The day I turned 21 I woke up to Tim sitting beside me, grinning and handing me a birthday card with a puppy on the front. The card read something like, "Welcome to the world of wet noses and sloppy kisses". He was going against his own good sense and getting me a puppy for my birthday! We were so poor and busy with school and work. We didn't have the time or resources for a dog, really, but I wanted one so badly, so Tim did what he always does and he gave generously. Looking back that puppy was the most extravagant gift he could have given. Nothing could have made me happier. I loved her so!
She was everything I admired - strong and fearless and lively and smart. The first time she saw a herd of goats, she took one look at them and rounded them up within minutes. I'll never forget those goats squeezed together on top of their little house in fear, looking down at this tiny dog tearing around their pen, barking at the top of her lungs. She was totally in control. We all stood there laughing in disbelief.
There was something so intelligent about her. Not obedient-intelligent, but I've-got-a-mind-of-my-own intelligent, which was frustrating sometimes, but infinitely more entertaining than your average dog. For years I secretly expected her to just open up her mouth and have a conversation with me. (Not really. Well, actually yes I did.) She never did talk, but she understood what we said, and she was always looking out for us. One night we fell asleep with a candle burning. I woke up to Ella standing on me, barking at my bedside table which had caught fire when the candle burned down. After that I had a whole new respect for her, and when she barked I payed attention.
I used to feel bad that she lived her life as an indoor dog. She would have been so at home on a ranch or a farm where she could hunt critters and boss the other animals around. But even living in small spaces all these years, she never lost her wild side. When we lived in Austin she would corner scorpions and bark until I found them. She made it her business to patrol my parents' pool and remove anything floating in the water. Just the other day we were out working in the yard and she caught a lizard and tore it apart before I could stop her. And heaven help the stuffed squirrels and UPS deliverers she encountered.
As wild as she was, she needed me too. When she lost her leg and nearly died of an infection I held her through the nights when she was so sick and shivering. I fed her and gave her medicine every day. I made her special foods when she was sick. I walked her and bought her a little puffer jacket for the winters in Connecticut. I bathed her and groomed her. When her joints started to hurt I bought her a soft bed that would keep her warm and cozy. I worried about her and fussed over her. Some people get insulted when I say this, but she was my first baby. She was the first creature who ever depended on me and for twelve years I took care of her.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our girl. She was suffering and her old spark had dimmed. I have a feeling she had been in pain for a while, but she was going to keep doing her best for as long as she could. We wanted to let her go more than we wanted to keep her here, struggling as she was. So we made an appointment with the vet. I fed her some ham and while Michael had his afternoon nap she and I sat on the back porch in the sun. I took off her collar and scratched her neck just the way she liked it. Our last hour together was peaceful. I hope it made her happy.
She's gone now and the house feels empty, which seems silly because Michael more than fills the place with his noise and activity. But I know the difference. She was my friend and my protector and my first baby. I'm so thankful she was mine. And I'll always miss her.