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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
She liked visiting Alice at The Place and seeing other residents. She had good moments with The Dapper Man.Like Alice, she was feisty, stubborn, funny, playful, and beautiful.
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.
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.
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.
Brio: animation, zest, liveliness, vitality, sprightliness, vivacity, spirit, vigor; Italian, from Spanish brio or Provençal briu, both of Celtic origin.