By Wendy Reid Crisp, NABBW member, Editor-in-Chief of GRAND magazine, and author of “When I Grow Up I Want To Be 60”
Our dog has died. Returning from a short trip, we drove up to the house, to be greeted only by our border collie, Frank.
“Where\’s Viola?” I asked, and my husband said she\’d been around when he left for the airport. We searched the yard and found her quivering under a rhododendron on the berm by the creek. We helped her into the house and made her comfortable. During the night, I got up to give her more water. I talked to her, and she looked at me with eyes that said, “Please make this hurt go away.” In the morning, she thumped her tail once when I walked into the room.
I\’m awkward with goodbyes, but I don\’t want to be. Too many people I\’ve loved have slipped away without me thanking them for the very blessing of their existence. I need to conquer this emotional reticence, I thought. Now is a good time to begin.
“You\’ve been a wonderful friend,” I said. “And I love you.”
By afternoon, she was gone.
Literally, of course, she was not gone — a seventy-five pound dog was lying on the laundry room floor.
I called Antonio and Leo – two stronger, younger pairs of arms and backs – and in the garden, facing east, they dug a grave and buried her. A concrete plinth that once anchored a swing post is her headstone.
Viola was 14 years old. On a whim, I\’d gone to the county pound and was flirting with a lively golden Lab when a nearby Australian shepherd mix walked up to the front of her kennel and said, “How about me?”
Her name was Ginger, the pound folks said. The attendant opened the kennel door, put Ginger on the leash, and said, “Why don\’t you walk outside with her, and see how you feel?” Ginger rubbed against me and glanced up for reassurance. “She\’s perfect,” I said.
“Her name has to be changed,” I told my sister. Ginger is the second most popular dog name in America (Princess is first). We decided on Viola, the middle name of our late aunt.
Viola\’s happiest times were hiking on the ranch, walking in the morning with her buddies from the neighborhood, running on the beach, and lying in the sun with someone\’s foot massaging her belly. Her greatest accomplishment was the rescue of a group of visitors from Rome who got lost on the hillside, befuddled in an entanglement of cucumber vines and poison oak.
Viola was extraordinarily well-behaved. She could walk down Main Street by my side without a leash – when that was legal – and could wait long periods of time in the rabies-clinic line at the vet\’s office, again leash-less, and visibly aghast at the antics of some of the other members of her kind.
Nevertheless, as in any fair obituary, Viola\’s flaws must be mentioned: she never learned how to play fetch correctly, and she never learned to trust the PG&E truck, regardless of who was driving it. Most seriously, she had “cat issues.” She was, in fact, suspected of being instrumental in the sudden disappearance of Howard, a wussy orange male, and she delighted in terrorizing Doris, a fellow pound adoptee.
A good dog makes good friends. Viola is survived by her special companion, Frank; her dearest friend, Shorty; and her special playmates, Rex, Will and Nick. She was preceded in death by another old friend, Nip.
Yes, there are vastly more significant tragedies in the world, more than enough human grief to bring into question our mourning the passing of an old dog. Still, Viola was thoughtful, patient, gracious, and loyal: qualities that deserve respectful attention wherever, and in whomever, we may be fortunate enough to encounter them.