Getting Clarity

December 13, 2013

I was looking for a whippet mix. The reason for that particular yearning was my absolutely crazy love for a dog of my long-ago life, Carson:

Carson and I on a rooftop in Charlestown, Mass., 1974. Photo by Michael Mathers.

Carson and I on a rooftop in Charlestown, Mass., 1974. Photo by Michael Mathers.

Right after Carson died, at age fifteen, my friend Dee took me for a walk on the beach. A feather with Carson’s colors – cinnamon, white, and a touch of black – floated up to my feet on a wave. I picked it up and looked around. What sort of sea-abiding bird came in these colors? Nothing in sight. I wanted very much to keep this feather, but I put it back down into the water, turned to speak to Dee, turned back again as the wave receded and saw that the feather was gone.

When Boon showed up at the Humane Society, a greyhound/foxhound mix dressed in those same colors, I told friends that maybe he was reinCarsonated. After all, hounds hang together on the Canine Family Tree.Hounds on Dog Breed Chart

The two dogs were nothing alike in temperament. Carson was alert, determined, and curious, unwilling to attach to anyone but me, and driven by her wit and intelligence. Boon was a mellow and friendly guy with no agenda, no enemies, no guile. He would have gently welcomed even a burglar if the burglar had whispered Good Evening to him in a polite tone of voice. He stepped gallantly right into my heart.

Hadley arrived somewhere toward the middle of Boon’s life and padded around after him, worshipful. Boon’s attitude for the seven years he knew Hadley was aloof. “Cat? I don’t see any cat.”

“Boon is the Brad Pitt of dogs,” I once explained to a friend on a walk when she wondered why everyone we met made such a fuss over him. He was humble about the affection bestowed on him by strangers and the gasping admiration for his good looks.



Many happy years with him zipped by. At thirteen, he was diagnosed with spleen cancer. A year or so later the day came to say good-bye.

Two years passed before Hadley and I had a conversation about getting another dog. I thought she would be as unwilling to risk loving a dog again as I was because I believe in projecting all of my own emotions onto my animal companions – just one more reason to feel attached to them. How we think alike!

But Hadley wasn’t reluctant at all about inviting another dog to live with her. Sometimes cats can give you a look that makes you feel awfully dense about the important things in life.

Hadley_the Look

Shelter searches led me to consider every dog I met, regardless of how inappropriate. Online searches proved not much more helpful. I’d type “whippet mix” in the Search field and, as if this were the rarest kind of dog imaginable, the search engine would shout back at me: NONE FOUND!

Of course, they offered substitutes. I’d plunge in. As with the shelters, every single dog called to me. The night I seriously started to consider a Great Dane (well, I’d just get a bigger houseboat), decision-making (not my strong suit) felt overwhelming. Off went the computer.

great dane in chair

I take pet adoption very seriously, and I knew it wasn’t working to look with hope at everything from Saint Bernards to beagles, Cairn terriers to collies, Dobermans to dingoes. “I’m floundering here,” I said to Hadley and the night sky.

What I really wanted more than anything was to be clear about what I wanted. “I need clarity,” I said half out loud that night, an appeal to whatever divine resources the universe might have on hand for connecting up the right dogs with the right people. “Give me clarity.”

For all I knew, Hadley was putting in her two cents too. Some cats are ardent believers.

cat prayingThe next morning I came to my computer without hope and once again started my search for the elusive “whippet mix.” Amazingly, there were a few of these mixes to look at. Even more surprising, toward the middle of the page was a photograph of the dog I knew with certainty was my dog. Female. A year old. She looked alert, smart, spirited, full of heart, and gentle, a combination of Boon’s and Carson’s qualities. Her coat – no surprise – was cinnamon, white, and black.

At the moment, she was located not in Portland but in southern California in a foster home. She and two of her puppies, loose on the streets, had been picked up by Animal Control and then plucked from Death Row by the Ace of Hearts rescue agency on the very morning the three were to be euthanized.

I read all of this with interest, and then my eyes roamed over to the right side of the page under Name. This dog’s name was Clarity.

Well. More stars aligned and friends stepped in and helped me bring Clarity home. (If you’re interested in that story and how Clarity became Brio, please see Dog of God.)

Brio enjoyed four happy years here. She loved the houseboat moorage, the neighbors, the woods, the island, her many dog friends, the ocean, hiking trails, trips in cars leading to any place that smelled rich and alive. She did not like the rain. She was happiest outside in the sunshine, especially if she could be playing with friends. Here she is in Meg’s country, Nevada, leading a couple of ranch dogs on a merry chase.Brio chased by Blanket and Snow_ranch dogs

She liked visiting Alice at The Place and seeing other residents. She had good moments with The Dapper Man.Brio and the Dapper ManLike Alice, she was feisty, stubborn, funny, playful, and beautiful.

