“The love you take / is equal to the love you make”—Paul McCartney and John Lennon, The End
“Hello, sweetheart,” the old woman exclaimed, her voice cracking. She rose from her doorstep and dropped her cigarette as Reese pulled with excitement toward her.
We met for the first time barely a week prior. Reese and I were returning home from a walk when the woman, who recently moved into a ground-floor apartment across the street, began shouting at her dog (a small canine that resembled a mop missing its handle), which had escaped through the front door, detected a fellow pooch and wobbled straight for us.
Given the size differential (Reese easily outweighed the dog by at least 60 pounds), the woman was understandably concerned. But Reese is a lover of strangers, people and dogs alike, and when he saw the incoming mop, he leaned into play position, his forepaws outstretched and his tail wagging above his head.
The dogs circled each other, jumping and crouching. The woman looped a collar over her dog’s head, chastised her gently (“You’re lucky he was nice!”) and pulled the reluctant clump of fur away.
Today Reese and I were returning from our morning walk when the woman, again sitting on her doorstep with a cigarette dangling from her fingers, called out. Her cheeks were flush, her eyes glossy with tears. She bent uneasily to her knees and Reese leaped onto her shoulders.
I tried to pull him off, commanding, “Down! Down!” He listens when he sees fit, and this was not one of those times. Nor did it seem to matter. She clung to him and buried her face in his chest, her eyeglasses flying askew.
“It’s OK.” She grasped Reese and pulled him closer. He lapped at her cheek and ear. “It’s OK.”
I let Reese’s leash go slack. She sobbed into him, clutching him for a few moments as he wrapped his paws over her shoulders and continued to lick the side of her face.
“I had to put my Sophie down this morning,” the woman eventually choked out. She held Reese’s head before hers, massaging his ears as he breathed his trademark obscene phone caller pant. “She liked your handsome boy here.”
The woman explained in broken syllables how she had adopted Sophie after Hurricane Katrina; the dog, abandoned or unclaimed, was in the neighborhood of 10 years old at the time and rife with ailments. But the woman felt a bond with the little dog, and she was determined to make Sophie’s remaining days comfortable and happy, a favor Sophie, as dogs are wont to do, repaid with affection, companionship, joy and occasional mischief.
The dog outlived expectations, but had become unwilling to move or eat over the past couple days. A veterinary visit confirmed failing kidneys, and the woman was left with a choice, one that killed a piece of her to make, no matter that it was the humane one and regardless of the fact that her own compassion enhanced and extended the handleless mop’s life.
“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing that was not adequate but not knowing what else to say.
She gave my dog a tight squeeze and rose.
“Thank you,” she said. Not to me, but to Reese.