by Betty Zubritsky
Yes. I wasn’t there at Raynham when it closed, but I was at The Woodlands when it did, and I can promise you, it was far more than sad.
I’d vowed to myself that I would be there to watch our last race. It wasn’t my night to work, so I put on my “out in public” clothes and went up into the Grandstand. I’d been so familiar with the place, mostly empty but for the few regulars who came every week to play and visit and watch the dogs run. Knowledgeable folks, and mostly very friendly. (Hey, you get jerks everywhere) I thought I’d walk on up there and find them easily.
The place was packed to capacity. Probably beyond capacity, but who was going to call the cops about it? All those people who could have been keeping us alive for the last 5 years, but had chosen to go to the casinos across the river instead, suddenly had to BE there on the night we died. I found a couple of my regulars and we all squeezed into the same chair, just to be near one another and hear each other talk. And the more I looked around at the crowd (and the more I was strangled by it) the more I knew I was simply food for the vultures. I kissed my friends goodnight, thanked them for simply being, and ran out of the Grandstand.
I watched our last race on the computer. One of my treasures is our last program.
The next morning, our dogs still had to be tended. Some of us had bought dog farms, I had bought a house, we had so thoroughly believed that we were going to be there forever, and our lives were secure. And in the end, we went to take care of our dogs because they needed us. No matter how ruined we were, our dogs were the first priority. I walked into my kennel, where I had been so in love for three years, and I did the work. And I knew my dogs were leaving me, and every moment was precious. I crammed an awful lot of kisses into a very short time. Kisses without joy.
Kisses of despair. Craig and I said very little to one another. He did ask me if I was ok. I replied that I certainly was not. Nobody on the compound was ok. Faces that had been dancing for all our tomorrows were dead and vacant. We did our jobs and all we wanted was to be told it was all a lie. Somebody hurry and take this bad dream away because it’s not funny…..
I don’t know if anybody will ever understand how connected we are to our dogs. When the hauler came for my babies, all I wanted was the chance to fall apart. Stop loading, let me kiss and cuddle, I can tell you his magic place and oh she sure loves ear tickles, and all I could do was churn my dogs away. My dogs, my precious babies, because the hauler had a schedule to keep.
He was not unkind, he was doing his job too. Transports are very sensitive maneuvers.
When all my dogs were gone, I refused to go back into the kennel. Craig wanted to clean, I told him to have at it. What’s he gonna do? Fire me? I would not walk back into that place where I had loved so much, just to find it empty and hollow. I would not listen to my footsteps echo where there had once been such joyful noise. I would not, would NOT, read the names on the crates. The track management is paying people to clean the kennels, for absolutely no reason. Clean to your hearts content. I won’t help you.
My dogs are gone.
He didn’t push it. And I don’t think he did much cleaning. He did call me to invite me out to do a drwoning of sorrows, and I tried to beg off. I’m in my pajamas, I’d really rather not, I adore you and you know I’m not ok tonight and I won’t be any fun to be around, and somehow he convinced me to put on clothes and join him at a nearby bar.
His wife wrapped me up in a hug and said all the right things. I’m so sorry, he’s always said you were wonderful, are you ok (hell no I wasn’t) and she sat quietly while her husband and I simply talked about our dogs. I don’t know if it was “cleansing” or not, but we sure needed to. Just to hear each other touch our fingers to them, remind one another of the things that made us laugh, the things that made us crazy, the ones that were simply perfect.
He let me tell him my favorites, although I know he already knew them all. I’m not bashful about them. But then he told me his, and I was amazed.
Craig Sheldon is the finest person I’ve ever known. He came into the biz when he was a teenager, and has been working dogs for 38 years. He handled some of the very greatest, including Mi Designer. Today, he drives a fork truck for Fed X. He has had to give up his lovely home and take up a much smaller residence with his family. He tells me he’s happy, and he has never lied to me. But when we talk now, on the phone, and if I bring up a dog we had, all his “yeah I’m happy” seems to go away when I can feel him lean forward into our conversation and he relates his own memories.
When everything you love goes away, it isn’t just a sadness. It’s a wipe-out. It’s having believed and having that belief destroyed. It’s hitting the absolute bottom of the depths of hell, and wondering if its worth it to come back from it. Truthfully, it’s enough to make you want to just plain stop being.