Warning: if you require perfect sentence structure, perfectly placed words, commas, sentences and paragraphs, then you might not want to read any further. The grammar of grief follows its own path, its own logic, its own sequence, all of which I will honour.
Allie came into my life one February because I read about her on the Poodle Rescue website and drove two hours north of the city the next day to meet her and bring her home. Final say of course went to Parker: I brought him along. His sniffs matter.
She was a rescue: her previous owner, a piano teacher, had reached the age where she had to go into a nursing home and could no longer keep her two dogs: two female red miniature poodles, one named Amore who was 12 years old, (pronounced AH-MORE-AY) and one named Allegra who was seven years old. The dogs had been adopted out separately; Allegra by a woman who worked all day and lived alone and with no previous dog experience.
The little red dog was now bereft not only of her human and her older, bossier half sister, but the entire life she had known until that point. She did what any dog would do: she barked when left alone after seven years of never being alone, bothering the neighbours of the woman who adopted her. And so the woman brought her back to the poodle rescue people.
We arrived at the house of the poodle rescue people, were welcomed in by an older couple and in short order met Allegra. She looked a bit of a mess. At 20 pounds she was bit for a female mini — but well proprotioned, alert, and clearly not fussy or nervous. She wasn’t too fussed to see us at all. Good sign. Then we all went out to the back yard. Parker stood there in the snow, his tail wagging a mile a minute. There were other poodles, those toy poodle types that belonged to the people whose house we were in. They seemed nice enough…and before I knew it, one of the little ones started running around the yard. Allegra watched for a minute and then started chasing it. They made a huge, mad circle around all of us. Parker, NEVER one to miss a good romp, ran a little bit and then sat down to watch the smaller creatures running. It was beautiful to watch her run: she was free and happy. I decided yes. After making a donation to the poodle rescue, I took her home.
She became Allie that night. She had not learned to walk on a lead, or how to ask to go to the bathroom. She had never gone to a dog park or seen a body of water. She was a house dog and a yard dog. Her first two years in Toronto saw her going up to every little grey-haired woman she saw. I imagined…that she was asking “are YOU my mother?”
For all of being small and a bit of a rough spot in her life, Allie was quite adaptable to just about everything. She had no fear. Like her first trip to the beach. I threw the ball in the water. She ran for it. She expected, I think, solid ground under her feet, and to have air for breathing. Water does things when you run into it, even for dogs. She ran in, freaked and ran RIGHT back out, sputtering, scared, wet, and more than a little annoyed at this new thing called sand that gets into everything. Allie was a bit fastidious: hated getting her paws dirty.
She joined Parker in his walks with the dogwalker and quickly became the pack boss. John held his nose at first, but she won him over and grew to love her, even giving her a pet name: Alligator, because to keep order amongst her dog walking pack, she snapped at the other dogs. They were afraid of her.
She also had an instinct to hoover her food. With two female dogs in her previous household and she being the younger, and second dog, her place had always been as last. She made up for it now. She was older than Parker and at 20 pounds, a third of what Parker weighed, but it did not phase her. She staked out the corner of the couch, her humans, her toys, her world. Parker did not seem to mind. It did not occur to him to go for her food. In fact, when she wanted his, he shrugged and let her have it. She was totally the boss of him and all he thought he owned. Like toys.
Parker would often go to the toybox root around with his long nose looking for THE toy he wanted. He’d find it and do his happy wag and throw it up and catch it, or chew it. Two minutes later, Allie would decide that was absolutely the toy she had to have. She would go get it, taking it out of Parker’s mouth. Or try to. A tug of war would ensure during which Allie would be pulled from one end of the house to the other, her little red tail curled around her little red butt. But not once did she let go. After a few minutes, Parker would let go and she would turn around. growling a little a him, and bring the toy to be beside her on her pillow. Parker would then just go get another one. And after a minute she would want that one too. Inevitably, Allie would be surrounded by dog toys and Parker would sit, look at Allie, then look to a human or two or five, and use his words, which came to sound something like this: “It’s not fair: I wanted those! She always takes them from me. Can’t you do something??” And once he said his piece, he’d circle around his blanket a few times and plop down.
