His Eyes Never Shut

Copyright 2007

      It was June first. School had been out less than a week. Out of habit, I awoke around eight. In the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of Minute Maid orange juice and stepped over to the window. The sun's reflection off the cement hit my eyes like the flash from a camera. Instantly, my eyelids snapped shut in response. I must have uttered a small but audible sound of some sort because the next moment...thump...thump...thump... It was the familiar low pitched thump that is unmistakably a dog's tail pounding an oakwood floor. I had grown used to the warm feeling of closeness which that sound gave me. That particular morning was different, however, because that morning the warmth was mixed with a slight apprehension.

      I reached down and began to stroke his stomach. I thought back to Christmas when I was six years old. My brother brought "Beethoven" home from college. (My brother is a classical music nut.) Beethoven was so small that he could barely fill one cupped hand. He was only six weeks old and his fur was like black velvet except that his paws were brown and a white stripe ran from his neck down his breast to the point on his belly where there is no hair. He had large auburn eyes that you could not look into without smiling. My brother told me that he was half dachshund and half cocker spaniel.

      My mother had already left for work so I got out the Fruitloops and milk. I sat there slouched over my bowl and reading the ingredients on the package. On the back was an advertisement for a free toy car which came in the box. I remembered coming home from school one day when I was about eight and finding out that Beethoven had been hit by a car. The neighbors had seen the accident and had taken him to the hospital. His front left leg was broken and he needed stitches in his chest. The vet taped a U-shaped rod around the broken leg so that Beethoven had to hobble for a week. His leg never quite recuperated one hundred percent.

      Gradually, I broke my concentration away from the cereal box and turned my head towards the pallet where he lay. There was suddenly a slight odor of open infection. The next minute it was gone. We stared at one another. He beat his tail against the floor but was unable to stand on his hind legs. I thought back to when he was in his prime. I could see that long dachshund body with shaggy cocker spaniel hair streaking across our backyard after a rabbit, or a squirrel, or whatever moved. The game we loved best was "tag." Beethoven was "it" and I was a runner. Our living room and kitchen connect at both ends so that there is a divided rectangular running track. He would chase me around and around but then he would double back and catch me coming around the other way. When he caught me we would roll on the floor until we ran out of energy.

      Around midday, the phone rang. It was the call that I had been waiting for. The vet told me that, according to Beethoven's blood analysis, an operation was going to be possible. He went on to say that it would be risky, and that he could not insure the quality of life after the operation. He also added that due to the dog's age he would probably never make a full recovery. I hung up the phone thinking about Beethoven's previous operation which occurred five months earlier. Before that operation the vet had said that a full recovery was highly probable. Indeed, for a while after that operation he seemed to have completely recovered. This time was different, however, because there was one option involved which no one spoke of but which became increasingly clear.

      Evening came quickly that day, to quickly. I felt as though I was not given a fair amount of time in which to think about my decision. For several weeks, there existed the possibility of being faced with this decision as Beethoven had progressively gotten worse. We had been in and out of veterinary offices and he had gradually lost mobility until finally he was confined to his pallet.

      Suddenly, all the options were being eliminated until there was only one left. To even think about it was like having a cold steel beam drive into my stomach. For almost twelve years he had been my constant companion. I went to bed with the decision made. The next morning was like a dream. Beethoven sat on the heavily scratched yet shiny metal examination table. A strong infectious odor now mixed with bowel permeated the small room. The vet wrapped a piece of rubber tubing around his arm as though he was some kind of heroin addict. Beethoven's face did not show the least understanding of what was happening. The vet put the needle in his arm as I frantically tried to comfort him. His eyes never shut, his head merely fell into my hand. Tears crested on my eyelids and I think one may have trickled down.

      His body was limp, almost like a jelly fish. He was wrapped in a brightly colored towel that the vet had set him on. I carried him to the place where his dog house was and set him on the ground. I moved the homemade dog house, which he had virtually helped me build, and began to dig. I dug down about three feet. When I tried to set him in the grave, his jelly-like body slipped between my arms and fell about a foot. I straightened him out and put two boards over him. When I had thoroughly filled the hole and packed it down, I nailed two pieces of wood together and carved with a nail the following inscription:


Nov. 1970 - June 2, 1982

      This essay was awarded an honorable mention in a school wide literature contest at Texas A&M in 1982. It has never been published.