Awakened in the night by the need to urinate, I slide my legs over the edge of the bed. Instinctively I glance down, looking for the black and white blur, in my myopic vision, of Dolly’s sleeping form in the dim glow of the hallway nightlight. Dolly has taken to sleeping next to the bed. This started during storms; rain makes her nervous, thunder terrifies her and she seeks solace by snuggling up next to the bed where I can drape an arm over and scratch her ears. Lately she starts out sleeping on her snuggle bed in the corner of the bedroom, but after we’ve gone to sleep slinks over and curls up as close to me as she can get.
Not that it matters if I can see her or not, I can just probe with my feet. This would not upset her. Dolly trusts us both implicitly. She often plops down in the center of a traffic pattern knowing that we will step over or around her. But this trust was not always the case.
Eleven years ago Marie and I moved into the mobile home that came with this plot of land. As we moved our things in and got settled, we noticed a hound dog watching us from a rock outcropping 60 feet or so above us. She just sat, watching us work, but if she caught us watching back, she’d slip off into the woods and disappear. We began “accidentally” leaving a pie plate of kibbles out next to the tree line each morning and pointedly ignored the crunching that soon followed. This plate began moving slowly down closer to our home. Eventually she would tolerate our presence and in time allowed us to pet her. Or rather allowed Marie to pet her. If I reached out, even slowly, to scratch an ear or stroke her head, she ducked and withdrew. It took much longer for her to grant me this privilege. One day we decided to try to teach her to play fetch. I picked up a short stick, showed it to her and she immediately dropped to the ground in a protective crouch and began whimpering. Clearly some bastard had taken to beating her as part of training.
We learned much later that a local resident had owned her, trained her as a hunting dog and accidentally shot her. She recovered, but was, from then on, terrified of the sound of guns. Ruined as a hunting dog, he dumped her here on our mountain.
Once she decided we could stay, the three of us developed a close bond. We named her Dolly because of her eyes: she looked like she was all “dolled” up and ready to go out on a date. She became a constant companion, especially to me; for I rarely leave our property. Marie has a job in town, and Dolly was always thrilled to see her come home again. But Dolly and I had a special bond.
She was our guardian. Gentle as a lamb most of the time, she could put on a formidable show of ferocity when strangers came to call. She was a hound dog: English Hound and Blue-Tick for sure, maybe others mixed in. At 90 pounds she was a medium-large dog. Big enough to be intimidating when she desired.
She patrolled our borders, chasing possum, coon, fox and possibly even bears back up into the woods. She extended this protection service to some of our neighbors, and turned it into a racket by daily making her rounds, scratching at each door and demanding a dog biscuit for her services. Dolly was Queen of the mountain. Everyone loved Dolly.
As she aged, she developed a couple of fatty tumors. One burst open – I suspect that Boots; a neighborhood dog who would come to play with our girls, bit it – and refused to heal. We decided it should be surgically removed before it became more of a problem.
Dolly hated riding in the truck, but last week I took her to the vet for an initial examination. He gave us some antibiotics and Prednisone to reduce swelling. Dolly laid on pillows in the extended cab behind the seats. She trembled the whole way, but behaved well.
Yesterday I again took her out on the leash, something she is rarely subjected to, and she knew something was up. But she was surprisingly good about it. Normally I have to practically drag her to the truck and bodily lift her into the truck cab. This time she walked out, head down and put her front feet up into the truck. I had to help her from there.
She went willingly into the vet building and even headed into the exam room on her own. It was weird, she offered no resistance at all, but there was no spirit to her either. S he seemed resigned to it, and sad.
Originally the vet told me she would stay overnight for observation. That made me uncomfortable, but I recognized it as being for the best. But that morning, he said that he foresaw no problems, I should come back in two hours to pick her up.
When I returned she was still only-semi-conscious. We took her out to the truck on a stretcher for she was incapable of walking. I stopped by Marie’s work place to pick her up as well and together the two of us got Dolly home and settled on her snuggle bed in my office where I could keep an eye on her while I worked.
When Dolly began to come around, she started panting heavily and whining. I thought it was a reaction to the pain. The vet said that there were a lot of nerves in the tumor and he had to administer added anesthesia to keep her from jumping around during the surgery; it would be painful.
I sat next to her, stroking her head and talking to her softly, trying to calm her and wishing there was more I could do for her. At one point she lifted her head and looked into my eyes. Her eyes spoke of something I had not seen before; as though she were imploring, “Why have you done this to me? I trusted you.”
I knew she couldn’t understand my words, but hoped something of the feelings would get through as I told her that when she recovered from the surgery she would be healthier, she’d no longer have that oozing mess on her rump, inviting infection.
She laid her head back down, her panting slowed, then stopped. She wasn’t breathing. She was gone.
I called the vet and he said she’d died of heart failure. It wasn’t something he’d expected, and he was sorry. Somehow that didn’t help.
As I peek over the edge of the bed, expecting to find the blurry blob of black and white that is Dolly sleeping peacefully, a pang shoots through my heart as I realize that she would never again sneak over to snuggle in next to the bed. I remember that final exchange between us and can’t help but wonder if she died thinking I had betrayed her. Somehow that is the most painful part of it all.
I produced this little slide show long ago, please enjoy this look at our very special “lil girl”.