Saturday, July 29, 2006

More of a Tribute to my Dog
Because after nearly 19 years of being a dog, she deserves it.

Duchess came to us one year when my Dad went to visit my Grandma for his birthday. She was his surprise birthday present. I was in jr. high at the time. We picked him up from the airport, but as he walked off the plane he seemed more concerned with a bit of "cargo" that he had to go get from the cargo area.

The "cargo" was a small dog carrier with a very small, three-week-old puppy inside. She was in a shoebox inside the carrier since the carrier was much too big for her. Because my dad is probably the most honest person on the planet, he had told the airline that he had a pet when he boarded the plane. So they made him buy a ticket and equipment for her to ride underneath the plane with the luggage. But later the flight attentdant told him if he had been quiet about it, he could have brought the puppy on board and held her the entire way.

But this was our first sign that Duchess was a survivor. She was too young to be away from her mother, but she made the flight home riding with the luggage, and she joined our family. We named her Duchess because every Boston Terrier that my dad's family has ever owned goes by the name of Duchess. It's tradition. Her mom was Duchess, and her sister is Duchess. That's just how it is.

Over the next few weeks, my mom fed tiny Duchess by letting her lick formula from her fingers. That's the only way she would eat. She was so small she couldn't climb up on the patio from the yard, or climb up the stairs. She could fit in the palm of your hand.

But, soon she was bossing our other, larger dog around as if she owned the place. Typical, younger sister thinking she's in charge.

We have lots of happy memories with Duchess. She could jump really high. Like, ridiculously high. One year we had this ginormous mound of wrapping paper from Christmas, and Duchess had somehow gotten trapped on the other side of it. All of a sudden she came flying over the top of it, without even a running start. She may have been a superhero dog. We're not really sure.

She was smart, friendly, and she assumed that everyone who came to the house came to see her, instead of us. A bit of an ego, but then she was a very pretty, very outgoing dog. How are we really to know that people didn't come from miles around just to see our dog, merely using us as an excuse to get in the door?

Duchess and I used to nap together. And by "together" I mean I would lay down on the couch for a nap, and when I would wake up I would find that Duchess had climbed onto the couch and draped herself around the top of my head. Odd, yes. But it worked for us. It took me awhile to figure out why my head was always so hot after a nap.

She loved to play, but she was never mean. The general evening routine was for my dad to get down on the floor and harrass the dog, getting her to snap at him and chase a ball. They both loved it, even though my dad usually came out of that with his hands scratched and bleeding. It was their way of bonding.

During the last few years, Dad and Duch seem to prefer a more tame method of bonding. He sits in his chair and tucks the dog in his arm, and they stay that way for hours. Hard to tell who likes it more, him or the dog.

After my sister died, Duchess was a tremendous source of comfort for our family. She knew something was wrong, but she didn't know what it was. Yet she would snuggle in and stare at me as if she wanted to help. We spent lots of time together. I didn't have to talk or pretend to be okay, she didn't ask questions. We just sat together. Funny how we had my sister for only 21 years, and Duchess for almost as long, at 19 years. Significant family.

One day a few years ago, my dad called to tell me that Duchess was really sick and had been diagnosed with cancer. They lived in Colorado at the time. It was a pretty serious situation, and he told me if I wanted to see her again I should probably come out there right away. So, I took a couple of days off of work and immediately flew out to see my dog. That may sound extreme, but with all my family's been through, at that time losing the dog without another goodbye was pretty much unbearable. She was 12 or 13 years old at the time.

Of course, when I walked in the door of my parents' house, I found Duchess literally running around the house. Um, she seemed fine. And in fact, they had made some changes to her diet and that seemed to solve the problem at the moment. I flew all the way out there for an "emergency" and the dog seemed perfectly fine. She still had the tumor, but since this seemed not to be the day my dog would die, my mom and I went shopping. She gave us a major scare, but this was just another indication that our dog was a wonder dog. Cancer? Whatever. No problem.

Really, I think she just needed an excuse for more attention. Turns out she lasted another 6 years with this "cancer" and no real treatment for it except changes to her diet.

Duchess also had a broken vertebrae. We're not really sure when that happened, but her vet said that according to her xrays she shouldn't be able to walk. Broken vertebrae? Whatever. That dog never stopped running.

A couple of weeks ago she "helped" my dad and I install new counter tops in their kitchen. And by help, I mean she got in our way, got in our feet, stumbled all over the tools and the counter tops while they sat all over the floor. She was very involved. She always liked to help with things. But she could no longer see very well, she was unsteady on her feet, and we're not entirely sure she could hear us. But, she still liked to be in the big middle of everything.

I almost can't remember not having Duchess. She's just a staple of the family. She's moved with the family, and later with my parents. She's traveled with us to visit Grandmas. She follows my mom around the house and helps her with everything. They hang out together all day. She's adaptable and easy going. She's survived the extreme cold of living in Colorado, and she's survived ridiculously hot Texas summers. We've had lots of the dogs over the years, but Duchess is the only dog we've had from start to finish, 3 weeks old til death.

So to Duchess, I thank you for your many years of hardwork in keeping our family together. You are a constant that we will miss tremendously. Sure, you're just a dog. But you were an important part of our family through ups and downs and everything in between.

I realize you can't read. This is as much for me as it is for you...

Or maybe you can read. You are, after all, our Wonder Dog.


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