Brio with her favorite moorage friend, Blue.

Brio with her favorite moorage friend, Blue.

In the dog play field - October 2013

In the dog play field – October 2013

Brio and Hadley created elaborate and rambunctious play times but with rules, all of them put in place and strictly administered by Hadley. They became the best of friends.Brio and Hadley top of stairs

Two years ago Brio was diagnosed with renal failure, but she never showed signs of illness until quite recently. In early November she took a “turn” as people in my grandmother’s generation used to say, and then her life changed from appetite and eagerness to lack of appetite, nausea, and increasing weakness. Once again there was a search for clarity – with good days and bad days, when exactly was the right time to let her go?

This go-around I got a lot of help from Dr. Fletcher and Dr. McCoy and Kim Fitzgerald at the North Portland Veterinary Hospital, as well as from friends who kept close tabs on Brio and me as, day by day, we tracked her decline. Each day ended with the same question: Was it time?

Finally it became clear she did not want to go on. Friends came to say good-bye. Two days before she died I took her to see Alice for the last time.

Alice and Brio - GoodbyeAlice thanked her for being in our lives and for being a friend to us. She was, she said, so glad they’d met and gotten to know each other.

The next day I explained to Brio what was going to happen. A vet would come, as a vet had come to the house for Hadley six months ago. She would get two injections, one for relaxing and one for dying and leaving the body that had become such an uncomfortable home.

That night we walked up the ramp at around eight-thirty. Usually she would sniff until she found the proper place to relieve herself, then we’d head back down the ramp to our house and she’d go to bed.

But that night when we came down the ramp, instead of going home she turned right. I followed her. She walked slowly down the long walkway and looked at each house. At those houseboats she’d been inside of, the houses of friends, she hesitated, then stepped onto their decks and raised her eyes to look at them.

She did this all the way to the end of the walkway, then turned and led me back in the other direction, past our house, and all the way to the opposite end of the walkway, looking at each house (there are thirty) and stepping onto the decks of a few. It was a cold night, but she seemed in no hurry. At the far end of the walkway, she turned around and walked back home.

The next morning, up the ramp we went again. This time I followed her down to the woods at the end of the moorage where a trail meanders through brush and trees.

Brio on backyard trail

She and I walked this trail almost every day. It leads to a rise, then dips to a field and more woods off in the distance. She played in that field and in those woods hundreds of times with dog friends. She ran through the woods with these dogs or on her own, chasing after rabbits or just running for the pleasure of it. She was one of the fastest dogs I’ve ever seen. In a split second she could cover a great distance, and this little rise before the big field was her leaping off point.

She led me to the end of it and sat down, gazing at the field where she’d played, the woods, a flock of geese passing overhead, and the river below us. When I knelt beside her she leaned against me for a few minutes, then stood up, turned around, and led me home.

When Thalia came a couple of hours later to be with us in these last hours, Brio embarked on another walkabout. She touched noses with her cat friend, Pumpkin, and she got pets from some human friends passing by.

It was a good day to die. There was sun, there were friends, there would be relief.

Good girl!

Good girl!

Brio: animation, zest, liveliness, vitality, sprightliness, vivacity, spirit, vigor; Italian, from Spanish brio or Provençal briu, both of Celtic origin.

32 Responses to “Getting Clarity”

  1. Goodbye, Brio. Thank you, Andrea. I am sorry.


  2. cheryl Says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful love story. This part of the journey is SO difficult and you all did it so well… My condolences on your loss and my great joy at the amazing time you spent together!


  3. Editor 164th Infantry News Says:

    Clarity in your Heart. What a tale.


  4. Sad but beautiful Andrea. Brio/Clarity, she certainly lived up to both names. X


  5. jeannine nye Says:

    OH i am crying reading this lovely moving epitaph to your darling dog… what a girl she had been, and her saying goodbye to all the things that mattered to her, unbelievably moving… thank you for sharing, Dogs reach deep into our hearts but Cats establish their love in a different way… Our dogs hold our hearts, and we are made richer by knowing and loving them.. hugs from across the pond from a still crying jANZI… RIP Brio


  6. John Says:

    I know we chatted a bit on Thanksgiving … and that you were not so clear … seeing this post, seeing that your writing again, tells me that a bit of clarity is finding it’s way back into your bruised soul — two beloved members of the family in such a short time is enough to leave anyone battered and bruised. I’m glad your pen is again in motion … words are how we begin to heal, and I’m glad to see that words have returned to you.

    Sending a big hug your way … you’re in my thoughts.


  7. Janina Fuller Says:

    Kafir, Utah and I weep for your loss and the love of Brio, and also for gladness of her time with you. Holding both of you close with arms and paws around you!


  8. Jean Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. What an amazing companion, and a beautiful memorial.


  9. po77erscl4y Says:

    Oh Andrea. Thanks for recounting the family tree. It feels biblical, and helps place Brio and Hadley among the stars.


