“Katie, it’s time dear,” my mother stated over the phone through her sobs. I ran to the car and called my Jack Russell Terrier, Devon. She jumped in back and off we went.
My father was in the end stage of his battle with cancer. I visited often and always brought Devon along. They had a special friendship as she and Dad loved long walks together, a lively game of one-sided tennis and chats by the fire place.
Upon arrival at my parents’ home, I was met by the hospice care giver. “Don’t bring that dog in here,” he scolded. “This is your father’s final hours and I don’t want to be hassled by some mutt.”
Devon and I went quickly to Dad’s room, ignoring the grumpy one. Not allowed on beds, Devon hopped up, nonetheless, and settled by his side. Dad was in a coma. “See, get that thing off,” the aid said. As I went to reach for Devon, she quietly growled. In the sixteen years of our relationship, this was the only time she made that aggressive noise.
“Leave her be,” Mom said lovingly. “Bob has always adored that dog. Let her be.”
Everyone is here and everyone will miss you beyond comprehension. Isn’t it wonderful that Devon is by your side? You are the kindest man and animals pick up on that
Our priest arrived and read Dad his Last Rites. It was at that point that I began to weep. Father Joseph also crossed Devon’s forehead with holy water and prayed, “Saint Francis, bless your creature who gives such comfort.” I shouldn’t have glared at the Hospice aid, but I did.
My brother and his family arrived. Other relatives stopped in to say goodbye. No one else had an issue with Devon. The Hospice man was replaced when his shift ended. I was tempted to say that he had been inappropriate, but I just thanked him. He rolled his eyes as he walked out the door.
Devon rarely moved. Machinery was brought in to keep dad comfortable. A nurse arrived to take notes and to monitor his final hours. The room, at times, was crowded and full of emotion. Devon stayed still. Occasionally she would lift her head and make eye contact with me. To this day, I can only guess as to her message. I tend to think that this motion was Devon’s way of checking that I was alright, and to make sure I had not left the room.
Fourteen hours came and went until my father slipped away. At the exact moment he took his final breath, Devon sighed. Was this a coincidence? I think not
The nurse told us that Dad could still comprehend and that we should comfort him with our words. My mother went to sit in the living room as she was in such a state of grief. Mom needed a bit of distance and my brother’s kind words. I wondered if Devon might need to relieve herself after so many hours, but I trusted her instincts.
Eventually, Devon and I were alone with my beloved father. He was a shoulder to cry on, a voice to comfort and an incredible man in my eyes.
“Dad, I love you so,” I whispered. “Everyone is here and everyone will miss you beyond comprehension. Isn’t it wonderful that Devon is by your side? You are the kindest man and animals pick up on that.”
I prattled on and on, recalling stories of our past together. The nurse would interrupt from time to time to check dad’s vital signs and so on. When she left, I would resume my dissertation. Time went by slowly, and Devon stayed put. Fourteen hours came and went until my father slipped away. At the exact moment he took his final breath, Devon sighed. Was this a coincidence? I think not.
I will always hold my special Devon close to my heart. I do not know how or why she knew all that she knew
We buried my father two days later. He had requested that some of his treasures – a pocket watch which was a precious gift from my mother, and a bottle of his favorite Scotch (!) were among those items buried with him. I added Devon’s leather collar to that group. I read a eulogy that I had written and yes, Devon was by my side. She stood quietly and refrained from making noise.
Devon was humanely euthanized at the age of seventeen when she also developed a cancer. I spread her ashes on a butterfly garden, saving a small amount that I placed on my father’s grave. I went on to raise, show and judge Jack Russell Terriers for many years. I will always hold my special Devon close to my heart. I do not know how or why she knew all that she knew. I think as I spend time with my dogs that knowledge will come to me.
You can know an animal – or a person, for that matter – in an instant, really, though your understanding can go on unfolding for years.
― Mark Doty