Learning With Maya, Episode 7: How To Lay Your Companion To Rest
By Maya Malan-Gonzalez
Today my family dog would have turned 13. His name was Captain Dewe and he was a bad ass little rebel. My baby, half Chihuahua and half Miniature Pinscher, they call my little burrito a Chipin. He was an awesome little guy, you could easily buy his love with food, but one wrong move and he’d take a chunk out of you. Most people he met were in the “Dewe Bit Me” club- except me, my babe never bit me. He was a funny little old man. Loved to cuddle, loved to be carried, loved to be scratched and LOVED to be fed! This doggo was always acting like he was dying of starvation. He had the best hearing when it came to the kitchen. You’d open the fridge or a jar of food and he’d come running! He’d give you those huge pitiful eyes, and if you looked into them you could hear him giving you a whole monologue about how you need to give him whatever you are eating before he passes out! He was always hella dramatic.
I got him when I was 16 and when I left for college I initially took him with me. After my first semester, I realized he’d be happier with my parents in their big house with a backyard, over my studio apartment. And so he’s lived with my parents and I enjoy every second I can with him during my visits back home.
I came back to Portland at the end of March to begin rehearsals for Milagro’s upcoming production of Wolf at the Door by Marisela Treviño Orta . Every time I come back to town my little guy gets grayer and grayer. And in his old age, he can be kinda sleepy.
He was acting a little weird this time when I arrived. After a couple of episodes, my mother took him to the animal hospital. It all happened so fast. He went from being a little weird when I arrived to a place of non stop seizures and losing the ability to breathe on his own five days later. He was in pain.
We had to let him go.
My mother drove back to the house to share the news. Lakin and I rode with my parents back to the hospital to be there for Dewe. The animal hospital had a room for these occasions. The room had subdued lighting. A big couch and an art installation on the wall of engraved leaves holding the names of the departed. They asked if we wanted to cremate him or if we wanted to bury him ourselves. We elected to bury him in our backyard. They were so kind to us, but we live in a world of money, so before they brought in Dewe there was the bill to take care of. And it wasn’t cheap, a months rent to find out he has a brain tumor and the kindest thing to do to stop the suffering is to let him go. Everything has a price. After the money was handled, they brought him in.
The vets gave us some time with him before they came in. We held him and told him how much we loved him. When it was finished they wrapped our babe in a blanket and placed him in a small cardboard pet carrier- a pseudo casket of sorts. I held him in my lap on the drive home.
Back at the house, in the backyard, Dewe’s kingdom, my father and mother pick the perfect spot in the center of their garden to lay our Captain Dewe to rest.
A quick google search says that a small dog or cat should be buried 3 - 4 feet underground, to prevent other animals digging up the body or rain washing away the topsoil. I start shoveling. It’s surprisingly sunny for a Portland afternoon, but the ground is always somewhat moist. It’s hard soil, that hasn’t been moved in god knows how long. I put my foot on the shovel and press hard into the ground. There are a few small fruit trees nearby and their roots pass through this designated area. I hack and hack at the roots, hoping to cut them with the shovel. My anger at the situation comes out and I use the shovel to deal with my frustration, stabbing the hard soil over and over again to break it up. At some point my dad gets another tool and Lakin joins in. The three of us take turns. There were times when it felt like the tools would never cut the roots; I got down on my knees, reaching below, grabbing hold of the root that wouldn’t move and I pulled and pulled till it snapped off. It takes a long while for us to get a little more than 2 ½ feet down.
My mother brought out a muslin cloth. My parents and I lifted his little body from the pet carrier and placed him on the muslin in order to wrap him up. I picked him up in my arms one last time as I carried him to his grave. Again, I get down on my knees in the mud and dirt to lay him down at the bottom as gently as possible.
My father puts lime over the body; they say lime helps the body decompose. My mother lays on his body sprigs of rosemary and lavender. We each said something and as gently as possible placed a shovel of dirt on him. Lakin and I finish filling the hole. Each shovel of dirt I lay on him feels like it has so much weight. I try to think of covering him, as something comforting, like putting a blanket on him. We stop about 6 inches from the top and lay some flower seeds down. Lakin gathers stones from around the yard and we place them into the mound creating a border. My mother brings over a agate stone, which we lay down as his headstone. She also brings over more springs of rosemary and lavender to lay on top of the mound. My dad and Lakin rotate the nearby birdbath so the angel is now watching over Captain Dewe who is watching over his kingdom. The following day my parents bring home a small lavender bush, which I plant above Dewe.
This isn’t a recipe in my family. It was just our organic way of dealing with the moment. A little part my dad, a little part my mom, a little part Lakin and well… dealing with this for the first time myself, I just followed the three of them. I didn’t know what to do, but I’m glad that Portland blessed us with a sunny day in order for me and my family to work together to lay our Captain to rest.
I feel so lucky I made it home in time to see him. That doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It’s been a couple weeks and I still have a bruise I got from shoveling, I still miss him like crazy. I go out into the backyard every day or so just to check on him. That little guy will always be a part of this family.