I have spent all morning lying in the sunshine on the floor with Hannah the Lab, knowing it’s our last morning together. She can’t get to her feet by herself anymore. It came on fairly suddenly last week, this final diminishment. My husband and I can see that it’s confusing and upsetting her to be lifted to her feet, stagger a couple of steps, and collapse, only to have us lift her again. It’s not that we wouldn’t take care of her like this indefinitely. We would. But it would be for us, not her.
She used to retrieve anything we threw and some things we didn’t. She never saw a tennis ball she didn’t love. Or a child. Or another dog. Or an adult, a toy, anything edible or inedible. I have to stop listing things now.
She’s been frail for a while, but still able to get up, go outside, even walk an eighth of a mile on good days. And her spirit has been intact; her tail still thumped happiness, and when one of us came home, she’d get up and greet us at the door with a toy as she always has, although she could no longer knock us breathless with her joy dance. At night, she’d bring her cloth Frisbee or rope to us and insist on her old game of tug-of-war. She could still hold her own, even though she’d often drop onto her haunches to keep pulling. When our friends’ Lab lived with us while they traveled, it was Hannah who dropped toys on poor Maggie’s head, trying to force the youngster to play with her. This happened even early last week. She had great heart for play. She has great heart, period. And, oh lord, her appetite. She could eat bricks.
We got her as a ten month old puppy from Lab Rescue. She took us through beginning, intermediate, advanced obedience training (that advanced training was of spotty efficacy), an agility class (she passed, my husband didn’t), and then therapy dog training. She was a therapy dog, and a wonderful one. Unprovokable, exuberant, loving.
We spent fourteen years hiking through falls and springs, summers and winters. I remember the enormous leap she’d take off–well, off anything–into water. The Hannah leap. The canine cannonball. She’d tear into the woods on unauthorized forays away from the trail, sniffing out something to eat that smelled as disgusting as possible. She’d leave me fuming, shouting, “Hannah! Leave it! Don’t roll in it and don’t eat it!” She saw us through the deaths of three parents, our daughter’s wedding, and the births of two grandchildren with her loyalty, the warmth of her body by ours, zealously licking our tears of sadness or gratitude.
So yesterday and today, Alan and I are taking turns holding her, feeding her steak, telling her thank you and how much we love her. I stroke her rich chocolate fur and say “Strong girl, brave girl,” again and again. She licks my face. I am trying to get myself to “Good bye.”