We had Carrie killed, just a few days after her 14th birthday.
She had been faltering for the last few months, increasingly so in the last few weeks. But around her birthday, she rallied and enjoyed having the company of family around. But the day came when she finally could no longer stand on her own and would not eat.
We knew her time had come, but still we debated. In the end, we called the local veterinarian who would make a house call. But the earliest she could come was in the afternoon, leaving us with an emotionally exhausting and trying wait.
We use the time to dig a grave for her in the slight meadow, near the gnarled pitch pine. Our rocky hilltop begrudged her enough loose orange clay and feeble rock to make a decent dog-sized hole in the cold ground.
At the end, Carrie lay on her favorite pillows surrounded by family and the veterinarian and the vet’s assistant. Schroeder sat nearby on the couch. She got one shot of a relaxant to put her at ease, followed by the lethal dose. One moment she was there, and the next she wasn’t
I tucked her in a curled sleeping pose, and wrapped her in a clean cotton sheet. She felt remarkably heavy; we needed the wheelbarrow to move her with any ease. We placed her in the hole, and each one of us laid upon her a few stalks and stems of dry plants from the backyard. They were a memento of her curious hobby, deadheading the spent flowers and shrubs with her teeth. Then we all took turns shoveling the rocky dirt into the hole, and finally placed a large chunk of rough white quartz on top to mark the grave.
The holidays and the presence of family and friends served to keep emotion at bay, and I could not see clear to grieve the loss of my first dog for a time. But some days later, on a blustery, misty gray morning, I took down the green lead and collar from its peg, and began to walk the path through the pines, down to the river, along the meadows of the river, and up the stream valley.
I had barely begun when the weight of the empty lead in my hands was too great to bear. I could hardly walk, and the grief washed over me again and again. I felt so keenly both Carrie’s presence and her absence with every step and at every point at which she would have always paused. It took a long time.
A few days later, we went into town for some errands. I walked into the feed store, and standing at the register was a woman with a dog on a green lead—a Saluki, the only saluki I have ever seen.
A Saluki is a sighthound, related to greyhounds but closer in appearance to a Borzoi but smaller. Timid, pure white, with long hair, elegant bearing and sweeping lines, the sight of the dog rendered me speechless. I explained to the woman I had just put my greyhound to sleep…but didn’t complete my thought that this dog looked like an “Angel Carrie”—a perfected vision of our little rescue, free from the scars of her racing career and the infirmities of a long greyhound life. It was a remarkable chance encounter that left me speechless and somehow comforted.
I feel a little better now, having wrung out some grief and coming to a measure of peace. She was a good dog, a great dog, and had a pretty full life—certainly a long life for a retired racer. I would like to imagine her in a perfected form, something like that sweet saluki but with Carrie’s wry sense of mischief.
We will miss her for a long time, no doubt about that.