Allie would sit on top of the toys, eyeing Parker warily, just in case he got up to take them.
She never did get used to the car: she liked to go places but the car was not her favourite mode of transportation. She sometimes calmed her excitement by singing. Seriously. Singing. She was after all a music teacher’s dog first and foremost. Anyway, Cherry Beach is a great off-lead dog park down by the lake. At a certain point, once we crossed the lights of Queen Street, in the car, Allie would start. First as we made our way south of Queen to Leslie Street, she would hit some random musical notes, holding more that could considered a chance event. Then as we passed the Lakeshore to turn onto Commissioner’s Street, she started in earnest with what titled her commissioner’s Street Chorus, a sort of mid-pitched (a B or C) note, held for a whole beat (4/4) and then move up a bit on the scale and then down. When we would turn onto Cherry street, she would be panting — it as the car and she WAS scared, but she would then start her Cherry Street cacophony, higher pitched, shorter notes, with some panting and then low notes thrown in for tonal variation. She did this EVERY time.
She didn’t much like the bird, except in the mornings when all of us, me, Parker, the bird, and Allie would share an apple or some almonds. She like what the bird tossed away. She did not like doodle puppies too much. It seems she found that they were too rambunctious, and because of her size they wanted to play with her. When they were around it was the only time she did not want to be on the ground. Parker got to protecting her and grrr’ing at other dogs that came around her as she got older.
At the groomer’s she insisted on being in the same cage as Parker. It worked for both of them, and saved space. And since it was for Peggy — one of Toronto’s BEST groomers — I was happy that my dogs were being considerate of the space they took up.
Her other musical interest of note was her affinity for pianos. She liked to sit under them whenever she was somewhere in our travels that had a piano.
She was not a lap dog. Two years after getting her, when my nearest and dearest (N+D) was diagnosed with cancer at the same time my mother was dying from cancer she sat quietly with N+D for a little while at times, pretending she could be a lap dog, and seeming not to mind it too much. She was gentle and patient with all humans, and had the honour of being the one dog that my terrified neighbour could actually walk near without crying and fainting. And although she wanted to chase squirrels, she came to learn that was not such a good idea, and when we found a baby squirrel that appeared to have fallen out of a tree, she as the first one to check to see if it was alright.
Little red dog had many nicknames — NOT from me by the way: Allie-Oops, Oopsie-Poopsie, Allie-Pallie, A-Pak, to name a few, but for the most part she was Allie, the Watcher dog. Watcher of her human. Following up and down the stairs, outside, everywhere. She watched for things that might indicate that her human was not alright and might be in need of her comfort. For seven years, she was THERE. Quietly touching the calf of your leg, just to make sure you were there. Following along to the bathroom each time, and turning to sit on the carpet, with her back facing you as you dropped your drawers to sit on the toilet.
I think she had aspirations of mastering yoga headstands. Every day, usually early evening, she’d go to her blanket or Parker’s and proceed to put the top of her head flat on the floor and wiggle her little body around kicking her legs out. Five minutes later she’d be just exhausted and happy, her hair a total mess. She had more than a passing resemblance to Snoopy’s pal, Woodstock, when she did that. And after that, it was her habit to curl up with her front right paw touching her long poodle nose. She was after all, a gentle and genteel little lady, except for when she wasn’t: loud belches after eating, sticking her tongue in your ear every once in a while for goodness only knows why, and in her sleep, barking and growling (I think) at all the doodles that insisted on jumping on her, and doggie snoring that started when she was about 12.
