For Frances: A Toast to a Dog
July 9, 2012 § 17 Comments
I’m fixin’ to get a little sentimental. You’ll pardon me, I hope, because the 24 hour period after the world loses one of its finest four-legged creatures is the official window in which it’s acceptable to respond to all matters with, “Fuck this, my dog died.”
Frances was the first member added to our family after my husband and I were married. For a while, it was just the three of us.
The runt of a litter born to a pair of champion beagles, Frannie was little for her breed. (I no longer recall how we met the owners, with whom we’ve since lost touch – but good lord, they were straight out of Best in Show.) Her scrawny size made her no less beautiful, her eyes ringed with black “mascara” markings and her fur unusually soft for a beagle. She looked like a puppy, even into her old age.
I worked in marketing and advertising when she first joined us 13 years ago. She was cast once as a pup-in-a-wagon in an ad. She peed all over the set of the shoot and kept hopping out of the wagon and chewing the backdrop. The photographer kept shooting, and we all had some good fun making up slogans to go with the outtakes: “Without this product, your life will be like dragging a wagon of dog urine down an endless paper hallway.”
Frances had rug-chewing and ankle-biting habits. When those got to be a bit much, we enrolled her in doggie behavior school, but she was kicked out after chewing up the other dogs’ belongings and demolishing three rugs at the trainer’s house. Oh, well. We don’t need no education.
Frannie hated when we left for work in the morning, and she did her damnedest to drive away dog walkers. One afternoon, I came home to find that my 12-pound beagle pup had wrought the havoc of a family of bears upon our little home – upturning potted plants, gutting and destroying the foam core of her dog bed, and shredding two phone books and a box of file folders into confetti. So I canceled my gym membership to have more time to take her on walks. (A couple years later, I set up an office in my home. Frannie and I made every day Take Your Dog to Work Day, and both of us liked that.)
During the years when we were not certain whether people-babies were in the cards for us, Frances was the tolerant recipient of my maternal instinct. She wore a seatbelt in the car and a sweater once when it snowed. One Halloween, I tried to make her wear a witch hat. She bore all this with her usual air of, “I can’t explain what these lunatics do, but isn’t this all a riot?” She ate the witch hat.
With age, Frannie mellowed. She got into some scrapes — dug out from our yard a few times, got bitten by a copperhead, caught her snake-bite hole on a fence and ripped the edge of her ear in two — that kind of thing. Her misadventures made her a frequent flyer at the vet clinic. She was, as Harry called Sally, “high maintenance,” but so full of personality, you couldn’t help but laugh and love her anyway. (OK, those neighbors who used to call when she howled and woke up their sleeping baby may not have loved her anyway. But you can’t win over everybody.)
Frannie did not suffer fools gladly. Or people who smelled funny. Or people who wore particular fabrics or spoke in certain voices or did not move fast enough with her food dish. She chose her friends carefully; and the ones she loved, she loved loyally.
She made room for another dog, and eventually human children, and after testing them a little, she loved them, too. She loved my husband above all. They shared a nightly ritual: He’d kick back in his big leather chair and open up his Wall Street Journal, and she’d take the signal to hop up in his lap and tuck her head just inside the paper, like she was reading along. In her last weeks, she needed help getting into the chair; but she never missed a night of it, as long as he was home. When he was away, she’d sit in his chair until bedtime, waiting, just in case he returned. That they hit it off so well made me take it as a compliment whenever he said Frannie got her personality from me.
Until she lost her hearing, she enjoyed talking to the owls in our backyard. She always waited for the owls to start the conversation – their “hooooo” to her “rooooo,” back and forth. Sometimes it would wake us up at night, the clamor of owls hooting in our backyard, and Frances howling back from indoors.
In the early, dark hours of yesterday morning, we were awakened by an owl chorus – the greatest range of hooo we’d ever heard, in the most spectacular owl salute – and we knew the time had come.
To Frances. God better roll up his rugs.