The final rest gone awry

June 16, 2016
Bo Brock, DVM

Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America.

Just what does a dog funeral entail? Dr. Brock finds out.

Mrs. Adams had a rowdy little spaniel named Sassy that had made her life wonderful for 18 years. We had done all we could to keep her going, but Father Time finally won the battle and it was now time for the funeral.

When I came to Lamesa all those years ago I hadn't considered that if you stay in one place as a veterinarian, everyone's dog will eventually die. All of the puppies I had vaccinated as babies when I first came here in 1992 have passed on. That's a pretty tough pill to swallow.

Sassy was special. Mrs. Adams was special. And there was no way my technician Jo and I were gonna miss the funeral. In fact, Mrs. Adams had called upon us to help out with the ceremony. We said we would be glad to help even though we had no idea what helping at a dog funeral might entail. Mrs. Adams asked if she could leave Sassy with us until the next day when she would be by with the burial gown and casket shed had made. She would have instructions for us on what was to be done.

Mrs. Adams arrived the next morning, just as promised, and asked me to get the casket and burial gown out of her truck. She gave Jo a set of handwritten instructions and said the funeral would be at her house Saturday morning at 10 o'clock. I went out to the truck to perform my part of the assignment and found a wooden casket of unbelieveable size in the back. It was solid wood and must have weighed 100 pounds. It had a purple satin pillow lining the bottom and a separate ornate lid.

The casket itself was not very deep, and the pillow rose above the wooden edges. There was a groove in the rim that the lid rested in. It took me two trips to get the thing in the clinic and I noticed the same look of astonishment on Jo's face as I had felt on mine when she saw it for the first time.

Once the casket was safely in the clinic, Mrs. Adams thanked us and told us she would see us Saturday morning. Jo had a strange look on her face as Mrs. Adams exited the building. It was a cross between a giggle and fright.

"Just wait until you read our assignments, dude," she said as she began looking over the note.

"I'm to dress Sassy in the burial gown after I've bathed her and blown her hair dry. The collar on the burial gown needs to be facing yellow side out and Sassy's hind legs need to be under her belly, with her front legs facing forward. Her nails are to be painted purple like the pillow," Jo said. "You and I are to carry the casket, and Brother Rand is gonna perform the funeral. I'm supposed to get some of those paper eulogy things printed up and ready to hand out as people arrive."

She handed me a separate piece of paper with the words that were to be printed to eulogize Sassy. I giggled a bit myself and was thankful my part was only carrying the casket. I guess Jo noticed my smirk, because she responded with one of her own.

"Get that grin off of your face, Dr. Brock. Just wait until you hear about your other assignment."

It seems my second job was to dig the hole. The note said there was a roped-off plot in Mrs. Adams back yard under a willow tree. It even had dimensions for the hole, but all I noticed was the required depth of four feet.

I took a helper with me. We dug in that hard dirt, battling willow roots and June heat for two hours, but we got the hole dug to specification and things were finally ready to lay Sassy to rest.

There were 30 or so people at the funeral, and everything was proceeding wonderfully. We all cried and talked about how wonderful Sassy was. Brother Rand did a smashing job, and it was time to have the graveside service next to the giant hole. Jo and I were to carry the casket with Sassy in full view, and Brother Rand was to carry the lid. We had about a 50-yard walk from the living room where the service was held to the gravesite in the backyard.

I was on one end of the casket and Jo on the other. We were going to walk out first and everyone else would follow. I was walking backward holding one end and Jo was going forward with the other. We came to the sliding glass door and as I was walking backward and lining up to go through, I forgot that the screen was still closed and ran into it at full speed. It gave a littlejust enough to recoil and push me back toward Jo, who also had no idea the screen hadn't been opened.

Between the slick satin of the purple pillow and the low sides of the casket, there was nothing to keep Sassy on the pillow during the joltso off she flew. She slid off the casket, down the steps that led to the glass door, onto the tile floor of the kitchen and under the dining room table.

As if this wasn't bad enough, as Jo reached up to try and steady the dog, she let go of her end to the casket and it smashed into the step and broke into two pieces.

The elderly women all let out a combined yodeling shriek. I was mortified, and Jo was red-faced and breathing way too fast.

After about 30 minutes of casket repair in the garage, everything was back on track and we finally laid Sassy to rest under the willow tree. I went back that evening and shoveled the dirt back into the grave. Mrs. Adams thanked me profusely and, once again, I marveled at the life of a small-town veterinarian. It regularly proves to be an amazing adventure.