Today we walked the ski-hill trail at the state park. We’ve walked this trail dozens of times with Lady, and today was no exception. However, today she was with us in spirit only, and this was a memorial trek.
Lady died yesterday. Those are some of the hardest words to type, to say, to accept. I keep repeating them, and each time I feel the same lurch of my heart, the same gut-wrenching sense of loss. For six years she has been the third member of our family, the one who kept us faithful to daily walks, who accompanied us to concerts and on vacations, on picnics and photo treks, who shared snack time in the evening and our bed at night.
Six years doesn’t seem like a long time, but we got a late start.
The humane society said Lady was 5-7 years old when we got her in May, 2010. We hoped she fell at the lowest end of that range. When we accidentally met her former owners, we discovered she exceeded it altogether. She was 9 when we got her, and 15-1/2 when she died.
The humane society described Lady as being true to her name, and as being confident. That’s pretty good for a beagle whose former owner said, “she isn’t good for anything because she won’t hunt.” We discovered Lady loved sniffing out rabbits, and even following them, but she was afraid of gunshots and thunder and other loud noises. The first part of her life was
spent on a chain near an outdoor doghouse in the company of other dogs, and her skittishness around hand movements suggests she may have been hit. When we got her, she wasn’t used to living in the house, and didn’t know how to ask to go outside.
We solved the resulting potty problem by taking her out on a rigid schedule–and almost came to regret it, because Lady loved that schedule. She had no problem with potty outside, as long as it was accompanied by a walk–and where SHE wanted to go. We’re still amazed at how a 30-pound dog could become a boat anchor, with one leg braced firmly against leash tugs, when she had her own destination in mind. As often as not, we capitulated, because after all, the walks were for her. If we had to say no, she graciously accepted the verdict and never held it against us. Mostly, she just wanted to walk and sniff things. With Lady, there was no such thing as a brisk walk. There were far too many sniff stops for that.
Lady had her own corner of the couch, and was
beside herself with frustration if company dared to sit in her spot. She’d pace the floor, and stare at me, and if the person dared to leave the room, they found a beagle in their place when they returned.
She had her own bed in the bedroom, too, but was more likely to sleep with us, sprawled sideways so that neither of us had much leg room. And we let her. “After all, she IS the dog,” George would say. It became our mantra any time we gave in to her. Giving in never seemed to spoil her, which is why another mantra developed: “She is the BEST dog.”
If she had her own ideas about things, she was also patient with ours. She’d lie curled up near the kitchen table no matter how long or how late our meal was–because she knew
the walk came after the dishes were done. The other day, I saw her suddenly sit up expectantly when I took off my apron and hung it up, and realized she knew that’s when the work was done and the fun would begin.
Lady was a Mama’s dog–no need to apologize to George, because he told me that all the time. When I left the room, she’d wait a bit to see if I’d return. If I didn’t, I’d hear the jingle of her collar as she searched me out. The mornings were the most amusing.
She’d lie by the table while we ate breakfast, then follow me from room to room as I put things away, checked email in the office, made the bed, maybe threw in a load of wash–and finally I’d go sit in my recliner for Morning Prayer. I’d look up, and there Lady stood, in the kitchen, waiting for the signal. As soon as the chair’s foot rest went up, over she’d come, then jump up onto her corner of the couch where she’d curl up with a sigh. She knew I’d be there for a while.
She also knew that around 7:30 or so every
evening, George and I had a little snack and got something for her, too. Occasionally we ran late, or maybe forgot altogether. Lady didn’t. If nothing good to eat was forthcoming by 8 p.m., she’d hoist herself up from her comfy couch spot, wander over to my chair, and stare. Do you have any idea how loud a dog stare is? If I arranged myself so I couldn’t see her, she’d move so I’d have to. And she’d continue to stare until one of us got up and headed for the pantry.
Unlike a lot of beagles, Lady was quiet and laid back. She never barked when company arrived and she paid no attention to other dogs (she’d had enough of them as a pack member, I think). Only two things induced her to let loose with that typical bark-howl we loved: our arrival home when she’d been left behind (we’d hear her through the window), and mealtime. “Are you a hungry girl?” always brought the familiar yodel, while she pranced at our feet, toenails clicking on the floor in eager excitement. Like all beagles she was a chow hound, so her food had to be strictly regulated.
In order to prevent separation anxiety when we first got her,
we gave her treats whenever we’d come home. It took her only once or twice to figure out that routine! She’d meet us at the door, prancing and dancing and finally howling if we didn’t produce a treat fast enough. We became experts at finding low-cal treats to keep her healthy.
In the last year or so, the howling had all but stopped. Now and then a renewed burst of energy would bring it on, to our delight. Lady took a blood pressure pill, eventually another to keep her continent, an eye drop twice a day for a chronic eye condition, and most recently, her heart rate had slowed from 120 to 60 beats per minute. Then she developed a chronic nose congestion that could be very messy and off-putting. Considering her age, her heart condition and the high cost, we opted not to take strenuous and invasive measures to discover the cause. She still loved her walks, but now we strolled, slowly.
Thus we came to yesterday morning, after a night full of sneezes, snotting, breathing struggles, no sleep–and not for the first time. We made the hard choice, despite her bright-eyed appearance of well-being in so many other ways.
Today the house seems unusually quiet, except for the
phantom jingling of her collar. I washed her bedding and her dishes, but can’t bare to remove the couch cover just yet. Her absence doesn’t seem quite real, and George and I both tear up at unexpected moments. We took our walk on the ski hill trail, talking about Lady most of the time, remembering her love of forging ahead until the day we noticed she was lagging behind–the beginning of the end. We laughed, we cried, we took pictures as always–but it seemed strange not to hand off the leash back and forth to each other in order to get our shots.
Tomorrow, we may take the loop walk, or skirt the bay on the Ice Age Trail. We may wander through the Habitat Park and into the neighborhood beyond–and wonder if anyone will notice we walk alone.
But we WILL walk. Twice a day, we’ve decided, we’ll head for the routes Lady loved. And always, I firmly believe, though no one will see, a little spirit beagle will trot along beside us, keeping us company as she always did. Rest in peace, dear sweet Lady.