Before Patricia’s terminal diagnosis, one of the first serious challenges we shared as a couple was the death of my basset hound, Iggy. That day Patricia waited at home for good news to follow what we hoped would be another routine trip to the vet’s.
While I spoke with Doctor Corley, Iggy slipped and slid in my arms. The dog had arthritis and painful hip-dysplasia, so she was working hard to find a comfortable position on the cold metal examining table. I had gotten in the habit of laying one of my gardening shirts across the stainless steel surface to help with her footing. But this time the shirt wasn’t much help. She nosed the side of my neck for attention.
Her breathing sounded and felt in my embrace like she was trying to drag herself up out of a muddy bog, as if her heavy hound’s coat had been drenched and was pulling her down with the weight of an old dog’s accumulated illnesses. I tried to hold her up, not knowing about other drowning deaths I would one day witness. Even then, Iggy’s gurgled-wheezing sounded to me like she was drowning.
Her coat wasn’t wet at all. In fact, it was almost as soft as the day my ex-husband and I first brought Iggy home. We started eastward across the San Gabriel Valley before the sun rose, worried we had missed her, that she was already gone. As we drove, the sky’s tint began to lighten, stars faded, and the purple-blue silhouettes of the San Gabriel Mountains soon appeared out of the darkness like sleeping giants. We were losing time.
There had been eight pups when we found the old ad the day before. By the time we called that same evening, there were just four. Only one was a girl. The next morning we had to get from the western end of the valley across several cities to the eastern edge, to catch the dog breeder before he and his family took off on a two-week road trip. We were so eager to see the puppy and perhaps bring her home, if she was still there, if no one had taken her.
On the opposite side of the freeway, workday traffic was already backing up. “Must be an accident,” I said. Rick nodded. Cars lurched towards Los Angeles. I bit at a hangnail, ripping it back too far, and poked at the radio. My cuticle stung but the traffic report on our side was still clear.
When we pulled near the breeder’s address a few minutes early, Bruce Roberts was prepping a double-decker-sized RV in front of his house. In the time it took us to drive by, turn the car around, park in front of a neighbor's curb and get out, Bruce hoisted suitcases, fastened bikes, and stowed boxes of provisions. We were both careful not to slam our car doors at that hour. I looked at the RV again. Bruce was gone. We all but tiptoed toward his driveway. Gazing across the lawn through the open front door of his house, I could see an amber lamplight glowing restfully inside. There a woman was anything but restful, packing and hustling about.
A toddler wearing nothing but a diaper hopped out onto the porch and ran across the lawn like a little goldfish escaped from a fishbowl. By then I could see Bruce was on top of the RV. So we hurried towards the child, afraid he might run out to the road, not that there were any cars on the side street at that hour. The baby’s mum chased out after him waving a t-shirt like a net with which to capture a little goldfish. We greeted her. Bruce climbed down and joined us. I wanted to ask if the girl-pup was still there. We all said hurried hellos and happy-to-know-yous while trooping up the steps, through the house, and out to the back yard. The mother flipped on some floodlights and left us to return to her packing.
Outside in a large pen, two adult basset hounds stood baying, their unmistakable deep salutes sounding both curious and protective, “Ahhhhh-roooooh! Ahhhhh-roooooh!” For all their stoutness, the sire and dam were large specimens, both in their primes. They reminded me of a couple of draught horses, stable, stocky and strong, yet graceful as they ran along the fence-line like ponies on parade. Their white-tipped tails were festive banners. With the adults in the pen were a large puppy and a little one, no others. Two more must have gone after we hung up the evening before. The breeder brought out the big pup, a male. He was a wriggly tri-color with dark brownish-black markings around the eyes, a chestnut saddle, and white legs and feet. Robust and long, he was a good size for four months. I stared at the huge sire, whose ample penis just about dragged on the ground. Then I looked over to Rick. “We were hoping for a female,” he said.
I held my breath.
“Female? Oh. Well, she’s just a runt,” the breeder said, plopping the male back into the pen to be inspected by his anxious mum. “You have first-pick of what’s left. I thought you’d go for the male. But sure, if that’s what you want.” Out came the little girl.
She was quite small, also a tri-color, but with a soft reddish-brown around the face, and beautiful magazine-photo eyes. She started right over to me. I’m on the small side, and guess dogs may mistake me for a child. They catch my attention, or I catch theirs, and they gravitate my way. Wagging with enthusiasm, I could swear Iggy was smiling. Sniffing the ground like a cartoon, she stepped on one of her ears, tripping and rolling forward, then hopped up as if nothing had happened, and, with the momentum of the tumble or her embarrassment, ran faster towards us, her ears like a flying nun’s cap in the breeze. (Did you ever see "The Flying Nun"?) She would, in the course of her early years, trip and roll forward like that many times.
Wearing her thick soft coat like a cozy-blanket around her neck and shoulders, she was the cuddliest, cutest thing. After lying on her back at our feet for a good tummy rub, she stood for several pats and hugs, helping herself to a few slobbery licks. Then her big floppy paws padded a circle around us in the long grass before she dashed toward the house, nuzzling open the screen door. The toddler met her there and they wriggled and hopped about, squealing like long lost pals.
“Now, you’ve gotta keep your eyes on a basset,” said Bruce as we made our way to the house. “They have a mind of their own, and it pretty much follows their snout. They’re amiable enough, but you must keep them on leash when they’re not in the yard, because they can be over-enthusiastic when they get on a scent trail. They’re notorious for getting lost.” Inside, the puppy quickly made the rounds, thumping with her big feet on the hardwood floors and tiles while the baby toddled after her...
For Your Writing Practice:
1. Tell about a first meeting with someone who struck you favorably or unfavorably. What were your first impressions?
2. Write about something very sad...adding comic relief to give the reader a break at some appropriate juncture ("They don't call it comic relief for nothing, folks," I've recently heard).
3. Tell about a type of dog or other animal that you know very well, adding traits about the species or breed that are unique, and which you've experienced in a very personal way--remember to write what you really know...not just what you've read, and not just what you've done. (If animals aren't your thing, substitute a sport, hobby, town or something else you've experienced uniquely, over some time, and in a very personal way.)
Good luck and happy creating.