We were lying side-by-side on soft green moss in the shade of an old pine. Me on my back, hands cupped behind my head. She so close I could hear her breathing. I talked about things bothering me at the time as she stared into my eyes. Though young, I realized how lucky I was to have her. She blinked. Such long eyelashes. But I didn’t love her for the long eyelashes, or for the perfectly white teeth, not even for the way she adored me.
She was still looking into my eyes when she burped, wagged her tail twice, and continued chewing on a stick.
I loved her because she was my dog.
Mitzi was a collie. I was nine when we went as a family to meet the litter. I don’t remember whether we picked her or she picked us, but in short order we were on our way home. Mama and Daddy in the front seat while in the back seat my sisters and I fought over whose lap the fluffy puppy should ride home on.
It would take a long time to tell about her lifetime and anyone who’s loved a dog knows the telling doesn’t do it justice. You have to have felt it. As a puppy she was constantly hugged and kissed. As she grew up she became our best friend. And in her old age she earned the respect of family and friends as an intelligent, faithful old girl. We treated her like a member of the family.
Because that’s exactly what she was.
During her life Mitzi accompanied us kids on hundreds of trips to the pasture, ran countless miles behind our bikes, and joyfully ratted us out during games of hide-and-seek. She was a happy constant when we returned from school. Not only did her tail wag, her entire backside swayed vigorously when she saw us hop from the school bus. Many families have several dogs over the years. My family did too and we loved them all, but for me that collie puppy was the dog. Thirteen years into her life, I was then twenty-two, and that happy old collie was still the dog.
When she fell ill it happened fast. I went to work but called home to check on her. Mama hesitated, sniffled a few times, and told me Mitzi died. Back in those days, in spite of regular vet trips starting with her spaying and continuing with regular vaccinations, heartworm prevention was not what it is today and sadly Mitzi was a victim.
I hung up with Mama and went directly to tell my boss that I needed to go home. When she asked why, I said there had been a death in the family. My phrasing had nothing to do with dishonesty. It was the genuine reason. I’d heard she had a dog too so surely she would understand.
She expressed condolences and asked who died. When I said “my dog” there was a slight pause before she giggled and said she couldn’t let me go home for that. With no one to easily cover for me I’d have to stay. Undaunted, I left her office and immediately talked to my coworkers who agreed to cover for me, no problem they said. I returned to tell my boss I’d made arrangements for coverage but she repeated no, I had to stay.
There was nothing I could do when I got home. Daddy had already buried Mitzi at the edge of the same pasture she played in all her life. Nothing I could do, but to stay at work with that sense of grief would have been pointless. It was Friday, so on Monday I’d talk to my boss about it again. If I still had a job.
It was an emotional weekend. We cried, laughed, talked about Mitzi and talked to Mitzi. Family and friends called to say they were sorry. They treated her death as though she’d been a member of our family.
Because that’s exactly what she was.
Early Monday morning I learned from coworkers that my boss had been very unhappy about my leaving on Friday after she’d told me to stay. I started working and awaited my fate, but my boss didn’t come in that day. On Tuesday she was back.
I tried to read her face as she walked towards me. She said nothing as she handed me the envelope and walked away. I looked at it, puzzled she’d said nothing, and ripped it open expecting my dismissal letter. It contained nothing official, just a small card from her to me.
A sympathy card.
I learned later just why my boss missed work the day before. Sadly, her own dog had been hit by a car over the weekend and hadn’t made it. My boss was understandably upset and stayed home that Monday. She told upper management her absence was due to a death in the family.
Because that’s exactly what it was.
Stuart M. Perkins