Spirit Squirrel™ is my name for the squirrel I first saw at dawn the morning after our beloved Victor passed away at the emergency animal hospital.
(First of all, I’ve lived in SoCal since 1969. I don’t recall it has ever been this hot. We live about three miles from the beach and a quarter mile from a lagoon and it has got to be at least 110 degrees in the sun. And so dry, such a dry heat, and all morning I’ve heard sirens, which is never a good thing when it’s this hot and dry.)
It was on a day like this that our beloved Border Collie died.
My son was ten-years-old when we got this little black and white fluffy fur ball. He chose the name, having recently read “to the victor belong the spoils” and thought that would be a good name for his new puppy.
In 2006, Victor was sixteen-years-old and had been in failing health for about two or three years. Every time he had a setback, we tried to prepare ourselves for the end–I’d call my son wherever he was in the world and give him an update and the opportunity to say goodbye, if only by telephone, because Victor was his dog, his buddy, and even hearing my son’s voice would elicit a wag, a thump of his beautiful feathery tail. (another reason amongst fourteen billion why it is such an act of animal cruelty to butcher (bob) tails or clip (butcher) ears.)
This time I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a repetitive knocking sound near the back door. That’s where old Vic slept, just inside the patio doors on a dog bed that was soft and supportive enough to cushion his old arthritic joints. The poor dear was almost deaf and had growing cataracts but he still loved to play soccer and throw his bucket around. He was eating and eliminating OK, but every extra day with him was cherished. I was afraid to go out in the family room, afraid of what I might see; I had a kind of premonition. I didn’t want to rouse my husband just in case I was wrong. I will never forget what I found. Poor, poor Vic was fully involved in a Gran Mal epileptic seizure. The knocking was his back legs hitting the glass door as he was seizing. I rushed to him, pulling his bed away from the door so he couldn’t injure himself and gently moved his tongue so he wouldn’t choke. I ran into the bedroom and touched my husband’s back. I tried to be calm but my heart was breaking. “Something happened to Victor. You need to get up. We have to take him to the hospital. It’s bad. It’s real bad.” I called the 24 hour hospital to let them know we were on our way. We took turns staying by his side while we got ready. By the time we got dressed, the seizing had ended, but he was unresponsive and probably comatose; barely breathing, his chest rose and fell, not agitated and not in any apparent pain. He weighed sixty-five pounds, kind of big for a BC even though he had a pedigree. My husband decided the best way to carry him was on his bed, so he got a big sheet of plywood from the garage and we placed him on that to transport him to his Blazer. I sat with him in the back all the way to the hospital. He looked just like he was peacefully asleep.
Apparently, his organs were shutting down; the vet said it could have been triggered by the heat or cancer or old age, but we all agreed that it would be cruel to subject him to any diagnostic or invasive procedures. For whatever reason, it was his time to go and our job to make it as pain-free as possible.
We covered him with kisses and tears as the vet performed euthanasia, and we were there for his final inhale and his final exhale. The compassionate vet left us alone as we sobbed and stroked him. I think he might have teared up a bit as he watched us say goodbye. Although we knew this day would come, we were not prepared for the depth of our despair.
Victor would never again wake up. We were never again to be greeted by his jumping on the bed, his cold nose prodding us awake. We were never again going to watch him get chased around the house by our cat, Bandit, in one of their games that he always lovingly let her win. Never again was I going to have to spell the word”walk” so he wouldn’t know we were going to go out without him. I would never again gaze into his massive brown eyes and feel so much love. There will be other dogs in our life, but there will never be another Victor. We still love you, buddy.
I have had other dogs and loved every one of them but Victor and I had a special bond, maybe because when my son left for college and I was an empty nester and newly alone, Victor became that child who would never leave.
Which brings me to Spirit Squirrel. By the time we got home, it was almost dawn and neither of us could get back to sleep. There was such an emptiness in the house- it was palpable. We were truly bereft as we looked around the house that his absence seemed to fill as much as his presence had; his food and water bowls, his toys, his leash. We had made sure that our cat, Bandit, had said her goodbyes but now she was looking all over the house for her friend, and we tried to explain that Vic wasn’t coming back, but she just ran under the bed for the rest of the day. I honestly think she never recovered from that loss.
I thought perhaps the best thing to do would be to remove all of Vic’s belongings; and I pinky swear this happened: I was standing at the back door and saw a ground squirrel climb up over the side of the deck and take Victor’s rawhide chew bone and run off with it. Right before my eyes! I had never seen a squirrel before so near the house–I knew we had them around but never so bold. One of the perks of a dog is their skill as a deterrent. I named him Spirit Squirrel™ and fantasized that he was really Victor’s spirit brother whose job was to transport the bone to Victor in dog heaven. Since then, and since so far we haven’t brought home another dogchild, other squirrels have taken up residence in our yard, and I know they are unwanted vermin, yet I can’t for the life of me find a good, rational, scientific explanation for the whys and hows of that event on that particular day at that particular time. I’m writing a children’s book about my son and Victor and will include a story about Spirit Squirrel™.
This morning I saw a squirrel run across the deck, I think to eat the almonds I leave out for the scrub jays. Unfortunately, they are becoming a growing problem, and something the captain is going to have to deal with when he comes home.