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Frankie’s Story: The Dog We Couldn’t Keep

There once was a dog, a happy, beloved, pampered dog who lived with his person. The dog and his person grew old together, developed cataracts together, grew blind together. The dog was a devoted companion, never leaving his person’s side except for brief excursions outdoors. Then the person died, and the relatives did not want the old dog. If he’d been younger, maybe, they said. Or if he wasn’t blind in one eye. Not wanting to be bothered with him they dumped him by the side of the road, and so the dog was forced to wander and try to find the comforting touch he would never find again. The touch of his person.

It was a wet fall, with lots of rain and cold, windy nights, but the dog knew if he could just find his way back to his home, he would be okay. His person would let him inside where it was warm and dry, and he didn’t have to worry about other dogs or about the growing emptiness in his stomach. Because he was blind in one eye, he didn’t even see the car that hit him. One second he was trotting down the street toward home; the next he was flying through the air. One second he could see out of one eye; the next second he couldn’t see at all. No matter though. He could still smell, and he could still walk, and as long as he could smell and walk he could still get home to his person.

Never mind that his side was torn open and bleeding, that his paw hurt with every step he took, that the hunger pains warred sharply with the pain of his wound and his head. Once he found his person, he would be all right. So on he walked down the street. He didn’t know where he was. He just knew he had to get home.

At the first sight my husband drove past him, like countless others had done before him. Who could blame him? The dog was hardly alive, staggering down the middle of the road, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. His hair was matted and clumped against his skin, which drew tight against his bones. The pancake-sized wound on his side gaped and oozed as he limped. He wasn’t dead yet, but it was obvious he soon would be.

Conscience struck, and we went back. I got out of the car beside the dog and gingerly called to him, “Hey baby.” The dog stopped. I stopped. We waited. Me, to see if he would snarl or bite, growl or whine. The dog just waited. I approached him, my hand held out cautiously, ready to retreat at the first sign of aggression. Inside my head every alarm I had ever heard or had bred into me blared out a warning– “Are you nuts! He could be diseased! Rabid! Call Animal Control” Heedless, I knelt, still talking softly, the dog still unmoving. After a long, fearful moment my fingers brushed the top of his head, and he sagged against me, snuggled right up to me in an exhausted slump that plainly said, “I’ve gone as far as I can go. Take me!”

I picked him up and realized I didn’t have to worry about hurting him because he was too exhausted to care. His weight was no burden; I could feel every one of his bones against my body, feel the wearied thump of his heart. He wasn’t that big to begin with, a little schnauzer/terrier mix, but starvation had dwindled him more.

His eyes closed, and his head rested against my shoulder. With the life force oozing from his body, I felt his absolute trust in me. There was no fear. No hostility. Just acceptance. A sense that I could do what I wished with him as long as I did not turn him out to walk alone down that long road to death.

At the vet the news was worse than we feared. The words came in a jumbled blur. Cataracts in one eye. Detached retina in the other. Poor vision. Hit by a car. Starved. Probably not worth saving– and yet there was something about this little dog. I could see it, and so could the vet. “It might be worth a try,” she said. “But it won’t be cheap. Still, if he survives, you can see he’ll make you a good little dog.”

My husband and I looked at each other. “We can’t keep him,” we both said immediately. And we couldn’t. We already had three dogs and two cats. We didn’t have the space or the resources for another animal. We couldn’t keep him, but we couldn’t let him go either. We told the vet to go ahead and do what needed to be done. So firmly was he melded to my body that it took two people to pull him off of me.

We brought him home from the vet after a couple of days. The doctor had done everything she could do medically. She said it was time for LOVE to work its magic. We had to spoon-feed him at first because he was too weak to eat. We kept him in a quiet corner of the bathroom so he could rest. And we carried him outside to do his “duty”. Whenever I could, I would hold him and he would fall asleep on my chest, his heart beating in rhythm with mine.

As he grew stronger, we had to put a cone on his head to keep him from chewing his stitches. The cone and the long line of stitches down his side made him look like a little monster so we called him “Frankie”, short for “Frankendoggy.” Three times a day we had to clean his wound and apply medication. He’d lie quietly during the procedure, although I know it had to be painful, but he seemed to know that it was for his own good.

As he grew stronger, he blundered around the house, bumping into things with his cone. He found all the animals’ food and water bowls and made them his. The bane of cats everywhere, he discovered ours and barked at them to warn us about the dangerous creatures we harbored. He snuck up behind them and goosed them with his cone, then scooted happily away before they could react. Although he could not see, he would always find his way to back to my side so I could pick him up and hold him. No longer content to sleep by himself in the bathroom at night he would cry until my husband and I had to take him into our bed and let him sleep with us.

Frankie showed us aspects of ourselves we had never seen before. For the first time I saw my younger daughter as caregiver when she tenderly held Frankie every morning while I administered treatment. I saw the soft side of my husband as he gently held the little bundle of bones and carried him outside day and night. I even saw the gentle side of our other animals, who seemed to take special care with Frankie, and accepted behavior from him that they would not allow any of the other animals to get away with. Our daughters learned a lesson in generosity and compassion that could not have been taught anywhere else. My husband and I gave up our Christmas presents because after paying Frankie’s medical bills there was nothing left over. Frankie was our Christmas present to each other.

We found a home for him, one without cats, and promised the new owners that Frankie should be strong enough to go to his new family by Christmas. Although we knew it would be hard to give him up, we knew he was going to a good place. After all, we couldn’t keep him.

The wound slowly healed and the vet removed his stitches and took off his cone. It was wonderful to see how happily he pranced once the hated cone came off. Now he could really chase the cats, and he did, with relish. Our fat little felines had more exercise than they’ve had in years, thanks to Frankie. In another week, the vet told us, Frankie would be strong enough for a bath. We eagerly awaited that day, but until then we contented ourselves with cutting the worst of his mats off and combing through the others. We looked forward to seeing him clean, with shiny fur and wagging tail.

Then Frankie suddenly stopped eating and drinking. Back to the vet he went for IV therapy, blood tests and antibiotics. He must have caught a virus, the vet said, during the time he was on the road. Whatever it was, he was not strong enough to fight it so he went downhill quickly. My husband and I held him and used a syringe to force chicken broth down his throat. We carried him outside and held him up because he was too weak to lift his leg. I realized that once he got better, I would not be able to give him up. He had become too precious to me.

But Frankie didn’t get better. I spent my nights sitting up on the couch, holding him up so he could breathe. He molded himself close to my body, scrambling to be as close to my face as possible. As I held him, Charlie the cat came and sat down by my feet, and I knew it was the end for Charlie always maintains a vigil when it is time for an animal to die.

When morning came we took Frankie for his final trip to the vet. I held him while he breathed his last, then we brought him home and buried him in the back yard. The dog we couldn’t keep was home to stay.

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