9/9/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Before our dog, Ursula, moved in, we had two beagles, Blossom and Donnie. Well, we called Blossom a boonglehound. The closest we could figure was she was a beagle and coonhound mix. All of her features were beagle, but she had long, long legs. Donnie was classic beagle. Short, stubby, and an eating machine. Blossom came from a humane society. Donnie came from an animal rescue. Both were beloved.

Blossom made it to fifteen years old, Donnie to thirteen. They both died on the same day. Blossom had advanced kidney disease that was supposed to kill her within a year; she made it five years. Donnie had a cancer in his leg bone that was supposed to be slow-growing and give us several more years. Three weeks later, he was walking in a daze and doing things like standing in his food dish and looking at me with the most confused expression I’ve ever seen on any dog. When we lost them, they went together, both on the veterinary table, with all three of us with a hand on each. There were two vets, and the dogs were injected at the same time. We were there, they were together, it was heartbreaking.

One of the best things about the beagles was their greeting. When I drove into my parking space at the condo, I would get out of the car and look up to the door for the second floor deck. Two beagle faces would be pressed against the glass or the screen, depending on the season. Their tails would be a blur behind them, and their faces would be rocking because their front paws would be paddling in place, just from the joy of seeing me come home. By the time I got up the stairs to the doorway that enters our condo, I’d open that door to two beagle bodies pressing forward, tongues licking, tails propelling, excited grunts and whines all around.

With that kind of welcome home, home always did feel like home.

Three weeks after the beagles’ passing, Ursula came home with us from a different humane society. She wasn’t a beagle. But her gentleness completely took me in at the kennel. It wasn’t until we got her home that we realized her gentleness came from fear.

Ursula was afraid of everything. The microwave. The icemaker. The television. The buses and cars going by outside. The sound of flags flapping from down the street. Wind. Wind chimes. Thunder. And for heaven’s sake, when the rare occurrence of a rocking church choir coming on television happened, that dog was a blur up the steps and into her crate, where she huddled, shivering.

Along with her fears was an aversion to narrowish spaces. Three years into owning her, she still wouldn’t walk down the hallway from our kitchen to the back of the condo, where Olivia’s room is, and where the treadmill is, and where the door to the second floor deck is. Livvy tried to coax her down to her room; no go. I laid treats on the floor. She only went as far as the bathroom and then turned tail.

Three years in to Ursula-ness, we’ve pretty much given up on Ursula ever making it through our entire house. Which means I also gave up hope of ever seeing a dog face pressed in welcome against my 2nd floor deck door.

But that doesn’t mean that Ursula isn’t as beloved as the beagles.

When I’m working at my desk, often that concrete head will suddenly be resting on my thigh, looking up with eyes that see me, appreciate me, love me.

In the morning, as I putter around getting dressed, brushing my teeth, making my bed, Ursula sits up on the loveseat that has become “her bed” and she tilts her head against the back so she can see me wherever I go.

I do still get greeted at the door of the condo. I have to stand stock still before stepping inside so that she can give me a thorough sniff, making sure that nothing happened to me while I was gone.

Her tail-wagging reverberates around the entire house as she thumps it on the couch, the loveseat, against the coffee table, against the cabinets, against anything within reach. Including the cats’ faces.

And she smiles, bringing her lips back, showing her amazingly tiny teeth for a 50-pound dog. She grins, which makes me laugh, which makes her grin harder.

One of my clients lost her 12-year old dog a little over a month ago. She finally managed to write about it. In her piece, she said, “He was no fur baby, but a companion of the highest order.” And she said, “The grief has been the howling kind, the kind I imagine the dog might feel for me.”

I think of Blossom and Donnie. And I think of two others, Penny, another beagle, and Cocoa, a chihuahua.

And I think of Ursula, her concrete head on my thigh.

They have all been companions of the highest order.

Early this week, I drove in to my parking spot at the condo. It was a nice day, and all of my windows and deck doors were open. I don’t know what made me step out of my car and look up to the second floor deck. There’s been nobody there for three years.

But there was on that day. Her face pressed to the screen, Ursula gave me her tiny-toothed grin. Her tail was a blurred whip behind her, and her body rocked with her prancing front feet.

“Hi!” I called. “Hi, Ursy! Hi!”

And she wiggled some more, then whipped around to meet me for my thorough sniff at the condo door.

She assured me I was just fine. And I was.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Blossom.
Donnie.
Beagles on the couch.
Ursula.
Concrete head on my thigh.
Life is always better with a raggedy pink blanket.

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