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Subject:  More from my mom Date:  5/19/2000  12:15 PM
Author:  cmonkey Number:  5288 of 123239

Of course, I was fine until this arrived in my mailbox. Now I'm a mess. My mom just got a new job that will take her to Seattle for at least five months, possibly permenantly, and our Mouse is gone for good. One or the other would be bad, but the two together is harder than I thought it would be. On the bright side, however, 6 helped me find a retirement home for Rita, and she seems to be doing pretty well. So the circle keeps spinning.

Last night I drove down to Dairyland through the long light of mid-May to put Katie to rest. Jan Schnell worked over her for an hour yesterday morning and an hour the night before and two hours while I was there yesterday afternoon, but all her efforts failed to break the cycle of Katie's coughing. By last night, Katie refused to come out of her crate, so Jan called me about 7.15 p.m. and said to come down, that it was time.

The drive down was beautiful but sad. I was saying good-bye not only to Katie but to Douglas County, and I knew there was a good possibility I wouldn't be back. The deciduous trees had leafed out completely, and the air was soft and warm, and the light was low enough that the woods to the right of the road lay in deep blue shadow while those to the left were sunlit and golden. I passed over all the familiar boggy streams: Black River, Tamarack River, the sinuous, repeated crossings of Chase's Brook. My mind bounced back and forth between Katie and the seven years we'd had together and this place, this northern place in flyover country that's still quiet and affordable and almost wholly off the map of twenty-first century life. Most of the people down there are doughy and large, the women fuzzy haired and hefty in their stretch pants and car coats, the men apparently grafted to their seed caps and Carharrts. They drive beater 80s American cars or shiny new American pickups, and they live back in the scrappy woods with bunches of dogs who stand along the roadways like grave sentinels.

I've spent over nine years getting to know these people, first as a part-time resident of Wascott when I had the cabin, then as a resident of Dilute. They're stoppered in a way that few people I've met on the West Coast are-stoic and very reticent, but mostly open hearted and kind. They have time, which in my experience is a far scarcer commodity among city people, both in San Francisco and in Minneapolis. It's losing time that scares me the most about this move to Seattle-that, and being sucked into the spendy sort of life I witnessed there two weekends ago.

I think I have unfitted myself to city life pretty thoroughly, which is one of the reasons why I'm hoping to find a place in the rural part of Vachon Island or Bainbridge Island. If I stay on the West Coast, my aim is to move either to the West End of the Olympic Peninsula or somewhere inland that's within a two-hour commute of Seattle so that I can drive in when necessary to keep the work flowing my way but otherwise be outside the loop and the lure of the city.

All this was fluttering lightly through my mind as I drove south to Jan Schnell's. By the time I turned off Wisconsin 35 onto County T, the sun had, in the way we humans describe it, sunk below the horizon, and the fields and young forests lining T were a compressed, almost even green-gray. Ahead of me a faint orange still blushed the horizon, but otherwise it was dusk. I turned north again on South Swedish Highway and drove between the lush columns of young popple to her driveway.

Katie would not come out of the crate, so I gently lifted her out. It seemed clear to me that she didn't know who I was, that she had passed over some bar and was now rocking on a sea that I couldn't know. I carried her upstairs, her eyes glazed, her breath ragged and heaving. I held her in my arms, and Jan administered an intramuscular injection of a powerful anesthetic. At the first jab, Katie jolted out of her stupor-the injection hurt-and I had to readjust my hold on her so that I grasped both her hind legs. Jan reinserted the needle.

I thought about Jan's immense kindness and patience. She had worked on Katie for an hour before leaving for her house calls at 7.30 a.m., and did not return from those until 6, and here she was at 8.15 p.m., helping my little Katie die painlessly. We sat and talked while Katie gradually went under. By 8.30, she felt heavy as stone in my arms, and her breathing quieted, became more shallow. We waited for another 15 minutes, and Jan asked me if I had watched many creatures die. I said that I had. Certainly she has. I think doing so vanquishes much of the terror and mystery that death holds for so many people. At the very end, we become wholly physical creatures, which is why the analogy to infancy remains so potent: we become, like them, a jangle of uncoordinated, struggling muscular and nervous impulses seeking a way out of ourselves. I was surprised to hear Jan say that fortunately when her mother died, she did so in Massachusetts. But I know nothing of her relationship to her mother, though I suspect it was pretty fraught. What do most of us know of each other's interior lifes, after all?

At about a quarter to 9, Jan gave Katie another injection of anesthetic. By now my Mouse was breathing in a pattern that reminded me of Cheynes-Stokes breathing in humans, though I think it was not. Then at 9, Jan got up and went to get that bottle of Pepto-Bismo/Barbie pink fluid that I know so well from having assisted at other dogs' deaths, and she filled up a short cardiac needle with it. I kissed Katie softly on the head and turned her around and over so that her little chest was exposed, and Jan moved her stethoscope around like a prospector's metal detector across Katie's glossy black fur, listening for her heart, listening for where it beat strongest.

"Good-bye, little sister," I said, and watched the needle slip in.

Katie was so deeply asleep by then that there was no detectable stoppage, no sign that she had moved from one state to the next. She was stilled, but she had been still. She stopped.

"You see? She didn't want to leave Duluth," Jan said.

"She didn't want to leave Douglas County," I told her. And then I described how Katie used to disappear each morning when I had the cabin and not come back until close to noon. For years I wondered where she went, though I grew comfortable with her absences, since she clearly had some sort of routine. Finally a neighbor solved the mystery for me: Katie made her way up the shoreline toward the bass pond, apparently stopping at each cabin for a brief visit.

Jan asked what I was going to do with Katie's body. I said that I had been thinking about that on the drive down, and my biggest hope was that it would be okay to take her out into the woods, which she had so loved to roam, and leave her there to be of use to the other animals. Would the phenobarbitol and the chemical that killed her endanger them if they ate her?

Jan said that it might. She suggested that we bury Katie in her garden. She said we could dig an individual grave or use one she had already opened and that had one other dog in it. I thought the second suggestion was fine; it sounded companionable. I held Little Sister a while longer, then kissed her cold little snout, and laid her, what remained of her, on the floor. I signed some papers and paid Jan Schnell, though I can never repay her enough for what she did, the tenderness and patience of it. She has that increasingly rare capacity to give each person, each situation, the time and regard that are needed, and in this case those were both great. I wrote out a check for $93, gave Jan a hug, and she walked me out.

"Don't forget to come back," she called from the doorway.

It was almost dark, 9.25 p.m. by the truck's clock, and yet there was light enough to see by for another 10 minutes.
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