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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
   Sally decides to go
Wednesday, September 5 2012
I've been getting out of bed early every morning but Gretchen usually stays in bed until at least 9:00am, though this morning we were both up and about at something like 7:30, mostly to intercept Ramona before she had an opportunity to poo and pee on the floor of her prison cell. She'd already done the latter and for some reason we couldn't persuade her to do the former. At some point in all of this, Gretchen noticed that Sally was nowhere to be seen. Normally Sally keeps to a very restricted geographic area that includes the first floor and the yard out to just beyond where we park the cars. But she wasn't in any of those places. Fearing she might have fallen down the stairs again, we also checked downstairs, including the guest room where our occasional-houseguest Liza was sleeping. Nothing. Without any other ideas for where Sally might have gone, we began to wonder if perhaps she had crawled off somewhere to die, which is a cliché that might contain a nugget of truth. There had been a strong rain early this morning, so wherever Sally was, she would be soaking wet. I looked under bushes and in all the dark cramped spaces a dog might burrow her way into. As I was looking near the road, I happened to turn and see Sally out in the middle of Dug Hill Road heading northward at the highest speed that her awkward gallup allowed. She'd already passed our driveway and would soon be arriving at the driveway of our fussy across-the-street neighbors. What the hell was she doing? I ran after her and scooped her up in my arms. Her fur was sopping wet and covered in globular stick-tights, giving a clue about where she'd spent the night. That she hadn't spent it indoors out of the rain was very unusual and reflected a qualitative change in her behavior.
Back at the house, I set Sally down in front of Gretchen and she wagged her tail happily to see us. But then she started bounding around with that unusual energy I'd noticed yesterday after she'd fallen down the stairs. Between that and the galloping away down Dug Hill Road (something hasn't been as far as in months), she seemed to be telling us something. When you are a two dimensional creature trapped on a plane and want to rise up above that plane, perhaps the only way you will have to communicate that desire is to head off with extreme urgency within your plane. At some level I felt like Sally was communicating that she wanted to move beyond these three dimensions in which all of us are trapped. It could easily be that she was experiencing a lot of aging-related and had no easy way to express it.
Gretchen toweled Sally off and then lay down on the living room couch with Sally sprawled out on her. As we discussed Sally's behavior, she fell into an unusually deep sleep. Gretchen knew it was deep because Sally didn't object (as she normally would) as Gretchen fiddled around with her lips and gums. We were relieved that Sally hadn't actually dragged herself off somewhere to die, but at the same time we wondered what would have happened had I not been out near the road just as Sally happened to be running away down it. Awkward as he movement has become, she might have ended up in a ravine and we would have never known what became of her. Perhaps finally today she was finally sending us the signal we'd been waiting for, that she wanted to get out of here, however that might be achieved. We'd been watching her long gradual decline for months and we knew some day she would send us a signal. Her unusual behavior this morning seemed to be that signal. So we made a decision: we would have her euthanized.
You cannot make a decision like that and then go on with your life while waiting for a veterinarian's schedule to sync up with your own. Once that decision is made, at least with a 17 year old dog like Sally (with whom Gretchen has lived since she was 25 years old), life itself goes into limbo. With Sally still fast asleep upon her, Gretchen called our housecall vet Eileen to try to arrange a housecall. When an hour passed and Eileen hadn't called back, Gretchen called the Hurley vet (who also makes housecalls, though much more expensive ones). The receptionist told Gretchen we could have our housecall within the hour. Not wanting to have to make any transactions during such a fraught visit, Gretchen gave the receptionist our credit card information over the phone. The euthanasia vist would cost $220.
And then we waited. Sally was still sprawled out over Gretchen, sleeping more deeply than Gretchen ever remembered her sleeping. "Maybe she's dying," Gretchen declared. At some point during all this, Gretchen's friend Mary from Seattle called and Gretchen tearfully told her that we were about to put Sally to sleep. Gretchen also called her old girlfriend Barbara (the person who had come up with the adoption idea that had resulted in Sally's adoption). I hadn't actually known this as I heard Gretchen giving Barbara credit (on her answering service) for the 17 years she'd had with Sally.
