A journalist observes life in the far north.
Lightning is expected to die today. For anyone who doesn’t know, Lightning is one of our four dogs. A mostly-white bull terrier, he is the only male and Alec’s favorite dog. He was playing in the road yesterday when a big truck hit him.
I had just come home from work. I was editing some video on my laptop and waiting for Alec and Jade to come home from a birthday party when I heard a truck pull up the driveway and then a knock on the door. It was a man who I had never seen before. He said, “Do you have a white dog?” I knew right then that whatever the man had come to tell me was bad. I said yes. “I just hit your dog,” he said. I ran to get my boots and then ran out to the road. The man said that Lightning was down a ways and that he should probably give me a ride. I got into the back seat of his pickup truck, joining his two children, both in their preteens. A woman, his wife I suppose, sat in the front seat with a cake on her lap. It was a beautiful cake with white frosting and strawberries stuck to the frosting. I keep thinking about that cake today for some reason. The family was on their way to have dinner with some friends down the road. They took me to Lightning, who was cowering under a tree. I didn’t see him at first because his white coat blended with the snow. But when I got closer, I could see blood and bone on his back leg. It was a bad break.
He was breathing heavy. I picked him up and carried him out of the woods. I kept punching through the snow and I fell to my knees at one point, but I managed to get up and get him into the truck. I had never held Lightning before. All his weight was on me. He didn’t cry, but I knew he needed help. “Hang on, buddy,” I said. “I’ll get you some help.” The family drove me back to the house. The wife asked Lightning’s name. She asked his breed. The husband helped me put Lightning in the back seat of my car. They were sorry, they said. I accepted their apology.
I got in my car and started driving to town. Alec met me on Murphy Dome Road, and we traded rigs. Alec would take Lightning to the emergency vet in town, and I would take the baby home.
When Alec returned home later, he said that Lightning was not expected to make it through the night. He has massive internal injuries, Alec said. His liver and kidneys were crushed. He was urinating blood. Alec pulled two business cards from his pocket. One was for the emergency vet and the other was for a woman who helps families deal with the loss of a pet. We went to bed. Alec slept with his cell phone on the night stand. Twice it rang in the night. I heard Alec approve emergency surgery during one of the calls.
I think the bill is already up to $1,000. It’s not even been 24 hours. In some ways, that is the worst part of it. Lightning’s prognosis is not very good. The expense of keeping him alive is an added stress, particularly when his chances of surviving anyway are so bad. I can see that Alec is struggling with the decision of whether to let him go.
When I first started dating Alec, I was afraid of Lightning. He’s very strong. Lighting and Rose, one of the female bull terriers, get into vicious, loud fights. I had never seen a dog fight before I began dating Alec. A couple of weeks ago, they got into a fight while I was home alone with the baby. I beat them with a broom to try to get them apart and they didn’t care. They kept on fighting.
Alec loves Lightning. Every morning, he holds him in his lap like a baby, cradling him and petting him. I think he lets Lighting nibble on his face. Alec sometimes nibbles on his boy’s ear. Lightning, or maybe I am thinking of Ruby, sometimes yelps when Alec bites on his ear too hard. I’ll admit to a pang of jealousy at seeing the tenderness Alec sometimes shows his dogs.
Last summer, Lightning liked to graze in my vegetable garden. He loves vegetables, and I had to yell at him sometimes because I was afraid he’d eat up all of our food. A few weeks ago, I found Lightning sleeping in Jade’s cradle. I was angry with him because I had just washed her bedding.
Alec is angry at the people who hit his boy. He said they were probably driving too fast. He said they should have volunteered to pay part of the vet bill. But I know the law is on their side. The borough leash law says that dog-owners must keep their canines on a leash on public property. The road is public property. I should have been keeping an eye on Lightning.
Alec just called. He is at the vet. Lightning was jerking, throwing up and screaming in pain, he said. They gave him morphine. I told Alec that maybe we should put Lightning down. Alec said he wants to give it a few more hours. So I sit hear alone waiting.