The first time I ever saw her, she was so tiny I could hold her in my cupped hands. I remember that she was uneasy about being gathered off the ground, and the whites shone at the edge of her large brown eyes as she peered up at me.
She was a Cavalier King Charles puppy, and I named her Dawn in honor of her gleaming ruby fur.
Whenever I take this kind of love into my life—and aren’t puppies the very definition of love?—I know I am taking on loss, too. And I know that loss is inevitable. And yet I didn’t hesitate.
Though I knew this loving would change me.
When Dawn went stone deaf at the age of three she was bewildered at the loss of so important a part of her world. It was clear that she knew something was missing. With no noise distractions, she began to sleep more deeply. If I went downstairs from my study and forgot to rouse her from her spot beneath my desk, she would wake and, hearing nothing to let her know where I might be, tromp next door into my bedroom. She would jump up onto the bed, face the far wall and say, “Woof.” A deep pause. Then “Woof” again. Another pause. Another “Woof!” And on and on.
I’d hear her from downstairs and say, “Oh, my poor deaf dog,” and hurry back up, reach across the bed to touch her into awareness, then motion her to come back down with me. She always followed happily as though she never would have known how to find me without my guidance. (I’m pretty deaf myself, so my empathy was always at the ready.)
That was all fine until Dawn decided she enjoyed the game so much that she would leave us eating dinner or watching television downstairs and go upstairs to my bed to start the woof game.
She was a dog of strong opinions. If I returned from our twice-daily walk before she felt she’d had her due, she would stand back at the end of the leash as I opened the door, refusing to come inside. Or if I took a route she didn’t approve of, she would brace against the pull of the leash and, when I looked back, give me a long, steadying, meaningful look.
Sometimes I let her win.
Because sometimes giving over is a good thing and because sometimes it seemed good for my small dog to have the power.
When my partner brought a four-year-old, twelve-pound, one-eyed Sheltie named Sadie into our family, Dawn, half again her weight, gave ground instantly. She gave a whole lot of ground, in fact, because when she gave ground I rescued her. (As you can tell, I’m easily trained.) When I’d go out of town, however, Dawn would quit waiting for rescue and take her rightful place in the room, on the couch, or whatever other space might be under contention, ignoring the little Sadie-bully entirely.
She and Sadie could collaborate, though. One rule in our family was that dogs had to go down the flight of steps from the deck to the backyard to relieve themselves before they could have their bedtime treat. We began after a time to suspect that the relieving was happening a bit too fast, so one night I stood at the top of stairs to observe when they went down. The two dogs ran down the stairs, side by side, stopped at the bottom, turned to look at one another, and then, by mutual consent, ran back up the stairs.
When I sent them back they did what they were supposed to do with a resigned air.
Dawn died shortly before her eleventh birthday, a reasonably venerable age for a cavalier, though not long enough for me. Not nearly long enough for me.
Sadie doesn’t seem to miss her. I’ve always suspected that she was meant to be an only dog. (Sadie came from a hoarding situation.)
But I miss her. Oh, I do.