Empty Back Seat
Driving away from the familiar West Side veterinary building, I was overwhelmed by the empty back seat. For the better part of 14 years, Pushkin was watching what I did. The last six months or so, the English pointer was content to lay his head on the old car’s leather.
Back behind North Market Street’s yellow door, it was even more eerie. My first order of business was to take up the kitchen’s three bowls and store them in the little house beyond the fence. The blanket on the Victorian love-seat followed. My big mistake was in eating a salad; there was no one to lick the bowl – that was my best friend’s job.
When Pushkin came to live with me, he was 12 weeks old; it was the day before my 70th birthday. I was sitting out on the rather grand porch at our former home while my wife loaded antiques for a Richmond show. She had help in a dealer friend and the Russian “son” who lived with us: Dr. Dmitry Kuprash from a Moscow State University’s molecular biology lab, temporarily at Fort Detrick and living with us. The puppy’s Russian name, he was responsible for.
Wanting to call the 20-pound, black-and-white butterball after himself, Dima dubbed him Mitya, with a diphthong in the middle, which my wife’s Midwest tongue couldn’t get around. Having once provided lyrics for Duke Ellington’s nephew for a planned-for musical on the most famous poet in Russia, Aleksander Sergeivitch Pushkin, I said: “We’ll name him Pushkin.”
The English pointer became “the mayor of downtown Frederick,” according to WFMD’s Bob Miller. Twice daily, seven days-a-week, we took promenades on North Market Street; at one time, to Carroll Creek and East. As arthritis, in both, slowed us down, we managed to reach the Square Corner and the BB&T branch. In the last months, every day Pat, at Alicia’s, always had a biscuit for him; except Sunday, he looked forward to scrambling up the steps at Whitesell’s pharmacy. He received treats from En Masse florists.
At the beginning we slept together after my wife left. When Sharon was still around and we had a house on Chincoteague Island’s Main Street, Pushki and I took naps. One afternoon I was reading when I felt a spreading warmth that was familiar from my children. Without waking puppy, I slipped out of bed. When he came awake, the sheets went out on the balcony that overlooked the Intracoastal Canal.
Several years ago my best friend could not make up to the high mattress; he slept on a Costco dog bed by the door. For a long time, he came around to my side when the calls of nature became overwhelming. In the last months, I learned to tread warily; he frequently made it to the bathroom’s tile floor. But not always.
Pushkin was never struck in anger and yelled at only occasionally, mainly when I thought he was in danger. For years we walked without a leash. When he became older, the English pointer took to wandering out in the street, looking for food; we were joined together. He was hungry all his life, which I was assured is normal. I switched him from dry to canned chicken-and-beef parts several months ago. In the last days his appetite vanished.
Monday night I realized he kept living because of me and our love; I was being selfish while he limped along behind me. Putting him down was an act of mercy, which Dr. Stacy Dimaria acknowledged, thanking me; she kept him alive, administering acupuncture every two weeks. Thanks to her he was able to climb up the stairs to the bedroom every evening. He surprised me even the last night.
At the end, Pushkin had the tender loving care of Stacy and technician Scott Engle whom my best friend knew very well; they rubbed and kissed him, while I extended a hand from a corner. We had said goodbye the evening before, with his head on my lap and kissing on the nose.
Not only is the back seat empty.