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On losing a pet

What follows is a departure from my usual subject matter. But writing about it made me feel better, so I thought I’d share.

It was almost exactly 12 years ago that I managed to secure off-campus housing for my senior year of college. Seeing as how the landlord was dog-friendly, getting a dog was an inevitable next step. I loved dogs, and at twenty-one years old, I found myself free from the restrictions of dormitory living and old enough to be entitled to make my own decisions.

My then-boyfriend (now husband) was supportive, if not exactly enthusiastic. Like everything else I’ve ever done, acquiring a dog necessitated exhaustive research, including a field trip to a dog show to “interview” different breeds in person. It was in the parking lot at a dog show that we first laid eyes on a pair of Greater Swiss Mountain dogs and fell in love. Well, I fell in love, and Eli was probably relieved that he wouldn’t have to follow me to any more dog shows.

Kasha (Seavaridge’s Osh Kash B’Gosh) was born in April 1998. We visited when she was 5 weeks old, and then returned to Lewistown, PA to bring her home in June at 8 weeks old (“Twice – we drove out there TWICE,” Eli has always marveled, but we stopped at Hershey Park on the way home the first time, which counts for something). On the way home from Pennsylvania (the second time, puppy in arms), we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for snacks. Eli went to buy the food while I stayed outside and played with the tiny puppy on a narrow strip of grass in the parking lot. Eli swears that was the moment Kasha decided she loved me best.

We were doting first-time parents. We drove an hour each way to puppy classes in Providence, because the teacher had a sterling reputation. When we learned about the “toxic preservatives” in commercial dog food, we cooked our own (some people are still laughing about that one). One evening, we’d bought and paid for movie tickets online, but never got past the driveway. We could hear the puppy crying from her crate in the kitchen and we couldn’t bear to leave her alone.

She was a magnificently beautiful dog. When we lived in Boston, walking down Newbury Street always took much longer than it should; so many people would stop to ask about her and give her a pat.

It wasn’t all rosey.

Kasha battled incontinence right from the start. Even as a puppy, she’d leak urine while she was sleeping. We’d been advised to pat her while she ate to desensitize her instinct to protect her food. This backfired badly, and she was sometimes frighteningly aggressive was when it came to meals. She also had a remarkably fragile digestive system. But she was also fiercely protective, stereotypically loyal and more intelligent than any dog I’ve ever met.

By the time our first child arrived, Kasha was four years old. Her unwieldy puppyish enthusiasm had waned somewhat, but she was enormous enough to warrant caution. I wish I could say we balanced the needs of our kids and our dog with grace, but I don’t think that’s true. Kasha got the short end of the stick, but I think she forgave us.

In eight years of living with children, she never harmed a hair on any little head, intentionally or unintentionally. That’s pretty impressive for a dog who weighed 125 pounds at her peak.

The life expectancy of a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 8-10 years. As Kasha neared her 12th birthday, she was showing her age. She didn’t have much energy, she couldn’t walk well and she’d forgotten everything she ever knew about housebreaking. We talked quietly about putting her down, but our daughters were horrified, understandably. One Friday night recently, they persuaded us to give Kasha the leftover bones from a roast beef dinner. We’d never fed her table scraps, but under the circumstances we made an exception. The girls watched, delighted, as Kasha devoured the unexpected treat with a gusto we hadn’t seen in months.

Lately, the girls both spent extra time with Kasha. They took her for walks, fed her treats, stroked her ears. I captured this picture of Zev with Kasha at the end of February. He was probably her biggest fan, having learned her name right around the same time he started saying Mama and Dada.

You see where this is going. She died this past Thursday. We were out of town, and we didn’t really get to say good-bye. But we also didn’t have to make The Decision. Just as she did throughout her life, she protected us. When we shared the news on Facebook,  we were reminded within minutes that Kasha had been a permanent fixture in our adult lives. College friends remembered the feisty puppy, while friends who visited recently recalled how gentle she was with their young children.

I took her for granted because she was always there, barking ferociously whenever the doorbell rang (an example of her intelligence: Kasha understood from an early age that doorbells sounded different from place to place, and her first order of business in any new place was to learn the sound of the doorbell, whether it was a buzzer, a ding-dong, or it was playing the first few bars of “Give My Regards to Broadway”). For all the times over the years she over-zealously woke a sleeping kid, now the quiet will be deafening.

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