We’ve just buried our dog Mari and now I come to praise her.
Despite my advanced age, she was my first real pet. I’ll qualify that last statement: my family had a dog when I was a baby. His name was Spotty, and I’m told that we had him for about a week. When Spotty was so rude as to commit the puppy-like sin of peeing on the garage floor, my mother immediately banished him to the Land of Elsewhere.
Flash forward about 40 years: my older son Charlie (then around eight years old) started dropping hints about wanting a dog, and I couldn’t think of any compelling reasons to say no. So, when our neighbor’s two dogs (one was a German Shepard and the other was a mix of Springer Spaniel and German Short-haired Pointer) had a brief and unforeseen May/December fling, we soon found ourselves with a new member of the household. The boys named her after one of Charlie’s classmates (no, Mari the Human is not a bitch).
The potty training didn’t take long. I recall a few nights of sleeping on the couch downstairs so that I could take her into the back yard, where I stood shivering and begging her to take care of biz. She caught on quickly. I was amused to see the Pointer emerge: if she saw a squirrel or a bird in the back yard, she’d slowly point her puppy paw at the potential prey.
Early on, we kept her in a crate in the basement if she was by herself. We got home one afternoon and heard Mari barking like crazy. When we let her out of the crate, she immediately dashed up two flights of stairs to Charlie’s bedroom . We discovered an open window with the screen kicked in: someone had climbed up our deck and had broken into the house. The only things that we found missing were a handful of coins and a Kerry Wood baseball card that been in Charlie’s room. The police found a teenager a few days later who confessed to having broken into several houses (including ours) in our neighborhood. I like to think that Mari’s barking (even as a puppy, she had a frightening set of lungs) motivated our burglar’s hasty retreat. We stopped keeping her in the crate from that point on, and our little princess/sentry had free access to the whole house.
She quickly became Queen of the Domicile, greeting most house guests at the door with a pillow in her teeth. She mooched whatever scraps of food we were wimpy enough to give her, in addition to her nightly helping of crunchy carrots and lettuce. And she barked like the Hound from Hell at any dog rude enough to walk in front of our house.
And of course she was the Queen of the Great Outdoors, too. My eyesight was sharpened on our daily walks as I scanned the horizon for other dogs who had the audacity to be walking at the same time. If we saw one approaching, we’d get to the other side of the street because a face-to-face encounter was sure to not go well. Humans, though: that was another story. Mari always stood patiently if someone (especially a little kid) wanted to pet her. The only risk was a wet kiss, particularly if the youngster had soda/candy remnants or dried snot on his face.
In the backyard, the neighbor’s cats got an extended lecture when they came into view. Mostly, though, in classic canine fashion, it was the Chasing of the Ball that gave Mari so much pleasure, but with a few subtle and crafty variations. She would often refuse to drop the ball, and if I tried to grab it from her she would use evasive tactics. A mere twitch of my leg could provoke her into a lightening-quick first step that reminded me of Walter Payton. She faked me out of my shoes more times than I care to admit. Other times, she would casually drop the ball a good fifty feet from where I stood, making me fetch the ball for her! This really annoyed me at first, as I thought, “Hey! I’m the one with the opposable thumbs and I’m the one walking more or less erect. Don’t you know the Social Contract with regards to who is the fetcher and who is the fetchee?” But I came to appreciate it as a manifestation of her intelligence and sense of humor. And, besides, who among us can’t use a little more exercise? She also delighted in dropping the ball where she knew I couldn’t get it, like under a bush or the trampoline. I’d have to tell her, “I can’t get that. Bring me the ball.” She’d then bring it to me, smug and satisfied that she’d made me beg.
In the Fall of 2010, at the age of twelve, Mari had some cancerous growths removed. She came through the procedure with flying colors, but we felt that we were maybe heading into the home stretch. The vet told us to wait and see, and that she might have a nice and happy several months ahead. She did have a nice stretch, but we took her back to the vet in early February 2011 when several lumps reappeared. The vet told us what we had already intuited: the end was rapidly approaching. Still, she was pretty much her normal self for a while, even cavorting and ball-fetching after the great 20″ Blizzard of February 2011. Mariana and I went to L.A. for a wedding on the last weekend of February, leaving Mari in the care of our two boys. We were nervous that she would take a turn for the worse while we were gone, but, again, she was fine.
You hear stories of death being deferred until the return of loved ones. I’m convinced that that was the case with Mari; we returned home on Sunday night and she started vomiting on Tuesday night. Bad timing: our vet is never in his office on Wednesdays (his assistants do office work there for a few hours) and we sure as hell weren’t going to take Mari anywhere else. We made an appointment for Thursday morning. In the meantime, she stopped eating, barking, and, eventually even stopped drinking water. She also was having a progressively harder time moving around. The vomiting continued every few hours; we sometimes succeeded in getting her outside for that. As I write this (3/27/11), there are still a few remnants of her getting sick in the back yard. Is it weird to wax nostalgic over some fading traces of dog puke? Guilty as charged….
Thursday morning came, and knowing what was about to transpire was a very surreal feeling. And incredibly sad, too. Mari was so weak at this point that I had to assist her into the car. The five minutes in the car weakened her to the point where she had to be carried into the office. She was lying on the table like a sack of potatoes when the vet came in to briefly discuss what we had decided to do. He agreed with the decision and then gave her a shot of some kind of relaxant “to take the edge off” (not there was any) and that he’d come back into the room in a few minutes. I held Mari’s paw and looked into her eyes for much of this time. My intention was to attempt to give her comfort, but I soon realized that the Mari that I knew was longer there: she had really been gone for about 36 hours and what remained was merely a remnant. As I stared into her eyes for the last time, I felt that she was telling me that this was the right thing to do, and that if she couldn’t chase a ball, bark at cats or lick our plates, well, then what was the point? I took comfort from that, and she had turned the tables on me for the last time, like getting me to fetch the ball for her. She was a clever vixen. The vet came back and gave her an overdose of barbiturates. He had always commented on her amazingly strong heart, and, poof…..just like that (maybe two minutes) it was beating no more.
Poof: Mari be Gone. Here is my cue to be tying things up in a tidy bow, replete with pithy observations on mammalian themes. I’ve never been all that good at that kind of stuff. I will say that our dear doggie still has a residual effect on my everyday rhythm: I start to make sure that we’ll have time for a walk, I expect to hear her come trotting into the kitchen within seconds of slicing an apple or peeling an orange, I glance down at the spot where her water bowl always sat: stuff like that. I never realized how ingrained she was to our household dynamic, even though it should have been obvious: Mari spent more time in our house in the last 12 years than did any of the resident humanoids.
Mari was a wonderful and surprising blessing in my life, and I’ll always miss her and recall her fondly. It’s goofy, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of her red rubber toy that was used to chase each other around the yard. It remains in its usual place on the garage window sill, ready for use. Somehow, though, I don’t think that I can convince Luke or Charlie into displaying the same enthusiasm for it that Mari had.