My mother's faithful Schnauzer Boz died this week at the age of thirteen. We all knew this sad day was coming, but it came on suddenly and we were as shocked as if Boz had been hit by a bread truck.
Mother called last Sunday to say that Boz was starting to have seizures and what did I think she should do. I drove out to Dickinson as soon as I could. There on the old couch in the den sat mother looking drawn and sad and tired. She was holding Boz against her chest and petting her head. Mother is 82 and the dog about 94 if we put them on the same biological track. But mother is 82 going on 60 and Boz was 94 going on 118. It was time. Boz is a miniature salt and pepper Schnauzer with a cropped stub tail and reworked ears that pointed up in a posture of comic alertness.
For the last year or so Boz was blind (cataracts), deaf, and apparently deprived also of her sense of smell. She had lost about half of her teeth. Several that remained protruded down over her little black gums in a droll snaggletooth manner. She was cheerful and loving as ever but she frequently walked smack into walls and furniture. When this happened, she pulled patiently away with a snort of self-disappointment and then threaded her way along the baseboards of the house as if she literally had mapped and memorized her territory like blind Audrey Hepburn in "Wait Until Dark" (1967). Mother carried her all over her little canine universe. I told her that Boz needed a seeing eye human and apparently had found one.
Lets just be clear. My mother loved that dog. No, that doesn't do it justice. My mother loved that dog as well as a living creature can be loved. When we finally went to the vet Monday morning to put Boz to sleep I overheard mother saying she would rather put me to sleep. When I heard the vet agree, I went out and sat in the car with the doors locked. My mother is just about the most self-sufficient person I have ever known, but she gave her heart to Boz the minute she met her as a puppy--the reckless love of total helpless surrender. Boz returned that love in full measure. Her favorite thing in the world for more than a decade was to sit in mother's lap and demand to be petted. If mother ceased to caress Boz for even a few seconds the dog would look up at her like a character in Picasso's painting "Guernica" and extend her long gray-white paw tenderly until it was hooked under mother's hand. That, or she'd nudge mother back into action with her black wet nose.
I used to roll my eyes at this. When mother left the room I sometimes told Boz off--"You're not the favorite, you miserable cur! She's not even your real mother. I bought you off the back of a truck in Chico, California, and I could call INS (immigration) and have you back in Stuttgart by this time tomorrow! You and I both know your nose is not naturally wet, that you go get a drink from your bowl (which, by the way, I bought with my allowance) before you do that nauseating wet nose routine." Then I'd do that gesture where you point two fingers at your own eyes and then turn them menacingly towards your sworn enemy--I'm watching you, Boz. She'd gaze back at me with a withering "what a loser" look and begin planning some new "totally adorable" gimmick to impress mother. I hope I do not seem petty.
Mother walked Boz twice a day all around Rocky Butte Park in north Dickinson, sometimes more than one lap. They formed some sort of band of brothers with other dog walkers and even exchanged Christmas gifts and birthday cards. And we wonder why bin Laden hated us. Mother and Boz kept each other fit and young. I doubt that mother ever loved anyone or anything more than she loved that dog. I can tell you this, she never sat around evenings petting my father's head, smoothing his beard, or adjusting his collar, and it has been more than 55 years since she wiped up after me when I wet the carpet.
Boz started out as my daughter's puppy. My late father had always advised choosing the "most alert looking pup of the litter," and that is precisely what I did. At the time i had no idea what a little nuclear reactor I had selected. Back then she could jump up onto a tall kitchen counter from a standing position. When Boz and I roughhoused she would tear around the entire house like a blurry Tasmanian Devil in gigantic figure eight patterns through multiple rooms, fraying the carpets like a backhoe and jumping up onto the ridge line of couches and bolting over the top onto nearby chairs, twenty or thirty times in a row as if she had received an injection of adrenalin. She invariably made me call the truce first. I'd roll over on my back exhausted and nap for the rest of the afternoon, while she trotted off to find other adventures.
She proved to be too manic for my six-year-old daughter so I asked mama if she would take her for a time and teach her some proper manners. Mother's previous Schnauzer had recently died and my father had died a few years before that--apparently for lack of petting (see above). Mother had that frenetic pup eating out of her hand (as it were) within weeks and neither of them ever turned back.
The more you think about this the more marvelous it becomes. Just how dogs decided in their evolutionary struggle that their best bet was to attach themselves to Homo Sapiens as "man's best friend" is one of the great mysteries, but cats have never done it (they just use take our food and shelter in return for their contempt), and cows and chickens bring very little to the equation. If you have read Jack London or watched a cruel dog owner you know that the fact that dogs forgive us our sins and weaknesses (every time) is little short of a miracle. That they seem genuinely to love us, to greet us effusively every time (our best friends and lovers don't do that), to cheer us when we are down, to cut the loneliness of a lonely life, to help heal us when we are sick, and to intuit and snarl at our enemies long before we recognize them, is literally astonishing. Boz was all of that and more.
On Monday morning at the first opportunity we had Boz put to sleep.
Mother held Boz close through the five-minute procedure, and Boz looked up at her friend and master and life companion in complete trust and adoration (and truly some expression of relief). Then for the first time ever I saw mother weep uncontrollably.
Afterwards, I drove mother up to Rocky Butte Park. I would not have missed last weekend for the world. It deepened something between mother and me (I would not have thought that possible), and it began to prepare us both for other losses that are coming as surely as a far-off thunderstorm. I loved that dog, too, though I wouldn't want the little beast to know that.