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Updated: April 26, 2014 16:03 IST
MOVING ON

My friend Cooper

INDER SANDHU
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Illustration: Satwik Gade

The writer says goodbye to his best pal.

“I’ve got some bad news.” My volunteer coordinator’s voice was mechanical.

I pulled over to the roadside and spoke into my earpiece. “Yes, what is it?”

“Cooper has cancer.”

This couldn’t be happening to my Cooper, my favourite playmate at the shelter, my reason for joining this Rescue. “How much time does the vet give him?”

“A few weeks. We’ve decided to put him to sleep …”

Her words faded. Put him to sleep? He’s the liveliest Doberman. He’s my hiking mate, he’s my running buddy. “When?”

“Today. We’re taking him to the vet and —”

“Don’t say it.”

“I know you love Cooper.” Her voice softened. “Would you like to say goodbye to him?”

I clasp myself tighter. “I…err…you see…umm…I can’t…don’t have the ability of saying goodbye.”

“That’s okay. We’ve called Tina from HomeFurGood Rescue. She’ll be with him till the very end.”

“You called someone else? Someone who doesn’t even know our Coopster?”

“She’s the one we call when any of our dogs are euthanised.”

“What a horribly depressing job. She must be a dark, gloomy soul.” I clasped two fistfuls of my hair.

***

Two days later, I’m at HomeFurGood to pick up Coopers ashes. The receptionist directs me to Tina’s desk.

“Take a seat. She’ll be in soon.”

She motions to a wooden chair.

I rap my fingers on her desk. A short-haired woman stares into my eyes from a picture. She’s holding a handicapped dog and her nametag reads Tina. She has a warm smile that makes even the crow’s feet around her eyes appealing. I pick up a plastic clip with a small tube attached to it and twirl it.

“Mr. Sandhu. I see that you found my special euthanasia tube.”

I drop the tube and rub my hands clean. The tube falls to the floor with the yellow smiley face tag facing up. I shake her warm and soft hand.

“I see that death bothers you.”

She takes her seat.

“I can’t see these dogs being put to sleep every day. I don’t have the heart to watch them die.”

“So you close your eyes. Did you consider Cooper’s passing from his point of view? You refused to be with him…”

“Cooper was my favourite dog. You see hundreds of dogs die every day. They’re all the same to you. You don’t know the first thing about Cooper…”

“I don’t know the first thing about him. But I know the last.” She crosses her arms. “I snuggled next to him on the soft Sherpa blanket. He ate a Frosty Paws ice-cream I bought him. Then he nuzzled my hand, so I gave him a second one. I kissed him between his eyes and whispered stories about all the dogs I couldn’t save. I held him, speaking softly until he drifted off.”

My shoulders droop. The chair is just about ready to swallow me. I rest my elbows on my knee.

“I was… was… scared.” I manage a whisper.

She touches my shoulder. “I know fear, Mr. Sandhu. Every Friday, I find a list of dogs at animal control to be put down. I’m paralysed with fear knowing those dogs are missing their chance at life.”

“How do you do it, Tina?”

She sighs. “I’ve encompassed the world of rescue. My love for animals doesn’t fill some void in my life left by a bad relationship, a dog that passed or some sociological issue in my childhood.”

She taps the picture of a black and tan Doberman wearing a red collar that reads ‘Speed’.

“As a child I peered into the eyes of an animal and saw a soul in them.”

“So how can you witness their souls being extinguished?”

“Because nobody else will. They’re at the Animal Shelter because a human chose to abandon them. Because they didn’t think the dog’s life was worthwhile. Now, in their final moments, I share my heart and my love with them. These comforting moments are all I can give them. “

I adjust my glasses. “But don’t you feel like saving all of them?”

“Every single one. But I can’t. Despite our fundraising efforts at HomeFurGood, we can’t bring any of these dogs back to the overcrowded shelter.” She places an urn on the table.

I place my trembling hand on it. I feel today that I’m on the outside looking in. I haven’t encompassed compassion.

“Thank you, Tina.”

I stumble out the door.

She calls out from behind. “Peace be with you.”

I stop in my tracks. If I were a marginally better person, I’d ask her out.

Because if a person like her is not in my life, the loss is entirely and completely mine.

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