The Rip Van Wrinkler, Volume XIV, Issue 3, August 2010

Page 5 <previous page next page>

In Memoriam

A Girldog & a Boydog we lost: Ruby & Chauncey


The Power of a Dog
by Cheryl Miller republished with permission of Gatehouse Media, photos 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 13 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.

“There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day.
But when we are certain of sorrow in store
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.”

(from “The Power of a Dog,” by Rudyard Kipling)


Basenji Boy
by Patricia Pergola Rivers (essay & photos)

I had to put Chauncey to sleep this week. He was my beautiful “fawn-colored” basenji boy that has surpassed in longevity any relationship I have had, including boyfriends, kids and my husband. He was my pre-kid dog. I grew up with Chauncey. We both weren’t perfect. I should have trained him not to pull like a “sled-dog” and he should have showed some restraint (as a pup) and not have eaten my sofa, my eyeglasses and anything else in his path.  He should not have bolted out the door on that rare occasion, and he should have come back when I called him! But somehow we forgave each other, and we were inseparable.  I was his person and he was my dog.  He slept underneath the covers at my feet for 14 years.  My husband insisted that Chauncey had to be between the comforter and the sheet because he was “too itchy.”  So that was our compromise, in the bed, under the comforter.  It worked and he warmed us for many years.

When I knew it was his time to go, there was no hesitation.  I wanted it to happen the next day.  He was such a proud and regal hound.  He wasn’t going to lose his dignity.  I took him home from the vet and I looked at him lying on the backseat of my car and I knew I was approaching a bunch of “lasts.”  Last time in my car, in my bed, in my arms, last walk, last chipmunk to cross his path that he still managed to go after ever so slightly.  Now I’m experiencing a bunch of “firsts.” First time in my bed without him, first time on the couch with out him, first time I don’t have to feed him. He has left a silent void in my house, and emptiness in my heart.   My female basenji doesn’t quite know what to make of his absence. 

The night of Chauncey’s last night with us my daughter read a book to him about the Wampanoag Indians.  I didn’t know it at the time, but after he was gone she told me.  “You know I read the Wampanoag book to him and he listened, and looked at the pictures too.”  Then my husband chimed in and said, “and he really seemed to enjoy it.”  The arrow struck my heart.  How could I have missed that special moment?  I was busy cleaning, or folding, or planning and I missed my ten-year-old daughter read a book to Chauncey on his last night.  John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”  I don’t want to be so busy that I miss the “life” that happens around me.  The precious moments that unfold unhurried and effortlessly, unplanned and lovely, need to be seen and heard and felt. Chauncey’s gift to me was not only a great love by a great dog, but a reminder that sometimes life should be a spectator sport. That to appreciate the love and beauty around you, you sometimes just need to sit back and take it all in. I can still feel his fur if I close my eyes and imagine.  I have his collar that I can jingle, and I still feel the love that we have for each other.

I will miss him forever. 

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