“Love you forever, my little brown dog.”
I read that line on Facebook and lost it. Today is the day my daughter
Maria had to put her dog Nader to sleep. Two humans could hardly have been better friends than they were, from the time Nader was a little brown puppy until, 14 years later, she had faded a bit in color and matured into Miss Independence who, nevertheless, relied fiercely and determinedly on Maria.
The two of them lived their lives together in a little red cabin on the shores of Lake Superior. As a puppy, Nader cried down below when Maria left her to climb to her bedroom loft at night. So, she carried that little puppy up with her–and continued to do so as the puppy grew into a much larger dog. As a puppy, Nader–yes, named for THE Ralph Nader, whom they both met in person–sometimes vented her
displeasure on that cabin when Maria left her alone to go to work. She eventually came to terms with being the only dog of a single parent.
They roamed the shore and the woods together, and sometimes Maria took Nader to work with her. Nader was present, I think without exception, at the annual girlfriends’ get-together at a cabin somewhere, ostensibly to celebrate Maria’s birthday, but mostly just to have a summer fling and revert back to some of the antics of high school days. Nader became official mascot there and at most of Maria’s other routine social gatherings.
Nader was a picky eater, reserving the right to choose, from an assortment of treats, the one she would deign to eat that day. And yet, I remember–oh yes I do!–when she worked very hard to help herself to food NOT designated for dog consumption at all.
People’s curiosity about Nader’s pedigree eventually became a compelling question for Maria, too, so she actually had her
DNA tested. It showed what we already knew, that one parent was at least part German Shepherd. To tell you the truth, the rest of the mixture was so varied and unexpected that I can’t remember the details. I do remember that it proved, once and for all, that Nader was a breed of her own.
Sometimes I dog-sat Nader, in the days when Maria traveled for one of her jobs. Poor Nader. I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t always a good dog about doing potty outside. It took me much too long to realize that a long stare into my eyes was her way of asking, not the bark or the scratch at the door my labs signaled with. She must have thought Maria’s mom was an extremely slow learner. I did apologize, though.
Nader got away from me one time during a dog-sitting stint. I opened the door, and
she slipped out like smoke through a screen, taking off up the street as if she knew exactly where she was heading. I hoped it wasn’t back to the little red cabin, because that was 20 miles down the highway. With horrible visions in my head, I walked, drove, called and whistled up and down the streets of our little town, looking in vain for that little brown dog–only to finally see her making a bee-line on her own for our house. Miss Independence had decided, I think, that being with us without Maria was better
than being alone in a strange town with no one.
I confess, however, that it took many years before I admitted the story to Maria. I was afraid I’d be banned as dog-sitter forever.
I remember scrambling frantically for something for Nader to carry on her potty walks. Her “baby” had been left either at her house, or in mine, but she wasn’t about to trot along without something soft in her mouth. I think one of my
gloves worked as a substitute. Too bad for me if one hand got cold. Isn’t that what pockets are for?
Big as she was, Nader considered herself a lap dog. She’d crawl up into Maria’s lap and cuddle like a small child, often falling asleep, always feeling safe and loved. She also knew she was allowed on any of Maria’s furniture. Because of their size, my labs were made to stay on the floor. When Nader came to our house, she loved to rub it in–because of course, she figured her house rules applied to her in our house, too.
So, when my lab Shiloh tried getting on the couch with me and Maria and was turned down, Nader sashayed over, climbed into Maria’s lap, then
glanced over her shoulder at Shiloh. Smug hardly describes it. I could almost hear na-na-na-na-naaah-na!
And, of course, the photos. Getting Nader to look at a camera was a near impossibility. She always knew just…when…the…shutter…would…click and managed her inevitable head turn. What a dog!
Nader remained true to her my-way nature when a tumor was diagnosed and she was given two months to live. She wasn’t ready quite then, so she confounded everyone, the vet included, by staying at Maria’s side for another 19 months. Maria, I know, savored every one of those days.
My stories undoubtedly pale beside the ones Maria could tell. It helps me to tell them, though, because they make me smile, or chuckle or belly laugh as I write. As soon as I stop writing, the tears being again. What will Maria’s Christmas card be without Nader in it beside her? What will Facebook pictures look like without Maria-and-Nader selfies? Nader’s shadow will flit from room to room, along the paths in the woods and down the path to the shore for many, many years to come.
I guess I will do what I know Maria is doing: grieve, shed my tears, and be glad for a little brown dog who enriched our lives for far too few years.