Callie, my beautiful 9-year-old dog lies curled up at the end of my bed; her black, white and tan fur as soft as down feathers. Her paws are white with tan freckles, her stomach is pure white. Her long tail is like a sweeping paintbrush, like a peacock’s plume, black and tan, its softness tickles my nose. Sometimes she shudders and shakes when she is sleeping and I reach out to stroke her fur and wake her up; she looks around and stretches one paw directly up into the air and audibly sighs.
Callie knows, instinctively, how I feel; she is sensitive to my moods and especially to my sorrow. She jumps up on my bed and looks at me with her liquid brown eyes, knowingly. After my father died, Callie spent a lot of time with me, she could comfort me as no one else could. She licked the tears away from my face and would not leave my side until I felt better. I didn’t need to explain, I didn’t need to talk, she understood my pain at the most primitive level. Her fur was often damp from my tears, my arms curled around her body. Wherever I went, she went; she still follows me everywhere; I still call her “my little shadow.”
Nine years ago I drove to a few shelters, “just looking.” One day I arrived at a shelter to see a woman who worked there cradling two, tiny, adorable puppies in her hands, one to her left cheek, the other to her right. Apparently the pup’s mom had abandoned them and wouldn’t nurse them. I arrived five minutes after a man who had adopted them for a week came back and brought the puppies back to the shelter, because “they were too much trouble.”
I sat myself down on the dirty floor and the two, six-week old puppies were placed next to me. One was frisky and started eating telephone wires, the other crawled into my lap and stayed. It was love at first sight, for both of us. I identified with the little ball of mush snuggling into my lap, sighing with contentment; if she had been a cat she would have purred.
I watch Callie from the window, frolicking in the snow, barking happily, and hopping and skipping like a bunny. Snow is her favorite element and in it she acts like the same young pup we’ve always known. Her favorite time is when we have a snowstorm and my husband shovels snow directly to her. She can literally jump up to two feet in the air so she is just about vertical and she yelps and barks with utter joy.
I was never able to understand the bond between a human being and a dog, until we adopted Callie and then I knew what unconditional love was. My children whisper their secrets to her, I have seen them bend down, close to her ear. She is the keeper of secrets and of sorrow, and she is constantly happy, even if we are away for five minutes, she greets us with great joy.
Now, her once black whiskers are turning white; the fur under her chin has also changed from black to white. My daughter asked me the other day “How long do dogs live?” It’s the same thing I have thought about from time to time. I hesitated, and my daughter said the following:” Mom, I need to know. I need to be prepared.” I told her what I knew and what the veterinarian had said and that I understood her completely because I needed to be prepared too. What I did not tell her is that no matter what, you can never be prepared for death. Ever.
My daughter and I and our closest neighbors celebrate her birthday every year on March 1st. We buy her a present or two and she always gets a really good meal. The boys in our family want nothing to do with us. But, for my daughter and me, it’s a celebration of her life, year after year. I hope she is with us for a very long time but when the day comes, I know that I will always cling to the image in my mind, of my dog, crazy happy, jumping into the air, covered with snowflakes.
newly dedicated to Rosa Michelle