Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In which I talk just a bit more about Solomon and ponder the afterlife of dogs

Solomon had stellar manners and rarely had to be corrected. It was a joy to take him places because I knew he could be counted on to behave impeccably; he was a good ambassador for the breed and we often received complements about his deportment and beauty.

At home he was a normal enough dog--got excited about walks and car rides, knew what time his dinner was supposed to be served, and didn't let you forget it. He chased a cat or two in his time, but was quick to apologize when reminded that this was not acceptable. He was not polite to those he considered intruders, be they human or animal and when he was young, this bore watching. He was a German Shepherd, after all. But--also because he was a very good German Shepherd--he listened and did what he was told--most of the time. It was beneath him to get into the garbage or beg at the dinner table or steal.

Well, unless chicken was involved.

His only vice, his comfort food, chicken was the one temptation that he was weak to. When cooking poultry, it was not uncommon to find him beside the trash can, his nose just over the edge, hoping to find leftover raw bits. Before we put him on the wagon by carefully collecting remnants of everything that had feathers in life and throwing it away separately, he'd steal bones and the Styrofoam tray from the kitchen trash and secret them away in his bed. Sometimes I'd have to order him to the other room because he'd stand in front of the stove, his muzzle raised, eyes half-closed, as he inhaled the smell of poultry. He couldn't help it. If there was a support group for canine addictions, Solomon would have been in the front row, making a weekly admission.

 Solomon: Hello. My name is Solomon and I steal chicken . . .

Chorus of voices: Hi Solomon.

For some reason this last Saturday, a week after his death, I was missing him more intensely than usual (and this was saying something). Perhaps it was because it was the first time I'd had the chance to completely drop my defenses, or because it finally sank in that he wasn't just in the next room, or maybe I was overtired and sick. Or maybe it was that I'd awakened early for the second morning in a row just sure I'd heard him at the door, asking to be let in. And knowing how irrational it was, I forced myself to stay in bed and would not look out the window.  I spent much of the day surreptitiously  mopping away tears while baking cookies and decorating the house.

That morning I had placed  two large packages of chicken breasts (plastic wrapped/Styrofoam tray) on the kitchen counter to thaw for supper. I needed to shop, so apart from some frozen vegetables, the two packages of  chicken were the only other things in the freezer. When I returned to the kitchen to open the packages, I picked one up and turned to the sink with it in my hand and began stripping away the plastic. To my surprise I discovered that it was still fairly frozen. I turned to check the second package and found that it was gone. Completely confused, I turned in circles, opened the refrigerator to see if I'd unthinkingly moved it, checked the trash to see if I'd lost my mind, and finally opened the freezer to see if I'd returned it. No chicken in sight.

Gary and the boys, thinking I'd simply put it some place odd, set out to help. We turned the house upside down, finally checking dog kennels, under beds, and other unvisited corners.  I myself checked the outside trash, just to be sure it hadn't accidentally been thrown out.

Gary began to question me. Are you sure there were two packages of chicken?


He looked at me doubtfully. You must be mistaken. 

I was baffled and frustrated. Half our supper was missing and I was already an emotional wreck. Gary suggesting that I must have imagined the second package didn't sit well.

Dad, there were two packages, Sam said. I saw them when I went in to get some hot chocolate. I was hoping she was going to make oven fried chicken.

Jeremiah spoke up. There were. I saw them too.

Ours is a small house and we live kind of on top of one another; hiding places are hard to come by here. Our kitchen is enclosed and small too; our counters are higher than average. Our remaining dogs are not. Even if the impossible had happened and a dog had managed to drag one of these large packages off without drawing attention to themselves, we would certainly have traced the smell of it by now or--at the very least--found the Styrofoam tray--or pieces of it. We don't have a dog door. We don't have a fenced in yard these days. Solomon was the only dog ever allowed outside unsupervised. The others are always on a lead.

When one runs out of logical explanations, one must consider the illogical. Or, as someone on Ghost Hunters said the other night, You disprove and debunk until you can't and then you accept the possibilities.

Maybe Solomon did it, I said on a whim. The weight of my grief immediately (and irrationally) lightened. It was a stupid thought, but oh what a great idea. My guys exchanged looks, but said nothing. They were afraid to argue, I think, but I was sure none of them bought it.

But later in the evening, when we were alone, Sam asked me, Mom, do you ever think you're hearing Solomon at the door in the morning?

A chill ran up my spine. I told him I did.

He looked disturbed. I guess we just miss him a lot, huh?

Yeah. I guess so. I decided to leave it at that. There was no point in exciting Sam's already active imagination.

I have not heard Solomon again since that day and it has left me wondering about dogs and the afterlife. Sam did ask me the other day whether or not dogs go to heaven and I replied that if they didn't, that I wanted to go where ever they were. But it didn't occur to me that they might also hang out somewhere in between. If this is so, it would make some sense that the most loyal of dogs would take their time in making the break with us; they might even wait until they sense that we don't need them anymore.

As for the case of the missing chicken, I seriously doubt that Solomon--if indeed it was him--took it just to let me know he was nearby. He would have taken it because Someone told him it was okay to do so.  And that Someone knew exactly what I needed. I was finally, in my heart, able to let go. And dear old Solomon, was finally able to move on to what I hope is a greener place.

With lots of chicken.


Anonymous said...

Mary, i believe.

My husband experienced a kind of last farefell from our beagle-girl, too. "Someone" knew he needed it, like you. That isn't to say there aren't still moments of pause and reflection. But yes, there is a baying ball of light up there, having a great time; and just maybe your Solomon and our Daisy are romping with one another while we carry on down here.

Even if this mystery gets resolved, it won't change the message: Solomon is well and good, he has simply changed.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I am not sure how it all works but I hope to see my pet as well!

Mary O. Paddock said...

Eileen--Thank you for sharing that. It is a beautiful thought.

The chicken still hasn't turned up.

HEM--I hear you. I know you guys had to say goodbye to an old friend recently too.