The crematorium handed me the 6″ by 4 ” dark brown wooden box. I knew it would be heavy; Isabella was an eighty pound wolf dog. I thought I was prepared.
Driving home, memories:
March 2006, daughter calls; two year old grandson wants a beta. I drive to PetSmart. Daughter tells me I must see these unusual, incredible seven-week-old puppies. Alert brown eyes look at me. Too big, black ears wiggle. The label says wolf, German Shepard, Blue Heeler. The two remaining puppies look like light colored German Shepherds or Belgium Malinois. I had not planned to get a dog, not yet.
Two years later I move into my new house: canyon edge, horses, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, road runners, mockingbirds, rattlesnakes. Isabella guards her property, sits on the patio where she can check for invaders. She rarely barks, growls. When she does, high alert–I check. Neighbor dogs, coyotes, foxes, chased off–not bobcats. She watches them.
I remember the day she dismembered a skunk, drug the carcass everywhere. After eleven baths at PetSmart, the skunk smell remained. The one day she growled, I shocked, investigated–a man walking down the arroyo toward the house. Growls became increasingly loud. Out on the patio, she stands, the man sees her, turns and runs. I feel safe, Isabella guarding, telling me if something unusual occurs. She’s mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.
Every morning, evening, she completes horse chores with me, chases bunnies, roadrunners. Two months ago, I, mesmerized, watch her catch, gobble two half-grown bunnies in less than one minute–nothing left. Mixed breed; I think she’ll live long.
Friday morning she helps me with chores, chases bunnies. Friday afternoon she can hardly move. At the vet, blood work like a four year old; x-ray shows a little something wrong. They give her two shots, schedule an ultra-sound for Saturday morning at another vet’s. Meds working, Saturday morning she’s her usual lively self, eager to travel in the truck, nose wet and cold.
Ultrasound vet tells me there’s little hope. Shocked, I stand there. “If she were your dog, what would you do?”
“Put her to sleep. She’s not in pain. She has a tumor the size of your small fist on her intestines–might be cancer, hard to operate.”
I look at the vet, frozen.
At 8:00 Wednesday evening, I open the box, take out the bag of Isabella’s steel grey ashes, walk out to her patio spot, the place where she guarded her kingdom, toss a handful of ashes into the wind, watch them float and scatter down into the canyon, tears tracking down my face. I close the bag, walk to the place where our long yearling colt, Star, is buried, dig an eight inch hole, bury another handful of ashes. I take the one tablespoon of ashes left back to the house, put them back in the black velvet bag and into the box with the card with her paw print, the crematorium certificate, the sympathy card signed by all the employees where they euthanized her, place it on top of a stack of old magazines in the Chinese cabinet.
At bedtime, I forget, go to call her in. This morning I find her hairs–she shed so much, wolf undercoat. Evidence of her presence permeates.
It will never end.