It felt like the first day of spring. Saturday, April 11, 2015. Eliza, my 11 year old blonde cocker spaniel-golden retriever mix, and Abra, my 5 year old border collie mix, had woken me at 7 a.m. for a quick trip out to the front porch and then all three of us trooped back upstairs to my queen size bed, found a comfortable spot and slept for another two and a half hours. At about 9:25, Eliza unfurled herself from the crook of my legs and hopped off the bed. Abra shook her head and poked it out from beneath the covers next to my left side. She did her little morning Down Dog yoga pose, waited for a bit of a belly scratch and then jumped down, tail wagging, waiting for me to put my slippers on and walk downstairs to let them outside.
It was a beautiful day. Clear blue sky, warm sun. I would get dressed and we would go for a long morning walk, maybe the farmers market. The girls loved Saturdays because it meant three or four long walks. One through Sayre School and around Central Christian Church to Esplanade and then Main Street and back up Limestone. One down Second Street hoping to see and chase Abra’s friend Sassy before going to Georgetown Street and back down Short. One around the campus of Transylvania and their home turf of Gratz Park where squirrels are most plentiful.
As I’ve done a thousand times, I let them into the back yard. I got a glass of water, a protein bar, the newspaper from the front porch. I called for them at the back door and they didn’t come so I gave them another minute. When they didn’t come the second time, I went into the driveway, calling for them in my nightgown. That was when the unthinkable occurred.
Four people stood in my driveway.
“Are you looking for a couple of dogs?” The woman asked me. She was someone I’d never seen before.
“We hit them.”
“You hit them?” I asked. I heard her, I don’t know why I repeated it. My brain wanted to reject the information.
“Yes. They were chasing a cat.”
A slim woman in black pushing a baby carriage came closer. Her face showed great sadness. I looked from her to the first woman. The two men hung back.
“Please tell me they’re not dead.”
The first woman nodded. “We saw the cat. The cat got away. We stopped for the cat. But we didn’t see the dogs.”
“They’re dead?” My voice rose in a quiver. “They’re dead?”
The woman with the baby carriage approached me. She whispered, “Can I give you a hug?” I clung to her. I didn’t know her, but she was my mother and my sister and my best friend in that moment. “They are dead? They can’t be dead. They are all I have in the world. Please tell me they’re not dead.”
Her husband, young, tall, capable. “We saw it happen. I — ” He checked his wife’s eyes. “I picked them up off the street and carried them to the sidewalk. I checked their pulses first thing. They were both killed instantly. They didn’t suffer.”
“They are dead? Dead? My babies. My poor babies.” I cried. I wailed. I have heard the word keen but never knew what the sound was until I heard it coming from my own chest. I needed to see. I released myself from the bounds of this woman’s arms and walked toward the street and saw a swath of blood and gore several feet wide. “Oh my God. My babies.” From where I stood, I could see the familiar curve of Abra’s soft, black fur covering her curled back, her tail tucked habitually between her front paws. I couldn’t see her face or her distinctive ears or her bright, curious, loving cinnamon eyes. I couldn’t see any of Eliza at all: not her kind, devoted deep brown eyes, or her Grinch-feathered toes or her soft, floppy ears.
Abra, the Doodle, Abra Doodle, the Poodle, the Poo-Poo, Doodle Fus. Eliza, Eliza Jane, Liza Jane, Smushy-Face, Grinchy Toes.
“I have to call someone.” I stumbled into the house. I called my mother, no answer. My father. No answer. On the second ring, my sister answered and within three words, my brother in law was on the way to help. Within ten minutes, my mother and best friend had arrived. Then my sister. Then more friends. Shock, sorrow, sadness.
Throughout the week, I’ve had cards and letters and flowers and words of comfort from friends and neighbors and even people I barely know but who know me from seeing me walking with the neighborhood with Abra and Eliza.
“Where are the girls today?”
I’ve explained several times and without exception, have been met with real, compassionate tears.
My neighbor across the street called me on Sunday. “I barely knew them and they always barked at me when they saw me as if they’d never seen me before,” he said, his voice muddy with tears, “but I loved those dogs. They were the sweetest things. I miss them already. I know I’m supposed to strong for you and I’m failing in that. I’m so sorry.”
One of my neighbors around the corner dropped off a card last night that brought me to tears again. “I’ve been thinking of you and your pals. I’m so sorry. If they could talk, they would thank you for the years of love and for taking such good care of them.”
But you see, it was the other way around. They took such good care of me.