Duke is gone.
His family moved out of town. There will be no more midday walks with my favorite dog-walking client. Children and dogs need space, and the new house has a yard where their kids can play and Duke can lie in the shade.
I didn’t know the last time I left him was our final good-bye. For the past year, the routine has been that I arrive to Duke’s home at noon and usually find him zonked on a pink Disney princess blanket. He’s 14 in dog years and going deaf, so waking him always makes me worry he won’t.
Duke was awake and greeted me at the door that last day. It was hot, over 80 degrees, and he plunked his butt onto the pavement by the time we reached the corner.
“I did all my business. I’m sitting,” his heavy breathing seemed to say.
It was a shady spot, so I knelt and scratched Duke behind the ears. He lifted his snout and closed his eyes, as in, “Mmm, that’s what I’m talking about.”
We stayed there for a while, silent and bright. Duke and I have been a perfect match. His aging doggie bladder needs midday relief. I, isolated writer, conflicted grad student, and childless mother, need the wordless warmth and companionship of dogs.
We followed our routine when we returned to Duke’s home: take off the leash and harness, fix a doggie cocktail in his bowl (fresh water on the rocks), give three treats and a vigorous belly rub.
“Okay Duke, you be a good boy,” I said from the door.
He watched me from the hallway, ears lifted and head tilted, as in, “You’re leaving?”
“No parties,” were my final words as I closed and locked the door behind me.
I e-mailed his mom later that week to confirm Duke’s schedule for the following week. That’s when I got the news.
“We’re moving next week,” her e-mail said. “Things are sooo hectic. Thanks for everything. Duke will miss you.”
I cried like a kindergartner whose sandbox pal never returned to the playground. It took me an entire day to compose myself and respond with best wishes.
I thought I was pathetic. I’m a professional adult who’s lost worse things than a dog-walking client. Then I realized I was grateful to Duke. Circumstances brought him and his sibling dog Daisy into my life last summer when I was unemployed, unmoored, lonely, and scared. They provided kisses, company, and love without judgement or limit.
I was wrecked when Daisy died in November, but grateful to her, too. She reminded me each moment is a treasure because it can be the last with a being we love. Regret is the worst thing of all and I have none over the time I spent with those two dogs.
I miss Duke. I miss his daily big-dog “WOOF!” greetings. I miss keeping paper towels in my pocket to wipe the drool that dangled from his jowls as we walked. Life has taught me too many times that loss breaks your heart; however, I’m blessed to also know that love makes it strong. Because I loved Daisy and Duke, I can move forward.