Sunday, September 13, 2009

She is gone.

She came into my life in November of 2001, by a twist of fate. I had just closed on my house and Gunner and I had moved in just weeks before. I happened to be on a call with one of our local cops who mentioned in passing he was trying to re-home his 6 year old German Shepherd, because he had to move from a house to an apartment. He was heartbroken.

What if I had not been on that call with that cop on that day? Would our paths have ever crossed? I don't even like to think about that possibility. I went to his place after work one day to meet her. I even dragged my best friend, a vet, with me. It gave the pretense of impartiality, but everyone knew when I got out of my car and 85lbs of black and tan charged at me barking, that we would belong to each other. I knelt on the brick road and she stopped mid-charge; all the wind went out of her sails.

"You're not scared, huh? Hmpf."

Thus began one of the most tumultuous yet most rewarding relationships of my life. First, there were the fights with Gunner. Not snapping at each other or barking. Fights that were frightening to watch and sickening to hear. Fights from which my arms and hands will always bear scars, because no matter how dumb it is to try and separate 175lbs of intertwined teeth, fur, claws, and spit, I intervened every time, occasionally sustaining the inevitable collateral damage. I learned a lot about dog behavior from those two. With careful management, the scary fights would dwindle down to once or twice a year.

Our first Christmas, I came home to find lamps overturned and a my cat, Molson, dead on the living room floor. Not mauled, but it appeared as if he couldn't play quite as hard as she thought he could. I remember asking her, "Just what the fuck am I going to do with you?" She just looked at me lovingly with those brown eyes.

After the first couple of rough transition days, she had decided that I was hers, and her eyes would follow me if I moved around the room. If I left the room, she'd be right behind me, most times actually running right into me if I should stop too quickly, she was so close. After a couple of weeks together, we met up with her old owner at the park where my dogs liked to run. He pointed out that no matter where I went, she kept an eye on me. He was both heartened and saddened that she had bonded so quickly and strongly to me.

As time went on and we learned each others' ways, I found that was a common theme: She kept an eye on us. Whomever she deemed hers, she watched over. At the park, Gunner would take off, oblivious, following his nose wherever it led. I didn't have to keep an eye on him because she did. "Where's Gunner? Go find Gunner!", and she was off. She'd charge up to him, stop just short, and touch him with her nose; she'd then look at me as if to say, "See? Found him. He's right here." Then she'd run back to me with her tail tall and proud. If I was the one who left the area, I would see her eyes following me. If I got too far away, she'd run to me, circling widely around me, finally approaching from the side with the trademark nose bump, "Found ya."

A year after she came into my life, I almost lost her. During a week of lots of tears and very little sleep, we finally arrived at a diagnosis: Addison's Disease. It nearly killed her before she was diagnosed; that's the way Addison's is. I remember telling her, as she lay on my bed with fluid slowly dripping into the IV on her foreleg, "I'm going to take care of you, and you're going to be ok." She stared blankly at me. I think I was saying it mostly to comfort myself. She did get better, slowly, and her condition became just another thing we managed.

Things like chewies and toys were not possible in our house. They just weren't worth the trouble and the fights they would cause. Once I actually had time to monitor them with rawhides, so they each got their own to chew. As usual, she couldn't mind her own business, and got reprimanded several times. Resigned, she sighed and went to her side of the room to work on her chewie. Moments later, her head popped up as if she heard something. She rushed upstairs in three bounds, barking as if she were singlehandedly holding off a home invasion. Gunner ran upstairs to join her, barking and growling - at what, he didn't know, but damned if he was going to be left out. Once he arrived at the door, she quietly slipped back downstairs, inhaled Gunner's chewie, then lay on the floor and finished her own. I swear, she was smirking.

The pet sitter told me she sat by the back door looking for Gunner for 3 days after he died in December of 2007. She always kept an eye on us.

She had both rear cruciates repaired, thanks to an angel of a vet who did the surgeries at cost. She slept as close to my bed as she could, on her egg-crate orthopedic doggy bed. No matter how many times I was up and down my steep stairs doing laundry, she'd follow. Sometimes I'd be up and down them again and see that halfway down, she'd stopped to sit and rest. Sadly, I recognized that though she still defied her age, she wasn't young any more.

We celebrated her 14th birthday with cake and candles. It was a day made for celebrating. The nation, with a little help from me, had just elected its first black President. She was a little slower, a little more bony. You could hear the snap-crackle-pop of her hips as she hauled herself up off of the floor. Yet, every morning, I was greeted with her rolling on the bedroom floor, kicking her legs up in the air, yapping joyfully. This was my cue that it was time for breakfast.

At the end of August, when she wouldn't eat, not even cooked eggs, not even chicken and rice - I knew something was wrong. It turned out to be an easily treated infection from which she appeared to recover very quickly. Then, suddenly, not even a week after making a great recovery, she was down again. She couldn't get up; wouldn't eat or drink. Later in the day, it became apparent she was suffering from vestibular disease. After a home visit and a pep-talk from the vet, I felt confident that this, too, we could ride out together.

It was supposed to last a few days, at most. Seven days passed and she had not eaten and had not even attempted to get up. I'd return from work and find her in the same position on her beloved orthopedic bed that I'd left her in over 12 hours prior. She would take a little water, but would turn her face away from anything else: chicken broth, chicken, rice, eggs, even hamburgers. She had no weight to spare, and she became skeletal over that last week.

I took her to the vet's office on Thursday. It was becoming painfully obvious that she wasn't happy. Even as we carried her to the car on a blanket, like a queen being carried through the village by her servants, she looked up only briefly, then put her head back down. She couldn't get comfortable. We ran bloodwork, though I didn't know what I would do with any questions raised by the results. I was becoming more and more certain that no procedure or medication or treatment would take her back to the way she was 7 days ago, when she was following the Dish installer around and giving him hell. That was the last time I saw the real Tara. The bloodwork came back totally normal. It confirmed what I already knew; there was no easy fix. She didn't flinch when they drew blood, or when they started the IV that would ultimately give her the peace she had earned.

I sat on the floor with her, her head cradled in my lap. I told her what a good girl she was, as if she didn't know that already. I told her how much I loved her and that Cecil was going to have some pretty big pawprints to fill. I told her that every dog I was ever going to have for the rest of my life would be compared to her. I told her for the second time in our lives together that I loved her, and that I was going to take care of her.

As she slipped away, I whispered to her, for the last time: "Go find Gunner! Good girl..."

Tara Jean II

November 4, 1994 - September 10, 2009

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”


  1. :cry: :cry: :cry:

    I'm so sorry friend. I have tears streaming down my face. I know how much you loved that chickie.

  2. I'm so sorry Janis. The bond you had with her was such a strong one.

  3. Even thought I knew this happened your words have me crying like a baby all over again. What a special relationship you all had.

  4. I am sorry. I prayed for her, as I read the story. From what you told us, I know she was a good dog, and all good dogs go to heaven, with all of my family's dogs.