  10. Pat Says:

    So sad to hear about Brio. I so enjoyed the walks we took when I would visit. A very moving tribute.


  11. Andrea, I’m so very sorry to hear about Brio. I loved reading the backstory and seeing the pictures. Thanks so much for your willingness to share this love.


  12. Lea Harth Says:

    Sending my love to you Andrea and Brio and Hadley and all your other pet loves that have passed through your life. What a beautiful story you’ve shared with us.


  13. Sondra Says:

    So hard to loose the ones we love… Pets give us so much, I always hope I’ve given as much… So So sorry, Andrea. My heart is with you.


  14. Sandra Y. Espinoza Says:

    My thoughts are with you. Thanks for sharing and in doing so allowing us to witness loving with an open heart.


  15. Gin B Ga Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing friend. RIP Brio. We will see you again one day.


  16. skye leslie Says:

    Oh, sweet and dear Andrea – thank you for this story. Thank you for having had the patience to find Clarity and thus, Brio. Who are these dear sweet animals but angels in another form and what can we know of them but the love and joy which they give – asking so little, really, in return. All my love to you. Skye


  17. rivermile14 Says:

    Sobbing away here… When our cat Zak was dying – on his last day – he did the walk-about up the long driveway in Amity, took a sip of water from the culvert ditch and then turned to walk home again. Floyd dug a grave and we buried him on the property. We got Max (our current tabby) six months later. When Max took his first walk outside on the property he immediately walked over to Max’s grave and sat down on top of it. Well, OK then. So sorry for your and Hadley’s deep loss.


  18. Beautiful picture of you. Remember us back then?


  19. Jan Says:

    I am very sorry for your loss, Andrea. May she live on in your heart.


  20. Dee Packard Says:

    Ah Andrea, wet faced again. You tell the most beautiful stories. Your eyes of love see the precious unique spectacular miraculous in us. That is your greatest gift. That and knowing the words for what you see and experience.

    I am so glad to hear the story about “how you knew” Brio was ready. And, I see, too, how clear your communicating interspieces-ly is.

    Your love is something!

    Grateful, as always, dp


  21. Chris Lorenz Says:

    Dear Andrea, what a lovely tribute to Brio. You’ve endured a lot of loss over the last few months–cat, dog, and human–and I hope writing this piece brought you a bit of solace. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and makes me wish I’d known Boone, Brio and Hadley! >>Hug<<


  22. kvwordsmith Says:

    Just yesterday i was hinking aabout you and brio. I am so glad you had each other and were such close friends. Deep peace to all.


  23. Bill Sharp Says:

    Beautifully written by both you and Brio. RIP beautiful Brio.


  24. Ruth Gundle Says:

    Beautiful much-loved Brio, gone too soon. But what a life you gave her for those years you were together. A life she could never have dreamed of. And how perfect that Thalia was there at the beginning and at the end. Lots of love to you, and thank you for this lovely remembrance.


  25. Elizabeth Says:

    Oh, Andrea. That was so beautiful and so sad. I am sorry for your loss — I rarely weep big, fat tears and I am doing so in this instant. For you and for Brio.


  26. alancahn Says:

    Thanks Andrea for expressing so well what us animals may go through(and in this case did go through) when dealing with loss. May Brio’s memory be a blessing and bring grace to all those who remember her. Love from London Alan


  27. Such a beautiful tale, Andrea, like a fairy tale or fable but better and so well illustrated. I love the way Brio attended to the end of her life. Would that we could all follow suit (as she and Leslie both taught us so well). For my part, I am very glad to have walked so many times with you both on the Sauvie Island trails and through the neighborhoods near our hang-out, Kobos, after her patient (?) waits in the back of your car. This post marks one of those moments when this time is all time – when the days with Carson on the other houseboat blend with the days with Brio on the now houseboat. As one of my friends said when I asked if this can all really be in the same lifetime, “Yes, it’s all part of the one big beautiful life.”


  28. Joanne Mulcahy Says:

    Thank you for this loving tribute, Andrea, to Brio, Boon, and Carson, to your communion with animals.


  29. Katharine Says:

    … missing Brio, loving you, and grateful for the worlds you open with words


  30. Thalia Says:

    It’s heartbreaking that sweet Brio went all too soon— but it seemed destined that you would bring her from the streets of LA to a new life with you on the river, exploring the woods, with rabbits to chase. Love to you both.


  31. Holly Pruett Says:

    Andrea, my mom and I commented a few times to each other that the absence of a post from you must mean Brio was in her final days. Our condolences to you on this terribly sad loss, and our deep thanks for letting us in on the exquisite love and beauty of these lives well lived.


  32. churchsusan Says:

    Andrea, Spilling tears onto my ipad. What a touching story. Hugs, Susan

    Sent from my iPad


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