You can’t talk about Romeo without mentioning Juliet, too. In our house — or in our heads, at least –Kika was Juliet to Gaston’s Romeo. She passed away last week.
Gaston arrived first. My ex-boyfriend, Kyan, found him wandering around Frenchmen Street and insisted I adopt him. Because I was smitten with both of them, I did as I was told.
Things went well for a few days until one morning I left for work, and Gaston began to wail. According to my neighbors, it went on for hours. I thought he’d eventually get used to the situation, but I was very, very wrong.
Time passed, Kyan moved on, Gaston and I stayed put. Eventually, Jonno entered the picture. We decided to get another dog to keep Gaston company, so we drove to the old SPCA on Japonica Street.
If you’ve ever been to a dog shelter, you know what loud, chaotic places they are. And yet, there was Kika, calmly sitting at the front of her cage, looking up at us. She wasn’t playful, she wasn’t frightened, she wasn’t sad, but something in her eyes pleaded: “Please take me home. Please. I don’t belong here.” She was irresistible.
Correction: she was irresistible to me and to Jonno. Gaston could take her or leave her. We’d hoped to create a passionate case of star-crossed love, but what we got was more like the civil co-existence of an arranged marriage. (Which, of course, what it was.) That said, Gaston’s wining did subside a bit once Kika entered the picture, so we felt slightly vindicated.
Kika was never the cuddliest of dogs — not to Gaston, not to us. She would occasionally hop in the bed with Jonno and me, but she never stayed for more than a few minutes. Soon, it was back to the floor, back to her kennel. She was aloof, she needed her space.
Every so often, though — usually in the morning, after she’d just come in from running outside — she’d get a little feisty and affectionate. I’d be sitting on the sofa with my first cup of coffee, and Kika would prance over, look at me with her deep, brown eyes, and wait for me to pet her. If I didn’t, she’d claw at me with her front paw — like, “Hey! Hey! I don’t ask for much around here. I would like some attention now, please.” I’d give in, but after a minute or so of me scratching behind her ears or between her front legs, she’d move on, through with me for the day.
The thing I’ll always remember about Kika was her serenity. She had this way of sitting very still and looking you directly in the eyes. It reminded me of a look my grandmother used to give, which seemed to say, “Yes, yes. You know what I’m thinking, don’t you?” Frankly, I never knew what was going on in either one’s head, but I played along, and I loved them both dearly.
* * * * *
A couple of weeks ago, Kika developed a little cough, which gradually became worse. Weekend before last, she began to have trouble breathing, wheezing in her sleep. I took her to our vet, who sent me to a specialist to confirm what he already knew: Kika had cancer of the lungs. The tumors were everywhere, and they were inoperable. I’d hoped that she might hang on another couple of weeks until Jonno came back from Provincetown and had a chance to say goodbye, but the vet was doubtful. I couldn’t bring myself to put her through it.
Despite her discomfort, Kika’s disposition never changed. She was the same old Kika right to the end, even though it was obvious that she was in pain. It was terrible to watch. She was put to sleep on Friday.
I couldn’t hold her while they put her under. I did that with Gaston, and it was a terrible mistake, because two years later, when I think of him, that’s all I see: his lifeless body, weak and frail. It’s terrible to see any animal — human or pet — in pain, confused, unsure of what’s to come when you know exactly what’s to come, but it’s far worse to see them dead. I learned my lesson.
I carried Kika inside, talking to her all the while, then handed her to the vet, kissed her on the forehead, whispered something like “I love you” or “Be sweet”, took her collar, and walked away. I didn’t look back.
As I sat in the car afterward, I felt my heart break — truly break, in a painful, physical way. Considering the fate that might’ve befallen her at the SPCA, I’m happy to have had Kika for nearly 13 years. But it doesn’t get easier, does it? It makes me wonder if I ever want to go through this again.