I remember her best on those summer evenings, as she would stand intently watching the horses in the pasture behind our home. Her job description included guarding us from any dangers outside her world. Every inch a Boxer bitch she looked magnificent with the dusky light highlighting the red hues of her fawn coat. I loved her for her beauty, yes, she was always pleasing to the eye; what is more important, she was pleasing to the heart. Those evenings were our time together, sharing each other's company, reflecting on the day's events, looking forward to tomorrow. We were the best of friends.
She wiggled into my heart and our lives one winter's night in my vet's office. Her mother had a difficult whelping and just when we thought the last puppy had been cleaned and dried, one more contraction and out at my feet and into this world she came. A breeder's dream she seemed to have "special" written all over her.
She was all razzle dazzle in the show ring no nonsense, Judge B just give me the purple ribbon, thank you. Her virtue, however, was not her AKC championship or her physical beauty was her absolute devotion to her family. The Boxer is traditionally a working dog and she took her self-appointed assignment very seriously. The children were her true world and the world she thrived in. The new baby, the toddler or the young adolescents were all her personal charges. This was what she was truly born for; her breeding reflected generations of this hearth and home attitude.
The baby's cry each morning would bring her scurrying to my bedside (she always spent the night with the youngest of her charges) and with a quick nuzzle with her nose her eyes would say, Get up, our baby's awake. As each baby grew to a toddler she stood quietly as they maneuvered out of the crib and safely to the floor. Some mornings she would serve as a buffer between them and the floor when they lost their balance and took a tumble.
Once the youngest charges were safely in my care, off she would race to her next assignment. She took particular delight in her older charges. She could be a little less cautious with them, a little more rowdy. They needed less of a nursemaid and more of a playmate. What grander way to start the day than a good game of hide and seek under the covers with the loser always getting a good face washing! Her charges received exactly what they needed when they needed it. From help with their first shaky steps as they tightly gripped her coat or listening about that first heartbreak over a teenage crush gone wrong. She could lift their spirits with her clownish antics and soothe their sobs and pain from the latest skinned knee with a licking away of the tears. She shared their enthusiasm as they discovered new and exciting things together from the strange bug crawling across the patio to a ride in that first car. A soft nuzzle with her velvet muzzle, a cocked ear to listen, or a rollicking game of tug-of-war, she was ever ready.
She was more than a good companion was; she served as an expert guardian for her human charges. While playing in her yard, the children were protected with military precision. They were perfectly safe in her charge and when I let my own guard down, she was quick to let me know in a very unique manner. If her usual methods of barking or scratching at the back door failed to bring me running, she would jump the backyard fence, race to the front door and ring the doorbell. As I would open the door, she would scurry to the back door with that look in her eyes, Quick, the children. Most of these alerts were for minor offenses like the boys climbing the fence to pick the neighbor's Iris or perhaps playing with the garden hose when they shouldn't. But, she could sense real danger too, like the day the youngest boys climbed to the top of the dog runs. A fall from that height could have been a disaster. She had obviously attempted to prevent the climb first on her own as evidenced by the two pairs of shorts lying on the ground. The boys were proudly parading around on their perilous perch in their underwear. That day she was frantic when she came for me and long after the boys were safely down on the ground she would nuzzle them every few minutes and whine. All the rest of that day and for days to come she strategically placed herself between them and the runs and would roll them on the ground if they tried to go near them. She was an excellent mother to both her human charges and her own puppies. As a brood bitch she was true to her breed and I still marvel at her influence in each generation that followed. I always felt though that she did her best work with the children.
Her last lesson to us was that of acceptance of that which we cannot change. As the cancer raged through her body, her last days with us were not easy for her. Still she continued to greet each family member as they wandered in and out of her world with the same warm welcome, even when it obviously pained her to move. A frisky puppy or a now visiting toddler who may lose their balance and fall her way was never scolded with teeth and growls, just a patient sigh as she moved to a safer place to rest.
As the end became more and more obvious, we were forced to make the decision we all dreaded. The children, some now grown into young adults, knew we must relieve her suffering. Their loving companion these many years now deserved an easy end to her physical pain, although the mere discussion of what must be done brought tears to even the most macho of her human brood.
On her last day with us, a final patrol of her yard seemed appropriate. I found myself resigned but reluctant to make the final drive to the vets. She made her usual rounds, checking first her newest charges, the latest batch of grandpups playing in the exercise pen, then to the youngest child to check his dirt excavation and then to the teenager, busy cleaning the runs. Everyone and everything in its place, she returned to me for our time. As I sat on the yard swing, she laid her head in my lap for her pat and scratch behind the ears. No one but me knew that this would be the day, yet I know she sensed my mood as she looked into my eyes. Her eyes showed complete trust mixed with concern, friend to friend, heart to heart. An extra hug and it's okay, girl seemed to satisfy her as she lay at my feet. I sat there as the tears ran down my cheeks and time seemed to stand still as the years we had shared together traveled through my mind. I don't know how long we sat there, but finally I knew it was time to go. This would not get easier. I nudged her softly, ever aware of her pain, but she did not respond. Again I nudged her and still no response. She had gone from our world as quickly as she had come, lying at my feet. Once again she had done things her way.
A few months ago another grandpup wiggled into my hands, plucked from her mother's womb by a timely C-section. Something special, I wonder?
Return To Articles & Books