Lightnin’ Hopkins, 30 January 2001 – 7 April 2013 Lightnin’ was, by every standard (save one), a spectacular specimen of a black male pug: large head with symmetrical ears (perfect little triangular flaps) and huge liquid eyes (that didn’t protrude), a shapely nose with just the right amount of recess so that his nose fold stayed clean and sweet-smelling, a soft velvet muzzle and great lips (a friend posed him with a cigar lodged between those magnificent dog lips one night, in honor of his “blues heritage”.) His body was appropriately cobby and completely blue-black except for the lightning bolt on his chest and his left front paw, which was tipped in white (keeping him from the show ring – to our family’s great, good fortune.) His swaggered walk was that of a heavy-weight champ, (never fat, he was built like one of those brick houses we’ve all heard about) and ready to take on all comers, at 20.5 lbs. (Black dogs can get away with being a little larger than breed standard, old news to those of us who are never without at least one good pair of black slacks.) His favorite pastimes were taking Tallulah’s (his sister) toys away from her, barking at squirrels, starlings and hot-air balloons, and eating. He was a serious eater, never playing with his food, but occasionally inhaling it. (Recovering from spinal surgery, he developed aspiration pneumonia – and almost didn’t survive that. In an effort to prevent a recurrence, we bought him a bowl with big knobs in it that he had to eat around – following the same theory that adds large rocks to the grain that’s fed to horses, in order to slow down their intake.) He weathered various less serious ailments, too (“pugs, after all, are not really designed for efficient or care-free functioning”, said the vet) but never, ever, did we hear him complain. As the years passed, much of his black hair turned white, giving him eyebrows, a “milk chin” and a snowy chest and belly; yet the coat on his back remained a rich, glossy ebony. As his physical features altered he simply became more distinguished in our eyes. We failed to notice (or acknowledge) the message that his slowed pace and increased preference for sitting (as opposed to standing) was sending. In hindsight, I realize how hard he worked to hide his discomfort; to play the part he’d assumed as an 11-week-old puppy, living among us with one thing uppermost in his mind: to love us and please us in every way he knew how. Except for a few times in my life when it wasn’t possible to keep an animal, I’ve been surrounded by loving non-human companions for more than 50 years. I’d like to think that I’m better at accepting the fact that we all wear out, that none of us lives forever, that dying is a natural corollary of living. I can’t say that it ever gets easier to say good-bye (because it doesn’t) but I do know that with each passing, I grow more comfortable with death. I try to remember how unimaginably hard it would be if we couldn’t die, if we couldn’t leave this world for something better. Without a whimper, Lightnin’ told us it was time to go, time to let go and rest and while he was sorry to cause pain, he just couldn’t please us anymore; it was no longer possible. He was a gentleman to the end and we’re deeply grateful we could be there for him during the final part of his journey. He was a true friend and staunch companion to the last. Rest in peace, Sweet Boy, until we are together again.
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