By Keith Michael
Spoiler alert: This is not a cheerful tale.
On Friday, March 26th, while I looked for migrating spring birds in the Willow Oaks across Perry Street, Millie, my irascible corgi muse through more than nine years of monthly articles here in WestView, took her morning walk with me for the last time.
You may recall that my April article, already written and submitted by that Friday, while shielding her from the excessive cuteness of a pair of Screech Owls in northern Manhattan, celebrated her twelfth birthday.
That morning, with Millie backtracking at the end of her leash, I was already contemplating whether to cast the screaming pair of Blue Jays above us dive-bombing a Common Crow out of their airspace as the subject for my May article. Millie trotted inside from the street and sidestepped up the two front stairs as always, ever impatient that I wasn’t opening the doors fast enough. Unbeknownst as I left for work, I wouldn’t meet her accusatory, worried, “Where are you going?” gaze again.
In the early afternoon, my phone buzzed with a text from Millie’s dog walker friend Kirk: “Something is not right. She is lying down in the bathroom and her breathing seems heavy. She is awake but wouldn’t even respond to a treat.”
I got home. Fast. David returned shortly afterward. Getting Millie to a vet had always been a battle. A regime of tranquilizers preceded every appointment while a muzzle smeared with cream cheese was prepared for when she got there. For most of her life, we hadn’t been able to pick her up or get her into a cab. She always walked. Grumpily. That Friday was different.
Donning raptor-friendly protective gloves dug from a drawer, there was no response as I fearfully eased on her muzzle. There was no complaint as I wrapped a towel, then my arms, around her. Feeling Millie’s wet breath on my neck for the first time, there was no struggle as David and I rode silently with her to the vet. And now what?
By the time we arrived, Millie was no longer “in there.” Apparently, her spleen had ruptured and there was massive internal bleeding. Her eyes were not seeing us. There was no conflict in our decision to “help her along.”
Exhale.That airless euphemism offers no softening for what comes next—the unexpected, unwanted, relentless litany of first times:
– Walking out of the vet and onto the sidewalk carrying only her collar and leash
– Walking home and passing everyone with DOGS at the end of their leashes
– Turning the key in the lock and she was not pattering by the door
– Not filling her water bowl (emptying it, washing it, putting it on the shelf)
– Not measuring her kibble into a dish, not placing it on the floor, and not saying an upbeat, “Okay!” before she would eat it
– Not leaving an extra bit on my dinner plate and putting it down by my chair for her to lick clean
– Not taking her out for an evening walk to stand silently in the street while the night rumbled around us
– Waking up at 2am from the stillness of her not being pressed against the bed—not breathing, not snoring, not sleep-running from bad dreams
– Not taking her out the next morning to inspect every cobblestone for who passed by during the night (or for an errant French fry or chicken bone) and realizing that time on the street with her was MY time to watch and listen for birds
– Starting to rush, then not needing to rush home to take her out for her dinner walk
– Sitting through a rainy Sunday that she would have balked all day at getting wet
– Picking up a tuft of fur from the carpet knowing, wryly, that we won’t be able to complain about that anymore
– The sudden “oh.” How will I write about West Village birds without her?
– Not seeing her napping in the middle of the floor, and involuntarily checking her spot by the door
– Vacuuming and her NOT barking- The doorbell ringing and her NOT barking
– The neighbor’s dog passing by the door and her NOT barking
– Anyone passing by the door and her NOT barking- Coming home and her NOT barking—the clanging silence
– Reading (okay, napping) on the couch and her not walking over for a chin scratch (to take her out)
– Finishing up my monthly article and her not asking for a chest rub while I typed only with my left hand (probably she was just wanting to go out)
I can still go out. I can still go out to look for birds. But if Millie’s not there to ignore them, do the birds still sing?
Visit keithmichaelnyc.com or follow @newyorkcitywild on Instagram.