Every morning Juniper wakes up and says, Daddy! And then, Osa?
I miss her terribly. I miss her the way the sea would miss salt, the way mountains would miss snow, the way spring would miss rain.
Her absence is visceral, like I have a hole in my belly.
It breaks my heart to know that in a month or two we'll be moving into a house that has never known Osa. No scratch marks on the door, no pee-stains on the carpet, no black hairs tucked under the furniture, no elk legs and rawhides strewn about the yard. How will we remember?
I bury my face in her bed. I open the lid to her dog food container just to take a whiff. I keep her water bowl full. During our night-night routine with Juniper we still end with, Goodnight Osa.
Loosing a dog is like loosing your left arm. The always-thereness, the always-needing--food, water, pills, walks, outside, inside, pets, kisses---and then not. I've spent more time with Osa than I have with my own husband.
Juniper is being so helpful. When I start dry-heaving in the mornings, she hands me my puke bowl and starts imitating my sounds. When I get weepy over Osa, she holds a handkerchief to my nose and tries to wipe away the tears.
There are things I regret, there is guilt. I wish I could have her last full-day back. I wish I had known it was the last. We knew she probably wouldn't make it through the summer but every time she was knocked down, she got back up. We couldn't predict when she wouldn't rise again.
Last night we watched Marley & Me. There is a scene towards the end where Owen Wilson's character and Marley are taking a slow walk through an autumn field. They stop, sit down, and he says, "You're going to let me know, right? You know, when it's time? I don't want to make that decision on my own. You let me know when you're ready, okay?"
That's what Osa did for us. That was her last gift to us. We never thought she would; we thought we'd have to do the math, counting tail-wags and calculating good days versus bad.
That morning my husband awoke early, came to me and said, Osa can't get up. He'd found her collapsed in a puddle of pee by the front door. He got her outside, where she hobbled and fell down. He carried her back inside, laid her on her bed. From early morning until her heart stopped beating that afternoon, Osa stayed in the same position--not even twitching a leg--as though she were paralyzed from the neck down. She was exhausted. She wouldn't eat or drink until noon when Juniper was able to feed Osa her last meal, kibble by kibble. Then, she ate happily, her ears flopping like a puppy, her gray muzzle searching out the next piece.
We made an appointment with the vet. I brushed her, rubbed the inside of her ears, told her she'd get to see Nick and Rosie, play tug-of-war with Lepricon, that Jim would pour bacon drippings on an endless bowl of dog food. I thanked her for everything she gave me, everything she taught me, for all of our years together. I told her I was sorry for every time I got mad or frustrated with her. I remembered her body before it was bony and bloated; the way I would fawn over her slick black coat, the tuft of gray on her butt, her perfect paws....the same way we fawn over Juniper now. I kissed her and smoothed the bridge of her muzzle. I told her she was the best, best dog.
My husband carried her, bed and all, into the vet's office. A young woman read books to Juniper in the lobby. We sat on the floor in a quiet back room. I held Osa's head in my hands. We told her it was okay, that she gets to go on one more trip. The vet said she would just slip away. I don't know when exactly her heart stopped, but I felt her head relax and become heavy in my hands. She died in her bed, with four balsamroot flowers on her ribs, one for each of her family members.
We wanted her cremated. That was the hardest part: leaving her alone on the floor of the vet's office, getting back in the car without her.
One reader of my blog commented that it's hard loosing *that* dog. The dog that has seen you through a coming-of-age, through dating and wedding your spouse, through several moves, through the birth of your first child. Loosing her is like having to close the book on the first chapter of my adult life.
But. I am grateful.