Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A small eulogy for a great mutt

Gladys, our oldest dog who had a crooked tail, soulful eyes and a great heart but no visible link to any particular breed, died last night of respiratory failure at the vet's office, as unexpectedly as she had entered our lives about nine years ago.

Maybe just a mutt to you, but a queen to Stew and me.

We don't know what triggered her death, except she had become lethargic and stopped eating during her last two or three days. The vet suggested it might have been a toxic reaction to phenothrin, the active ingredient in an anti-flea shampoo we'd used, though the other dogs were not affected. Following reports of toxic reactions, phenothrin was banned in the U.S. for use on cats but not on dogs.

Whatever. We brought Gladys home this morning, put her on a wheelbarrow and took her to a grave that had been already dug by Félix and his brother Esteban, who had come to help. Under a cloudless sky, an improvised, single-file funeral procession consisting of Stew, me and our four remaining dogs, wended its way through the weeds, to what has become a pet cemetery in one corner of our ranch. 

We stood as Gladys, wrapped in an old bed sheet, was gradually covered with soil. Stew, who doesn't have as big a problem crying as I do, knelt by the gravesite and sobbed for several minutes.
Gladys parachuted into our lives when we lived in a condo development in town. We found her walking aimlessly in a pouring rain, the remains of a piece of rope around her neck, and limping as if she had been injured. While vehemently protesting we would not adopt her, I nevertheless built Gladys a dog house behind our building, out of a large plastic storage bin with a blanket inside, and set out food for her every morning.

Naturally she kept coming back for more food and soon started walking, cautiously at first, alongside our other dog Lucy to a nearby park. The two dogs became fast friends and started playing and chasing each other in the park.

Gladys's funeral procession. 
After I don't know how many weeks of this routine, suddenly Gladys sat as if inviting Stew to pick her up. "I wanna go home with you guys!" And so she did.

The vet said Gladys had been either hit by a car or abused, hence her injuries, including a permanently crooked, droopy tail and slightly off-center gait. We've always suspected she had been mistreated or abused because, with the exception of Stew and me, Gladys didn't trust people. Truth be told, for the first couple of years she was quite the dyspeptic bitch.

We've always suspected her previous owner must have been a Mexican woman who hit her with a broom: Every time our maid Rocío picked up a broom to start cleaning, Gladys started cowering and growling threateningly. She kept up that routine right up to the end. She definitely didn't like Mexican women with brooms or mops.

Eventually though, Gladys grew up to be the tamest, friendliest and most attentive dog in our crew of five.  She went to the beach with us a couple of times; riding in the car, even just for two hundred feet up the driveway, was her biggest thrill. She would sit ramrod straight on the back seat, peering out the windows as if she owned the place.
Graveside ceremonies. 

When we took her to the vet two days ago, Gladys at first didn't get up from her cushion. Then Stew shouted the magic words: "Hey, Gladys, want to go in the truck?" Her eyes opened and she slowly stumbled out to the garage and sat by the truck waiting for help to get up on the back seat.

That was her last ride until we brought her home this morning.

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