It was all she asked for her 16th birthday. A puppy. And not just any puppy. She’d done her homework, spending more time on dog breed research than on her school assignments.
And so, in mid-October 2005, at 7 weeks old, the beagle pup who chose our daughter came home. She was all ears and liquid brown eyes; and running from the base of her chrome dome to the tip of her black and brown snout was the thin white line of fur that inspired our daughter to name her new best friend Stripe.
From the start, Stripe was true to her beagle nature. Wily and single-minded, within days of joining the family, she executed the first of her inspired escapes — nosing open the zipper of a portable nylon crate. Later, she’d seek out or dig her own gaps underneath the fences of two different backyards to pull off additional daring breaks.
She needed to go where her hound nose led her, and that made even her earliest walks battles of wills. In her less independent moments, she spent hours curled up on my lap as I worked, following me around everywhere and mastering the hill cresting our backyard, flying down the steep incline on stubby legs, ears flapping, eyes fully alive with the sheer joy of being a puppy.
It didn’t take Stripe long to find her “haruuuuu” call. It was how she expressed excitement, curiosity, pride and fear. It was never overdone, except when she was anxious, and completely absent when she was finding her way into trouble.
And trouble might’ve been her middle name, especially if a temptation was edible. More than once I detected paw prints on the dining room table. I witnessed her inhale a hotdog, roll and all, stealthily snatched out of my hand. Then there was the entire coffee cake she wrangled off the sideboard, leaving only a completely crumb-less clamshell box as evidence of her devious deed.
It was never hard to forgive the beautiful beagle so deeply attached to her family that she chewed a hole through a wall and tore several front door side window curtains to get to where she thought we were. She loved to give kisses, snuggle, play and nap near us; and her shy, tolerant temperament was consistently demonstrated with her two adopted “brothers,” as well as any stranger she met, human or canine.
But even angels age, and ours developed dementia, causing her to circle so constantly her spine was curving, and walking straight was nearly impossible. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer, explaining her growing incontinence. Visits to the vet began to include such topics as “quality of life” and “the final act of kindness.”
Which is what we gave our sweet little girl on a Saturday afternoon last month. We spent the morning holding her and making her as comfortable as possible. A video conference call gave our distant kids a chance to say goodbye to one of the loves of our lives. It wasn’t easy, but it was time.
Her final moments were peaceful. She died as gently as she’d lived. My husband and I were with her, petting and speaking softly to her as she found peace.
Now, at last, she’s free of pain and anxiety, hopefully chasing around with her old buddies, Copper and Scarlett, and being fussed over by my father-in-law, who doted on her.
I’m not sure what I believe happens after death, but as I’ve often said, I wouldn’t much fancy a forever without dogs. They’re a touch of heaven on this side of eternity, why not on the other?