The Hurley vet had told us they would call before heading out, but they arrived without that call. It was better that way; we'd been insulated from the proximity of their arrival from a call that wasn't to come. The head vet showed up with an assistant and did the whole procedure without Sally ever having to wake from her slumber. The first medication was a deep anæsthetic, and the second was the lethal dose of some sort of pink fluid. As this second dose was about to be injected, I remember thinking that there was still an opportunity to stop so that Sally might live another day. But why? She was so peaceful and Gretchen had said her goodbyes.
By now both Gretchen and I were sobbing. I'd been especially moved by something the vet had said (and perhaps says during all such procedures), "You'll be running soon." There was nothing Sally loved doing more than running, though her body hadn't had the ability to do that for about a year. I don't have any belief in an afterlife, but it is nevertheless a powerful lie we tell ourselves in traumatic times. On this occasion it seemed more like truth. Why couldn't Sally do anything she wanted to once her body was no longer a restraint?
The vets mercifully departed immediately after the second injection, leaving us with what had already become a corpse. It had all happened so quickly and seamlessly that it was a little difficult to accept that Sally was really dead. Gretchen (who had needed to piss for at least an hour) finally got out from under Sally and stretched her out in a comfortable position on the couch.
My attention had already turned to the practical matter of what to do with the body. I asked Gretchen to come outside and suggest a place where we might bury Sally. She quickly suggested a place behind the dog house, just south of the stone footpath to the Farm Road (and about 50 feet from the front door).
So I spent the next half hour furiously digging Sally a grave. Though the surface Gretchen had indicated was smooth and covered with mowed grass, moss, and other vegetation, there was almost no soil to dig through. Instead it was a jumble of flatish bluestone pieces in whatever arrangement the last glaciation had left them in. I had to pry some up and break others into pieces. I'd started the hole with a shovel and a maddock, but most of the digging was done with an iron bar and my bare hands, the latter of which were soon covered with weeping blisters and angry cuticle injuries.
Through all of this, we still had our houseguest Liza. It's very strange to find one's self sobbing in front of a total stranger. She tried to be understanding, but it was a little hard to take for Gretchen to watch her matter-of-factly making herself a vegan fake turkey sandwich while Sally lay dead on the couch. (I'd abandoned a peanut butter sandwich two-bites-in when the vets had arrived, and I'd yet to resume my eating of it.) Eventually Liza headed off for her college classes and Gretchen and I were free to mourn.
Despite the rocks, I'd managed to dig the hole about two feet deep, and was of the opinion that it was deep and wide enough for Sally. Gretchen meanwhile would have been content for Sally's corpse to have remained for several more hours on the couch, but I was ready to bury her. Gretchen sensed my eagerness to do so and agreed. So I picked Sally up from the couch. Her body was still limp and warm, especially the part that had been directly against the couch. The main difference from the way she'd been to carry back when she'd been alive was that her head was completely unsupported by her neck and hung heavily across my arm. Gretchen and I lowered her into the grave as tenderly as we could. The fit was snug and we had to curl her into a ball that, aside from a sharp rocky ledge I'd been incapable of breaking up, wouldn't have been uncomfortable for a living dog. But there was something very wrong about placing a creature so beloved into a hole in the ground. As dirt rained upon her from the sides, we instinctively brushed it from her coat.
We paused for a moment to contemplate the horror of Sally nestled so inappropriately in a hole in the ground and then just held each other and sobbed. I don't care who you are, it's never easy to bury one's children. There was no way we could bring ourselves to shovel dirt in over our dog, so I went and got some pine needles from the dog house (storing pine needles is its only purpose). Once I'd covered Sally's corpse in those, shoveling dirt in upon her didn't seem so monstrous.
Of course, there wasn't really all that much dirt to shovel. Mostly what we did was lay layer after layer of rock upon Sally until we'd filled the hole to within two or three inches of the surface. Hoping to provide a surface where plants could grow, we filled the top of the hole with the incidental soil from between the many rocks that I'd excavated. There was plenty of rock left over after the hole was filled in, so I stached up the big pieces neatly along the edge of the nearby woods and stuffed the little pieces under the doghouse until it had a nice retroactive foundation.
Since we're both atheists, there were few if any aspects of ritual about the burial. At some point I said matter-of-factly that this was where Sally would be "forever," but even that had a trace of the self-delusion typical of faith; Sally's bone may well lie nestled in that bluestone for thousands of years, but eventually this whole area will be plowed by another glacial advance and her remains may some day end up down in New Jersey.

