Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dear Old Dog

I am taping All this and Heaven Too off Turner Classics in large part because that novel was one of the first five or so I ever read (with Little Women).

I was deeply moved by the book, although it is by no means a classic.

How Green Was my Valley and East of Eden were the other two novels that most moved me in my youth.

Anyway, I put my Tessa to sleep husband held her in his arms. They gave her a sedative and she dozed off and then they injected the lethal dose of anesthesia and, my husband said, her heart stopped. It was uneventful. (We treat dogs better than humans when it comes to death.)

We ended up taking her to the veterinarian's (instead of having the vet visit us) but Tessa never was one to freak out at the vet's.. or to mind needles. She was a trusting dog, and she trusted us to the end.

And when my husband laid her down, for the last time on the little floor mattress provided for that purpose, my 'little girlie' Tessa looked no different than she had looked when sleeping on the floor in our house, two hours earlier.

What a rag mop she was. She'd been that way for years. We only shaved her for her comfort. Indeed, we stopped giving her that complicated poodle cut for years, when she refused to go back through the door of a certain grooming parlour. And she was such an obliging girl you know she had been mistreated the time before.

The trouble with dog groomers: the ones who take their time can't make money, not on poodles, anyway. So then they have to be assembly line and that means leaving dogs on tables with a wire around their throat...

And like children, dogs can't tell you if they've been abused. So we just bought some good clippers off eBay and gave her some very messy cuts. But she didn't care.

We bought Tessa in 1997 from a reputable breeder of 'canishes' one of two in Quebec. Tessa was the last of the litter to be sold at 4 months old and I recall seeing her for the first time through the bars of an outdoor running cage: a beautiful and beautifully groomed princess of a pooch with an inky black coat, and we were still hesitant to seal the deal at first as 750. was a lot of money to spend (but not much compared to small fortune spent during her lifetime on her).

The breeder had us sign a long document promising not to tie her up outside and other stuff she couldn't control. (Good breeders make you feel as if they are doing you a favour by selling you a dog.)

Tessa then hopped into the backseat of our Buick sedan without hesitation and we took her home.

The next year was 1998, the year of the infamous Montreal ice storm. When we lost power in our suburban bungalow we travelled to town and I remember I had to carry Tessa up the 8 storeys at my mother's Montreal apartment building in my arms. Tessa for some reason was spooked by the metallic fire escape stairs adn I couldn't take the elevator as dogs were verbotten in the building. And then I'd carry her back down, twice a day, to poop and pee and she had soooo much trouble getting her footing, twirling and slipping on the icy pavement in the parking lot.

(One of the few people to die in the ice storm was a breeder of poodles in near by St Lazare, a woman who died of hypothermia for she would not desert her dogs. (They all survived.)

And in 2001 she got very sick with Leptoschlerosis. She got the first case in the area in 15 years, so it took a long time for her to get properly diagnosed. Her kidneys nearly failed back then.

But they finally gave her the right medicine and she lived on, but two years ago, at age 12, her kidneys started failing again, (probably due to the early lepto)and the vet put her on a drug and gave us some expensive low protein canned food. She wouldn't touch the over-priced mush. She was going to die..

So I gave her noodles and sardines instead and she ate that repast for 2 more years.... although she was always hungry -regardless how many meals she gobbled down.

A week or so ago she stopped being hungry. She stopped eating entirely four days ago.

Yes, it's just a dog.. and a dog who has had an easy life and who lived to the equivalent of 94 years old.

But she was one of those special pets that, on rare occasion, comes into the life of a family and helps define it.

Myself, I'll always recall how she 'came alive' in the moist early morning on walks by the water. Her matte-textured black nose pointed to the horizon, her pom pommed tail at alert.

And how, in the Fall of two years ago, we took her to Nova Scotia with us, because we couldn't put her in a kennel, she was too frail, and how she once again became invigorated by all the novel smellsations by the ocean.

Tessa was born to be a hunting dog and she would have made a great one.
As it was, the only organic prize she retrieved for us, one day many years ago, was a dead and dessicated rabbit which she graciously placed on the stoop of our back door.

My young boys were impressed.

When we purchased Tessa in 1997, the breeder told us she hadn't sold her as a young puppy because she was thinking of breeding her.. Alas, she had a small imperfection.

I have since learned that is the line many breeders use to sell their pedigreed dogs.

But Tessa's breeder also claimed something else: that she was the most even tempered of the litter.

And in this she was not wrong. Tessa, to the end, had the sweetest disposition and such 'people sense.' When she was younger, if a two year old were playing with her, pulling her ears, poking her sides, she'd be calm and patient and if her rambunctious human 'brothers' wanted to kick it up with her, in a game of frizbee football, she'd get quite rough, leaping off the ground at them, tugging at their t shirts and nipping their rear ends.

I can't recall hearing her growl, except, on occasion, at my brother in law. At their first meeting, my brother in law playfully faked an attack on her, growling like a bear up and waving his arms and she never did forgive him.

Poor dear old dog. She was spared the horror of being a show dog (16 hours on the table being groomed for shows, long hours in a cage) because of, what was it now? Oh, a tail that wasn't at 12 o'clock, or some other such nonsense.

But I recall how gorgeous Tessa looked, despite this fatal flaw, prancing around the yard chasing that orange floor hockey ball my husband would throw out for her. She couldn't get enough of ball play. I couldn't keep my eyes off her.

Asleep on our living room floor. March 1, 2011.