By Chey Miller
As I gently stroked the silken, white fur of her throat, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to that late winter day almost thirteen and a half years ago. Her journey to our house began then in a metal crate in the back seat of our car. Not even a minute away from the warm, familiar world of mama dog and roly-poly siblings, her indignant screams against cold confinement commanded me to set her free. She rode the rest of the way home more or less (mostly less) on my lap, a squirmy, curly-tailed, bright-eyed Basenji pup with bat ears and an insatiable curiosity about the world around her.
She was so different, then, from the frail and silent creature laying next to me now, whose ribs rose and fell almost imperceptibly, barely even felt through my hand. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she opened her eyes and gazed steady and trusting into my own. There was no hint of pain, only the unmistakable weariness. I whispered to her, “Soon, little pup, very soon.”
The years passed so quickly. Her puppyhood was gone, seemingly in a flash—a good thing, in fact, because her antics often were a challenge to our patience and ingenuity. Even when she gave every appearance of being a good dog, we would later discover a hole chewed in a cushion or a new set of teeth marks on a chair leg—treasured mementos, now.
Her long, middle years were her best, and probably mine, as well: a marathon of off-leash rambles through forest and field, away from fast cars on dangerous roads. Reminiscing, I heard again the explosion of wings from the underbrush; saw startled birds shoot skyward, with a little red and white dog dancing beneath them, longing to follow in their wake. I saw white-tailed deer in twos and threes bounding across the open field, with a miniature look-alike in hapless pursuit. (And, once, one even turned and followed her back to us!) I saw her trotting saucily ahead of us on the hike back home, nose in the air as if to sniff out one more adventure, or perhaps a scavenged bone to drag home as a prize.
Through silent tears, I reflected that her ultimate pleasure was eating. I swear, if the mere thought of food entered my mind, she raced me to the kitchen. She loved beets, green beans, broccoli and asparagus nearly as much as meat, fish and dairy. When a late-life disease process nurtured chronic infections, her tendency to eat first and ask questions later made it easy to administer the litany of antibiotics and other palliatives to keep Death at arm’s length.
In the end, it was her lack of appetite that told us it was time. On this final morning, she turned away from an offering of Alaska smoked salmon and lapped just a little water instead. She dropped heavily on her pillow. I settled myself next to her, and I loved her as we awaited the vet’s arrival.
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The Power of the Dogby Rudyard Kipling
There is sorrow enough in
the natural way
Buy a pup and your money
When the fourteen years
which nature permits
When the body that lived at
your single will,
We've sorrow enough in the