That was how Sally died and and how we buried her. I should mention that I've buried a number of chickens, squirrels, and even chipmunks in my day. But Sally (at an age-reduced weight of 30 or 35 pounds) was by far the largest creature I had ever buried.

Upstairs at my computer, I'd occasionally think about what had just happened. It had been a very intimate death and burial. In a way this had helped me emotionally, but in other ways it haunted me. It was hard not to wonder if perhaps the decision that she die today was a little arbitrary. When one plays God but is not the sociopath that God actually is, it's hard not to second guess decisions. It was also hard not to just think about the purpose of life. What is it all about? We come here, we do some things, we make some people smile and others frown, and then we die. If we're very very lucky, someone will dig a hole and gently put us in it and then sob a few sobs when they're off alone by themselves.

Back in November when my father died, Gretchen and I went to Skytop Steakhouse to have some beer and french fries of mourning. This evening Gretchen suggested we go there again, and so we did. This time Gretchen had four wooden Skytop tokens that could be cashed in for free beers. The IPA selection was weak tonight, so I ended up drinking a surprisingly good pilsner and then an oddly sherry-like Dogfish Head beer called "Raison D'Etre," a Belgian-style ale supposedly brewed using raisins. The bar's flatscreen was dedicated to various tennis matches, which an impressively-dreadlocked African American gentleman seemed to be enjoying. Gretchen and he got to talking about tennis and then women's basketball and at some point I chimed in when someone made a reference to a slide ruler.

Sally through the years

I rediscovered many of these pictures by doing a Google Image search for Sally

Sally's first birthday, April 9, 1996, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sally in a typical pose, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sally with Edna at the Brooklyn apartment, August 2001.

Sally with a toy in Brooklyn, August 2001.

Sally with Noah (grey) and Edna, August 2001.

Sally on the Long Island Shore, October 2001.

Sally in the snow in Prospect Park, January 2002.

Gretchen and Sally on my birthday, February 2002.

Meeting kids in Park Slope, Brooklyn, February 2002.

Sally with the Prospect Park dog scene, February 2002. [REDACTED]

February, 2002.

February, 2002.

Sally could do the swing-around-on-a-leash-clenched-in-her-jaws thing. February, 2002.

Sally in Prospect Park, February 2002.

Sally's birthday, April 9, 2002.

Sally with a toy frog on her birthday, April 2002.

A huge rawhide at the Brooklyn apartment, May 2002.

Sally and I in the woods behind Gretchen's parents' cabin near Camp David, Maryland, June 2002.

Sally in Prospect Park, July 2002.

Sally as she made the transition to being a Hudson Valley dog, September 2002.

A picture Gretchen drew of Sally in the snow in the Esopus Valley, February 2003.

Sally on the Esopus floodplain digging for something in the snow. February 2003.

Sally on the roof outside the laboratory before I'd built a deck. March 2003.

I paint Sally's nails before the wedding, May 2003.

With Linda, Ray, Nancy, etc. in Woodstock, August 2003. [REDACTED]

Sally with a dirty face, June 2003.

Sally always liked to ride around in a car. June 2003.

Eleanor and Sally, July 2003. [REDACTED] [REDACTED]

Sally on St. Patrick's Day, March 2004.

Dirty again, April 2004.

Sally with exciting deer bones, April 2004.

Sally puts those bones in a pond, April 2004.

October, 2004.

August 2004.

Sally with Gretchen at the peak of Slide Mountain, highest of the Catskills, November 2004.

A flood across Hurley Mountain Road during a big snow melt, April 2005.

Sally in the laboratory, July 2005.

Sally with the dead coyotes she and Gretchen found in the woods, November 2005.

Sally and Eleanor, September 2006

In the woods of Hurley, January 2007

October, 2007.

August, 2008.

August 2008.

Sally and Eleanor, August 2008.

September 2009 (half of a stereoscopic pair).

April 2010. Sally in what was her favorite chair (until she grew too old to get up into it), April 2010.

Sally at the top of Overlook Mountain, November 2009.

Sally (and behind her Eleanor) on Overlook Mountain, November 2009.

Sally in the fog, March 2010.

March 2010.

Eleanor and Sally at the Walkway Over the Hudson, August 2010.

On the road to Virginia to see my father shortly before he died, August 2011.

Sally crosses Dug Hill Road during Tropical Storm Irene, August 2011.

Gretchen carries Sally across Irene's floodwaters at the bottom of Dug Hill Road, August 2011.

Sally on Hurley Mountain Road during Tropical Storm Irene, August 2011.

Sally on her dog bed, March 2012.

Sally late in life still liked rawhide, March 2012.

The last picture of Sally at Lake Edward in the Adirondacks less than a month ago.

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