Her Ladyship Fionnaghuala “Fionna” nic Bhailecraic, Dowager Marchioness of Medina, my nearly constant companion of the last nine years, made her last trip to the vet’s office this morning and went to sleep for the last time at 9:10 a.m. For the first time in 27 years, the Funstons are dog-less. For me, personally, it’s only the second time in 45 years without a dog. I’m not sure how to handle this, but I will.
When I was a kid, my parents had a volume of poetry entitled “Best Loved Poems of the American People.” I always thought that an odd title. How did they determine that? Better title would have been “Best Loved Poems of the Editors of this Collection.” In any event, just about the only poem I remember being in that book was entitled “Rags” by Edmund Vance Cooke. I thought it a great poem back then, then I went to college and studied English literature and realized that it really isn’t very good, at all. Nonetheless, it has stuck with me through the years and the last two verses sum up the way I’m feeling right now:
We called him ‘Rags.’ He was just a cur,
But twice, on the Western Line,
That little old bunch of faithful fur
Had offered his life for mine.
And all that he got was bones and bread,
Or the leavings of soldier grub,
But he’d give his heart for a pat on the head,
Or a friendly tickle and rub
And Rags got home with the regiment,
And then, in the breaking away-
Well, whether they stole him, or whether he went,
I am not prepared to say.
But we mustered out, some to beer and gruel
And some to sherry and shad,
And I went back to the Sawbones School,
Where I still was an undergrad.
One day they took us budding M.D.s
To one of those institutes
Where they demonstrate every new disease
By means of bisected brutes.
They had one animal tacked and tied
And slit like a full-dressed fish,
With his vitals pumping away inside
As pleasant as one might wish.
I stopped to look like the rest, of course,
And the beast’s eyes levelled mine;
His short tail thumped with a feeble force,
And he uttered a tender whine.
It was Rags, yes, Rags! who was martyred there,
Who was quartered and crucified,
And he whined that whine which is doggish prayer
And he licked my hand and died.
And I was no better in part nor whole
Than the gang I was found among,
And his innocent blood was on the soul
Which he blessed with his dying tongue.
Well I’ve seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer’s hand.
And if there’s no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty-well
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I’ll take my chance in hell.
Fionna looked at me from the examination table with those big brown eyes, her failing heart pounding and her breathing labored, and I had to tell her that I couldn’t make it better, but I could make it stop. The vet injected the medication, Fionna leaned her head into my hand as I scratched her ear, and then she was gone.
I took this photo just before we left for the vet’s office this morning.