Wednesday, February 22, 2006


She fulfilled her mission.

DOWN TO SLEEP. Long before they become feeble or ill, old people can begin to give up. Things they have always regarded as necessities of life start to seem too difficult, too onerous. The process was underway with Mandy's people before they met her. They had lost a beautiful, brilliant German Shepherd named Kristie who declined in pain from hip dysplasia for a brave long time, so crippled at the end that she could climb stairs only with a belt looped under her thinning loins. Her death was too much an agony, and the age-old cure of a puppy seemed out of the question. "We are too old," they said. "We can't, we don't want to go through that again."

But their children, worried and domineering, issued a threat: "Find yourselves another dog or we'll find one for you and you'll lose the opportunity to choose."

Blackmail resurrected the memory of a Boston Terrier named Mugsy, the one who greeted a returning WWII fighter pilot by leaping from the floor into his arms the instant he walked through the door of his parent's home. He remembered that fierce and simple love. Inquiries were made. A couple who had owned setters and shepherds and varied Scottish-bred terriers for 50 years were suddenly expectant parents awaiting the caesarean (always with Boston Terriers) birth of the dog kingdom's smallest bulldog.

She came with instructions. No table food. Exact times for strictly dry food meals. A mandatory harness instead of a collar. A schedule for outings to perform basic functions. She also came with that smashed-in face which flat defies the beauty standards of long-nosed hunting and herding breeds. But her youth was rejuvenation for her aged parents. She seemed, from the first, to understand her responsibilities perfectly. She was a grave, obedient, and predictable puppy. She was also on a schedule. She mastered paper training, housebreaking, the sedate rhythms of an old people's house. She played like a bulldog, but with care and reserve, lest she injure her charges with the incredible strength of her compact body and beartrap jaws.

That highly controlled and abbreviated puppyhood was 17 years ago. She soldiered through the inevitable fading away of her people without destroying anything but vulcanized rubber toys, although as the years passed, she rarely got to run in her spectacular windmilling style, and the walks grew shorter as the old legs grew weaker. She stood her post on the bed while her fighter pilot slowly evaporated into the final morphine fog of cancer. She dutifully kept company in chair and bed with the survivor, who clumped from one to the other with her walker while Mandy, despite sightless eyes and failing ears, nimbly dodged the loud aluminum tattoo of approaching loss.

There was a brief -- a pitifully, heartbreakingly brief -- Indian summer, when Mandy was able to join a small pack of sighthounds after her lifelong companions and her home were gone. Like other dogs, she seemed to aspire to their long-legged magic, and there was a day, or perhaps two or three, when she joined them in their running world without a leash -- for the first and only time -- and showed off her joyous windmilling, prancing run. But she was already fifteen by then, and the arthritis had bowed her legs and brittled her bones. The vet forbade her to jump on or off the couch, and she stopped being able to accompany the pack and its huge exuberant puppy.

Characteristically, though, she never gave up. Never. Until about 48 hours ago, she clamored loudly for breakfast and dinner, luxuriating in the life-changing cuisine of soft food with savory gravy. And less than a week ago, she managed a final bit of mischief, escaping a leash badly attached under her red parka and seizing the opportunity to explore her acreage -- blind, deaf, and as ever, full of eager energy.

I believe she may have been looking for the missing ones. Perhaps that's why she chose to leave last night and rejoin them in a place that could never be called heaven if our dogs can't be there with us. Perhaps she knew that, too.

Godspeed, Mandy. Thank you for everything. And give them both a kiss for me.

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