Our family dog, Rose, was about a year old when neighbor Edy stopped over one Saturday.
“You know, Rose barks all day when you all are gone,” Edy told me, matter-of-factly. “All. Day.”
Startled, I eyed Rose resentfully. She is a medium-sized rescue, with a silky black short coat, white socks and a white neck blaze. And neurotic as hell. At age one, her favorite daily romps involved chewing up every piece of female underwear she could find, barking madly at any moving thing on our city street and knocking over the trashcan to shred its contents.
“She needs a companion,” Edy suggested. “How ‘bout a kitten?”
Over my dead body, I thought to myself. Evil bitches, cats.
Only a few weeks later a young woman who lived in the apartments at the end of the street came strolling along with three dogs. She ran into my then 12-year-old daughter, Becca, and begged her to take the newest dog, a small Beagle-Terrier mix.
The woman had just rescued the dog from busy streets on Cincinnati’s West Side. The fluffy mutt had been matted and hungry, clearly on the run for a while. But she had sweet brown eyes and an overly friendly temperament. “Found” fliers posted all over West Side streets yielded no owner.
That’s how Cookie came to live with us.
The Rose Whisperer
In Annie Proulx’s short story “Lonely Coast,” from her “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” book, she writes about the unsettling jolt of bursting into light after a long while in unrelenting blackness.
There’s a feeling you get driving down to Casper at night from the north and not only there, other places where you come through hours of darkness unrelieved by any lights except the crawling wink of some faraway ranch truck. You come down a grade and all at once the shining town lies below you… You think about the sea that covered this place hundreds of millions of years ago, the slow evaporation, mud turned to stone… There’s nothing calm in these thoughts.
And so it was with Rose, a Pilgrim wallowing in depression who needed wooing by a Whisperer.
Rose clearly had imprinted as a human shortly after we adopted her as a puppy. Cookie, on the other hand, knew at age three? four? she was a dog.
Slowly the older girl won over the younger.
Perhaps they bonded over their hatred of squirrels. Maybe Rose just needed a boss, one who growled warnings that This Dinner Plate is Mine to Lick.
But as the years passed, they became the loving Ying and Yang sisters. Sisters who loved to take a walk together, but only one would gambol with other dogs. Sisters who loved to travel, but only one wanted to look out every car window. Only one wanted to cuddle; only one had eyes that beamed “I love you.”
Not that Cookie was Miss Perfect
Those days on the run left her with ruined teeth and an appetite for, well, everything. Grass, dead mice, houseplants – she could sniff out a chicken bone on her walks from 10 feet away. Her breath was putrid.
And, as she aged, Cookie decided that came with the privilege of peeing daily in various sanctuaries of her own choosing in the house.
She was always underfoot – the better to snag a dropped crumb. Voracious, she was.
Today, Rose is 13. Cookie, a few years older, actually seemed the healthier.
While scans revealed Rose’s body is riddled with tumors, Cookie – stiff-legged, skin sprinkled with huge growths – still wanted to cuddle. Still climbed to our second floor bedroom each night.
Labor Day Weekend we were camping in Brookville, Ind., when coonhounds woke us in the middle of the night, braying and chasing at 1:30 a.m. near our tent. Cookie sat at the tent window, watching younger canine cousins romp in the deep darkness, following their moves with eager eyes. Rose slept on.
But in the days that followed, Cookie slowed.
A walk? Only to the end of the driveway.
A treat? Not today.
Breakfast didn’t stay down. Neither did dinner. Her eyes filmed over.
Cookie died yesterday. She went quietly, and after a long, happy life.
Rose suspects. But she’s not talking. Can years of loving companionship keep her internal darkness at bay?
Throat closes. Eyes fill. I’ll let you know when I can see clearly again.