked through a couple of my books and hunted online for a while (hence my delayed response here). But in the end, words just aren’t enough for a pain like this — and can’t really express what I feel for you at this moment. And it’s not that the English language just isn’t good enough — I don’t think any language could properly describe this kind of sorrow and loss. Human expression just hasn’t come quite that far.

    But my heart goes out to you, John, even though my words are inadequate.

    You will be in my thoughts.

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