This past winter was cold, and she was having trouble walking, so she didn’t go out for the pack walks very much. She did not seem to mind. Allie stopped trying to jump up on things. She was getting deaf, her vision was going and she seemed to exhibit symptoms of Cushing’s Disease. That’s the one where your usually normal dog gets VERY thirsty and surprises you by turning into a pig but masquerading as a dog suit. NO amount of food would satiate her, and she developed a taste for chickpeas.
Then in April, she started to lose her hind legs. Suffice it to say, many opinions, allopathic and holistic, and many thousands of dollars later, surgery turned out to not be an option. And most annoyingly, all of the exploratory work to get a good diagnosis seemed to make her worse. She had to be carried down to the boulevard to do her business: walking was increasingly difficult, and it seemed to me, painful, But her spirits were good, even though I was gravely worried about her quality of life. There was NO shortage of advice.
In June came two weeks in Italy and the only calls home were to the dog walker who was watching house, home, bird and dogs. Allie was stable.
A few days after returning, Parker started behaving strangely around Allie, licking her more than usual, and then about five days after being back…totally ignoring her. She would only eat chick peas and drink a little water. Seven days after returning was a Sunday. Allie did not sleep well through that night into Monday morning. She was on a blanket in my office … right here to the right of me. Before I called the vet I laid down beside her and stroked her little Woodstock head and told her I love her, that we all love her and that it is ok, I would take care of her. I gave her Reiki. I felt her fading. I called the holistic vet and explained what I was seeing, how she was. He listened and was very kind. He said it would not be good to move her; that she would not be able to handle the trip . I nodded, unable to speak for a moment. I knew it, but did not want to. He offered the names of some vets that come to your home to put your animal to sleep and I took them. I got off the phone and immediately called the numbers.
With the calls done, I turned to check on Allie and although something struck me as very wrong, my brain did not register it consciously. My heart was in my throat as I dropped to my knees beside her and felt her chest, felt for breath under her nose. Nothing. No air. No beat. She was dead. Sometime between standing up to make the call and seeing her at that moment — a total of 10 minutes — she had died. I wept: hot, burning tears, the kind that come from grief and loss and frustration and recrimination. (I should have been with her, not on the phone. I should have talked her through it. I should have been with her, to comfort her. I should have given her Reiki to ease her going. I should have.)
And then the phone rang. On the display it said Dr……and I picked it up. It was one of the vets and I do not know how, but I found my voice somewhere, shaky, but still a voice and I told her that in the time between my phone call and her calling now, Allie had passed away. She too was very kind and understanding. I thanked her for calling and as I hung up it rang again and was the other vet and I told her, too. I was thankful for her kindness. I was calmer now. I said passed away: processing had begun. Distancing had begun. I was talking in euphemisms.
A few deep breathing minutes later and my mind organized itself….just as Parker and the dogwalker came back. I don’t know how I talked. But I called Parker and up he came, slower than usual it seemed, standing in the doorway a moment, and then walking the few steps to where Allie’s body remained. He sniffed her for about 30 seconds and turned to leave. He looked a me for a moment and went to his bed. The dogwalker was shaken: “I loved that little dog,” he said. “She was great. Changed my mind about little dogs entirely.”
I don’t know about heaven. Other minds can ponder that question. But I like the idea that my baby girl Allie is at the Rainbow Bridge, with Miso the world’s BEST lilac-point Siamese cat, and my first poodle love, Mike. And I hope she’s hanging out with the people of my life who preceded her: my mother, my father, Betty, Steve, Jean-Dennis, Sharon, Melissa, Vern, Sal, Danny, Tim, and Paul. If you have never heard of the Rainbow Bridge:
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
This IS slightly embarrassing, but at Halloween, because there are oceans of kids in the area, the dogs did dress up. Well, were dressed. Allie was Wonder Woman for two years in a row, and one year that even got her a spot on our local TV news show. Even in the midst of renovation, she graciously allowed the silly suit to be put on her, and even though she couldn’t see much, would wag her tail at the kids, kiss a few hands and pretend that she was enjoying herself.