La Contessa Argentata

They say when you take a dog into your family, she gives you her heart. They don’t tell you when she dies, she takes a piece of your heart with her, but so it is. I’ve had to put my beloved Tessa down. I always knew she wouldn’t live as long as my other dogs had. After all, she had serious health issues—a non-functioning thyroid for which she daily took soloxine, an impaired liver that required the daily maintenance herbs milk thistle and Sam-E.

And while, at 12 years and 11 months, she was old for a large breed dog, still, her eyes

Tess at Christmas 2012

Tess at Christmas 2012

were bright and filled with the intelligence and warmth that so drew me to her.

About a month ago, on a Saturday night when our vet was closed, Tess suffered a startling case of bloat that, while unaccompanied by the twist that could have made it far more lethal, did require emergency care, including an overnight stay at the care center. As far as we could ascertain, the bloat came without reason. We hadn’t deviated from her daily routine or feeding. In any case, when I brought her home, she was much weakened and shortly after that began to have trouble navigating. Her hind legs trembled. Her front legs wobbled at the ankle joints. She weaved like a drunken sailor when walking. We tried Rimadyl but with no effect.

Within the week, she could no longer climb stairs and my husband took to sleeping with her and Dash, our male Weim, in the den rather than leave her alone.

She began collapsing, her front legs giving out, her hinds sliding out to the sides. She couldn’t rise, but patiently waited, her trusting gaze following which ever of us was with her, knowing that we would lift her up. The collapses became more frequent until at last, she could not stand either on her own or with help.

It was time.

Tess at 4 mpnths

Tess at 4 mpnths

I’ve always known that as a responsible pet owner I would face this part of her life, would have to make the decision to end it. And, as a parent of a human child, I am always aware that as much a family member as any of our dogs are, they’re still dogs. None of that helped when it came time to say goodbye.

At our vet’s office, both my husband and I stayed with her, soothing her, kissing and hugging her, petting her while our vet administered the sedative and then the final IV of drugs that would stop her heart. We wept, each of us in our own little silo, alone but together in our grief, and left her lying there. She’ll be cremated and her ashes returned to us. Although I’ve always known she was mine and she bonded primarily with me, my husband requested her ashes be buried with him when his own time comes. Strangely bittersweet, I did not demur.

In time I know I’ll be able to look back and laugh at the wonderful, loving life she shared with

Tess watching me take her picture

Tess watching me take her picture

us—the way she would show us which cookie she wanted, or, when we forgot, remind us of the expected treat she always got at the end of our Chinese take out nights. I’ll be able to laugh at her play with my husband, sneaking up behind him and biting his jeans pocket and hanging on for dear life as he jumped in surprise. I’ll laugh as I remember the look of complete disdain she fixed me with the Halloween I dressed her up as a pumpkin, and how she turned her back to me rather than have her picture taken. I’ll be able to laugh at how she hogged the bed.

But now, all I hear in bed at night is her breathing in my ear, and the rapping her nails made, as individual as her own arthritic gait.

Having Dash is a blessing and a pain. He’s here to cuddle and hug when I’m down, and his care distracts me from my pain. Of course, he flaps his ears like she did, and some of his glances mirror hers, which makes my heart ache. But he isn’t Tess. He couldn’t be even if he tried. Which is as it should be.

As my other dogs before her, she was one of a kind, and as I recall each of them with fondness and a smile, I wait patiently for the time I can do so with Tessa.

Tessa afield

Tessa afield

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