Triptych of Bingo, My Guardian Angel
By Grace Sullivan
I can’t remember the house we got her from.
Nor can I remember the lady that gave her to us. I can’t even remember what the other dog that was chasing her around a coffee table when we walked in looked like. However, I do distinctly remember that my dad told my mother and I he wanted a big, mostly grown male who could fetch the newspaper. My dad realized when we came back with her that neither of us had been listening.
I was three years old, quite unobservant, and all I wanted in life to make me happy was a dog.
Basically, these were simpler times. My mom had done some research for pet adoption after her old dog, Austin, died from cancer when I was two. I only remember that mutt through home videos of him fetching a ball and bringing it back gently to my baby seat. I don’t even think I asked for another dog; our big house just felt empty to my mother without a dog’s footsteps.
There was a couple on Facebook that posted they had found two stray dogs that they couldn’t keep and needed a home.
My mom drove me over there, probably so that she could avoid having to let me sift through twenty or so dogs at an animal shelter. A good decision on her part. Now I only had two girl puppies to choose from and surprisingly, I didn’t take very long. The door opened to their house, the couple greeted us, and they brought us into the living room. As I mentioned before, there were two of them, the one with slightly darker fur chasing the other one around a small coffee table. Neither of them bothered to look up, even as my mom and I walked over and sat down on the other side of the couch. Neither of them seemed to get bored from running around a coffee table over and over again either. My mom told me to look at them, maybe pet them once they calmed down.
I was allowed to choose which one we took home.
I took a good look at both of them. The one doing the chasing had reddish fur, slightly longer legs than the other, a little bit skinnier. She reminded me of a spice. Cinnamon, specifically. I took my attention to the other one. She seemed a bit more nervous than her “sister”, but she still looked as if she was having fun. Her fur was only a couple shades lighter, but for some reason, I associated her with a pale sweetness, with sugar or cream.
“I want the vanilla one!”
I said in the middle of my mom’s conversation about adoption prices. Looking back, this made absolutely no sense for me to say. First of all, I was referring to the lighter dog, but vanilla extract is a dark substance. I guess my child brain was imagining the ice cream. Secondly, the dog wasn’t even a light color. It was still a ginger-brown at the time. Only by the time she was around ten would she really start to look like a “vanilla” dog. “Which one is that?” My mom had to ask, glancing between the two in confusion. I pointed to the one I meant and her attention was drawn to me. The puppy licked my pointed finger and jumped up on the couch next to me. My mom and I were equally delighted.
“Well, what do you want to name her?”
I could have said Vanilla, but that sounded more like middle name material to me. So I gave our new dog to only dog’s name I knew.
“Bingo. She will be Bingo Vanilla Sullivan.”
Little did my three-year-old self know I would have to correct just about everyone that Bingo was a girl for the rest of my life. All because the children’s rhyme said “his name-o.” But it didn’t matter to me then. I spent the rest of the time cooing over Bingo and constantly reaffirming her that she would, in fact, be going home with us. She just sat across from me and pantsed with no understanding of my words. I loved her already.
Bingo was about four years old by now.
And she was officially the most important thing to me in the world. So important that I even got offended when my parents told me I was more important to them than our family dog. I immediately greeted her with hugs and kisses every day after school, and sometimes I would even just lay beside her on our living room carpet and scratch her belly as she licked my face like I was her baby kitten. As soon as we brought her home, we realized she thought she was a cat, and as I spoiled her rotten, she was led to believe she was also a queen. I didn’t mind and I even let her have her own little throne: our ottoman.
My best friend, Alex, came over one day before we had to go to karate.
Alex happened to be the other most important thing to me at the time. I was only seven, but I was already experiencing the feeling of anxiousness a teenager gets when their crush comes over for the first time. We arrived back from school and Alex wanted to go on the trampoline in my backyard. Bingo sat outside on the porch, watching closely as we climbed through the net. We did all the activities one usually does when on a trampoline: jumped, bounced, flipped, rolled. At one point, we started wrestling, aka the most romantic thing you can do with your crush at age seven. I shrieked and giggled out of excitement, and we kept at it for about ten minutes before we had to go inside to get ready.
What I had failed to notice during our ultra-romantic wrestling match was Bingo watching intently from the porch. She had gotten very concerned that someone was attacking her kitten and hadn’t known how to stop it until we got off the trampoline. As soon as Alex hit the ground, Bingo ran across the yard and jumped on top of Alex so that she could bite him on the finger. My dad ran out and held her back before she could do any worse, although it seemed like she just wanted to give him a warning.
“Ow! Bad dog!”
Alex yelped, holding his finger where teeth marks were barely visible. My dad took us inside to let Alex get cleaned up and scolded Bingo on the way in. “Grace, you need to keep that dog away from me!” Alex exclaimed as my mom led him to sink to rinse the wound with water.
Never before had I been genuinely angry at Alex, but him scolding my dog was enough to do it. I found it sweet that Bingo had protected me, even though there was nothing to be protected from, and the fact that Alex thought he had the right to get upset about a mere nip had me bristling. Secretly, while my mom put on a bandaid, I walked back outside to where Bingo was being punished and knelt down beside her.
