This is a true story from my coming-of-age years. The death of a loved pet can be traumatic in a lot of ways, but when one must deal out the death, it is even more so. The story was written for an English Comp class in college.
MEN DON’T CRY
“I’m sorry that you’re losing so many sheep, mister, but how do you know that these dogs are killing them? I know that my Lady wouldn’t kill anything, let alone a sheep that is more than twice her size.”
He explains that he saw Blazer, the dog that she plays with, chewing on a carcass the other day. You earnestly talk on plying him with more questions about the ill-fate of your beloved dog.
“Well, I shot at her once, and I’ll do it again if I see her running my sheep,” Mr. Seifort concludes.
You mutter nasty things under your breath and ask if you can take your dog into his pasture to see for yourself if she is a killer.
“If she is, I’d rather shoot her myself than take the chance of you crippling her up on some wild shots.”
You feel the pent up anger flush your face and your heart pounds recklessly in your ears. He nods his assent. You turn sad footsteps toward place that has become your refuge of destitution – home. Could anything be more cruel, more gruesome, more vile, than to shoot the best friend you have in the animal world? You are only sixteen but already your life is coming to an end.
You reach for your 25/20 rifle. “Where’s Lady?” You ask no one in particular.
“Dunno,” comes an absent reply from the other room.
You step outside and give your single, long whistle that she is accustomed to – in a flash she come racing across the pasture and with one graceful leap she clears the fence without breaking stride, and settles into an expectant “Sit.”
“Heel, Lady!” She falls into step beside you and you start up the road toward the neighbors pasture.
A sickening lump leaps from the pit of your stomach to lodge in your throat as you think of what might have to be done. You determine that her test should be thus:
If, when we walk into the pasture among the sheep, she pays no attention to them, she will live – and you will fight to the death her right to life. But if she chases them she dies.
She could be given away – but no, in the same thought, you remember how she acted last summer when you were gone for two weeks. She wouldn’t eat anything but water, because you had trained her to not take food from anyone but you.
You cross the fence and tramp the dew-laden grass of his south-eighty pasture. Your heart begins to pound around your eyes and your tired mind whirls up the many happy days of the past year, visualizing the growing pains of a boy and his puppy and the scenes blend together to form a sequence.
Remember the first day you got her? The day you went to the Humane Society to pick her out? Your kid sister and brother went along to witness the big event. She cost a whole three dollars, but what was three dollars for happiness?
Now your pride and joy, and happiness is being torn from you. Half angry with yourself, you grasp the muzzle of the gun and lift the butt up to lie across your shoulder. The guilt and the gun become one dark, overshadowing mass upon your back, bending you low with grief – but men don’t cry.
Lady seems to sense that something is wrong and she looks up into your eyes with her big, brown inquisitive eyes. She seems to be asking, “What’s wrong friend? This is a beautiful day for a walk – why so sad?”
Then, audibly you answer her silent questions. You pour out your heart to her, telling her how much you have loved her. How you hope she passes your test. Then she throws up her head, sniffs the air, and is gone like the wind.
You command, “Lady! Heel!” She runs on – you give her the familiar whistle – she runs on, straight for the sheep, as they scamper away.
You command again with a hint of anger, and she comes loping back to your side. You drop to your knees in agony. “Oh, why, oh why God, do I have to do it?”
Is He trying to teach you a lesson of some kind, you wonder? “Why did you have to chase the sheep Lady? Why – why – WHY?” Minute after minute you are knelt there whispering your hopes and fears into her ear – telling her what you must now do.
Anguish! But, men don’t cry, hold those tears.
You struggle to your feet, and head back for the house with faithful Lady trotting ahead of you. Now you’re alone with your heart, but what, what can you tell your heart when you’re about to squeeze the life out of it with your index finger, possibly forever? Mentally you try to evade the questions, but your heart leaps to your throat and chokes you for an answer. You can give none and your heart keeps right on choking you.
You come across a sheep freshly killed in the last day or night. You whistle Lady to your side and head for the carcass. She stops about ten feet away from it. You take her by the nape of the neck and try to drag her closer, but she balks and growls. You wonder what she knows about this mess that you don’t know. You dismiss the idea and continue on toward home.
Then stopping you raise the death-dealer to your shoulder and give a short whistle. She stops, turns, and seeing the gun pointed at her, spooks to run. You command, “Lady! Sit!”
She stops again and looks around. You feel the trigger release beneath your touch and everything takes on the confusion of hell. She leaps into the air, yelping in pain, and bless her loyal heart, she tries to bring her pain to you, her best friend.
Men don’t cry, huh? Well, why did your heart blast the bottom out of your tear-house?
You cry, unashamed, like you’ve never cried before. She isn’t dead yet – you must shoot again. – she is struggling and writhing in pain. You slam the lever of the carbine down, and for the first time ever, it jams. You wrestle with it and finally get it fixed for another shot.
Motionless at last.
The rest of the morning is only a haze of a heavy tan body, a deep, cool, cruel hole, and the emotion packed experience of shoveling dirt over your heart, your life, and your dog.
Gently you pack the last of the dirt into place, and remember for the first time the coyotes you heard the other night.
“Oh my God, What have I done? They also, can kill sheep!”