Imelda is a he, not a she. The first thing the puppy did in the house was to chew up my Italian shoes, and so I decided to name him after Imelda Marcos. He figures prominently in my play FIGURES IN CLAY. Here are three excerpts from the play.
DAVID: I bought a dog today.
CLARK: (startled) What?
DAVID: A dog.
ERIC: What kind did you get?
DAVID: I wanted a chow…cinnamon, like the kind my father used to raise…but the woman at the pet shop said chows are temperamental. If it’s a fuzz ball you want, she said, then you should get a keeshond….She said the breed was developed originally in Holland to guard the barges.
CLARK: (sarcastically) Why, yes, of course. There are a lot of canals and barges in Kansas.
CLARK: Did you show Dr. Beatrice the pictures of Imelda?
DAVID: Just like a proud papa.
CLARK: The one of him at the Halloween party is a scream. Liberace would kill for that coat.
DAVID: Liberace is dead.
CLARK: Such a pretty puppy. He looks like a fox, all silver and gray.
And in the final moments of the play…
DAVID: (To Dr. Beatrice) People don’t change, but animals do. What’s new? Well, for one thing, Imelda has taken to staying up with me, at night, when I have trouble sleeping. Usually, I make myself a drink or two, turn on the TV or put on some music, and always, Imelda just sits there and watches me patiently with those sad and quizzical eyes he has, however long it takes before sleep is possible. When this happens, Imelda jumps up on the bed and the last thing I remember, always, is of him wildly licking my face and neck, the shoulders too, all the bare skin I am unable to hide under the sheet and blanket. At first I
thought it was funny….I thought perhaps the dog was beginning to develop a taste for the nicotine and liquor on my body. And then it occurred to me that maybe he’s doing it for other reasons. Maybe he disapproves of the drinking and the smoking, and the insane licking is a kind of absolution, his own peculiar way of washing away my many impurities, of cleansing me for posterity. And so I drift off to sleep each night feeling neither Chinese nor Philippine nor American, but quite Egyptian. As in ancient times, like an Egyptian pharaoh being embalmed, except there is no dying. Not yet. These days, one merely waits. The waiting is all.
In real life, on his tenth birthday, Imelda was diagnosed with cancer. After five months, his quality of life went rapidly downhill, and Dr. Tom Liebl of the Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital suggested that “it was time.” On 13 October 1997, he told me to bring Imelda to the hospital at 7:45 PM, fifteen minutes before closing time. And so I spent the day with Imelda, doing all the things that he liked best. And at 7:45 PM, I brought him to the hospital. Dr. Liebl asked if I would like to come in and cradle Imelda in my arms while he administered the injection. I asked him how long the whole process would take. He said no more than a couple of minutes, but that sometimes the first injection doesn’t work, and then a second injection would have to be administered. I started to cry. I couldn’t do it. I handed Imelda to Dr. Liebl, and fled from the hospital. To this day, I feel truly guilty that I wasn’t there to cradle Imelda in my arms, to comfort him in that strange and unfamiliar room, to be with him during his final moments in this world.
FIGURES IN CLAY was written seven years before Imelda was put to sleep. And I am still here, still waiting my turn.
I remember when Mary’s dog Annie had to be put down due to health issues we went through a similar experience. Shannon, a brother-in-law, is the family Vet. He ended up putting Annie to sleep in one of the bedrooms of the Harrison family home where she usually spent her nights. It wasn’t easy being there during the procedure. It all happened so quickly. Only a moment after the procedure had begun it was over.
I contend that the years of companionship you shared with Imelda more than compensate for those last moments alone with the Doctor. Being present doesn’t make it any easier on either party.
It is an awful kindness that we must bestow on our pets as their health deteriorates.