“It’s okay, girl. I know you didn’t mean to hurt my crush.
You thought he was attacking me. I still love you.” I planted a kiss on her cheek and rubbed the warm spot between the napes of her forehead. She licked my hand and I could’ve sworn the corners of her mouth turned up.
Alex, on the other hand, I didn’t speak to for the next three days, until he promised he would never insult my dog again.
We drove Bingo back from the shelter mostly in silence, the exceptions being my dad’s sniffles and my mom turning around from the passenger seat to smile at Bingo in hopes of a tail wag.
Her tail didn’t move. The only thing that did was her big, brown eyes, gazing up glumly from her thin blanket. I rubbed her head in the backseat, carefully pushing her body when she sat up, encouraging her to lay back down. I got out my phone to take photos when I realized this was her last day. Putting the phone close up to her snout, I made sure to replicate a photo I had taken of her years ago at our old house, back when she was healthy. Later, when I compared the two, I would see how her nose had cracked and dried over time, and how the edges of the fur were completely white now.
My dad carried her down our driveway, her legs too frail to walk down herself. It was strange seeing Bingo like this. For most of her life, she had been able to keep a puppy’s level of energy. Now, just as we all realized her life was nearing its end, did she become an old woman. My dad slowly set her down on her dog bed, facing the big windows overlooking our den. The natural light reflected onto her glazed eyes and it already felt like I was looking at a dead dog.
We stayed surrounding her and petting her until the night came.
My mom had gotten up earlier to make us some dinner, but my dad and I stayed put. My dad sat on the couch, watching me scratch Bingo’s belly, much more carefully than I had in her earlier years. I could feel her ribs protruding from her stomach, the way her body now felt like it was just a thin layer of skin wrapped over bones. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my dad was crying. Slow, silent tears that he was trying to force a way through rapid blinking and coos at Bingo. All I could do was sit on the couch next to him and put a hand on his shoulder, the other one rubbing Bingo’s head. During the night, my parents went back to their bedroom, but I had asked to stay in the den with Bingo.
Part of me was terrified if we all left, she would pass before the morning.
So I used a blanket from off the couch and I laid down next to her. I scratched her stomach, but her tongue had become gross over the last few weeks of sickness. So instead, I put my nose to hers: a dog’s kiss. I couldn’t believe how cracked it was. I rubbed the side of her face, right in the spot that resembled a lion’s mane, trying to memorize the texture of her fur. Telling her how she had been a good girl, I talked to her through the night.
Thanking her for biting Alex that one time even though he hadn’t been hurting me. Apologizing to her for giving her a name that made half the people we knew thought she was a boy. She laid across from me, blinking as a sign of listening, her body’s subtle movements up and down the only indication she still breathed. She wasn’t smiling back like she used to, and I couldn’t stop tears from reaching my eyes. But Bingo nuzzled her head closer toward me as a tear fell and tried to lick it off my face as she had always done when I was younger. “Thank you, sweet girl,” I whispered. I smiled even though she didn’t and finally, I fell asleep.
To our collective relief, Bingo was still breathing when we all woke up.
We spent more hours huddled around the dog bed before the vet came, some of our family friends stopping in to visit Bingo and say goodbye. In the afternoon, the vet arrived and I attempted to make myself as composed as possible. She was a nice woman. She didn’t talk too much about the process of putting Bingo down until it was necessary, instead keeping her tone conversational and remarking on how sweet Bingo seemed.
“Yeah, she’s been our guardian angel, especially for Grace,” my mom said to the vet. I wasn’t paying too much attention to their conversation; my gaze was focused completely on Bingo. A part of me worried I would never see her again, that dogs don’t go to heaven or maybe that heaven wasn’t real at all. But if any dog were to go to heaven, I would think it would be her.
Finally, the time came and the vet started explaining how this would go.
We were free to leave the room she said, but none of us wanted to. I could tell all of us felt like Bingo shouldn’t go without us by her side. I doubt she even remembered a time we weren’t by her side when she was just a little puppy chasing her sister around a coffee table. The vet brought out the shot that would put her down, promising us it wouldn’t hurt her. I buried my head into her anyway; I didn’t want to see the shot go into her frail body, no matter if it hurt or not. Bingo was shaking. I started speaking to her in an effort to calm us both down. “It’s ok baby, it’s alright, you can go,” I said, my voice barely a whisper so that no one else could hear it but her. “I love you, it’s ok, I love you, it’s ok, I love you, it’s ok..”
The shot had been injected. Bingo didn’t stop breathing yet. “Oh my god, she’s still holding on,” the vet said. “She really doesn’t want to leave you guys.”
Another wave of tears arrived as I realized we should have expected this.
Bingo had always been stubborn. The vet refilled the shot to do another injection. Bingo was too sick to stay alive. We could all tell it was painful for her to hold on. “Bingo, it’s alright, I promise.” My tears landed on her cold forehead as the vet put in the last injection. “I love you, baby, it’s ok. You can go, I’ll be ok.”
Her breath came to a stop.
Her frail body wasn’t moving anymore. I kept my face buried in hers as she finally let go.