Thursday, May 03, 2007

An Elegy for Ernie; January 8, 1989- May 2, 2007

Our sweet poodle passed into the poodle Summerlands on May 2, 2007 at about 6:20 pm. He died at home, with the loving help of his vet, Dr. Stemper; one of her helpers, Donna; and yours truly, a.k.a., Mommy. His passing was completely peaceful, and although it comes with much sadness, there is joy in knowing that this was the right time, and that he’s now gone on to something much better.

After a long, joyful, and enthusiastic life, Ernie’s body finally begin to realize its age. Plagued by failing vision and hearing and by increasingly severe arthritis, we all knew that it was time for him to take the grand vacation. Right up until the end, he tried bravely to enjoy his life, playing and wagging his tail a little bit every day and being cheerful and good natured. In the week before his death, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with him, curled up on the couch and just hanging out together.

Ernie was a good dog. He wagged politely at company, loved to be outside with me in the garden, and kept the yard cat-free.

Ernie was a devoted family member. He always knew when to expect the kids or Bill or I home from work, and would wait happily for us to arrive. On his last night—May 1—he was at the top of the stairs waiting for Bill when he arrived home.

Ernie was handsome. He was always strong and slender. As a young dog, he had sleek, bluish-black glossy wool and clear eyes. As he aged, his wool took on more of a charcoal tinge and grew thin, and his eyes clouded with cataracts. Toward the end, he lost the hair off of his ears and most of the hair from his back. Thanks to his arthritic back, he began to resemble a small black camel (thankfully, his discomfort was controlled with medication). To us, he was still gorgeous.

Ernie was an athlete. In his prime, he ran so fast that only a black streak remained behind. He could jump high enough to have his choice of anything on the kitchen counter.

Ernie was a nurse. When anyone in the house was sick, had surgery, etc., he would curl up next to them and rest quietly, as if lending comfort. When I went through years of near-deafness after my ear surgeries, he somehow understood and made himself into a hearing ear” dog, coming to the back of the house to get me whenever the phone or doorbell rang or a timer went off.

Ernie was very brave. Once when we were camping, he treed a bear that had come up behind Erin. He may have saved her life. On another instance, he shredded the hand of someone he believed was attempting to break into the house. (It turned out to be an unannounced contractor, but he was a good sport about it, after we paid the emergency room fees to have his hand and arm sewed up!)

Ernie was my devoted companion. With the exception of my family and a few friends, there aren’t many people I’ve known as long as Ernie. We saw each other almost every day—with only a few breaks—for more than 18 years. He slept in his little dog bed in a corner of my room every night. I’ve been in school for the last five years; in the evenings, when I studied, Ernie would settle into his little dog bed and keep me company in my home office. (This got even toastier after Bill bought me a small electric “fireplace” for the office—Ernie adored it.)

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I will miss this dear little animal. It is incredible, the bond that can form between human and dog. It’s been not quite 24 hours since he died, and the house feels soulfully empty. I know that the mourning will lessen with time, but right now, I’m just plain sad. Still, I know it was the right time to help Ernie cross over, and Ernie’s beloved doctor agreed. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and yet I am glad that we could do this final thing for him. As he died, there were three of us there, talking gently and stroking him, and telling him what a good dog he was. He didn’t struggle—simply lay peacefully there in his little bed and slipped away.

Ernie died on a full Moon day and one of storms: thunder, lightening, rain, and hail. Right around the time of his death, the sun came out. Shortly after, a glorious rainbow filled the sky above Milwaukie.

Ernest, you were such a good dog. I love you….Thank you for making my life so full.

Zub zub, Ernest.

As a special tribute to a wonderful poodle, see a rerun of his “Flying Dog piece, below.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dogs Who Fly (and the people who love them)

This morning, in those bleary moments of first-wake, sounds of the sleepy neighborhood seeping through the bedroom window, it suddenly occurred to me that Ernie had once again resumed efforts at learning to fly.

Ernie’s attempts at flight go way back. As a pup, he once launched himself from our 12-foot backyard deck, managing several seconds of flight before hitting the ground, unscathed.

He likewise made practice jumps from furniture, stairs, the front porch, and even from people’s arms, each time seeking the exhilaration of foiling gravity and soaring into the sky. It’s a noble calling, and one that many have pursued, both as hobby and avocation. The lore* of Poodle Flight is strong—some simply can’t escape its pull.

*For example, see: Collins, Roland, photographs by W. Suschitzky, The Flying Poodle (London: Harvill Press, undated, probably 1950's; might be pre-war), approx. 32 pp. Poodle named Mandy who talks to goldfish, misses Christina, a kitten friend. Or, the 'flying poodles' scene in UHF. A persistent Hollywood rumor suggests that the flying monkeys of The Wizard of Oz were almost replaced with poodles in the film version. Also, for historical completeness, don't neglect the stories of Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel, which have given inspiration and impetus to dog-fliers everywhere.

But as we know, gravity inevitably wins, and for a while Ernie seemed to internalize this lesson and turn back to earthly pastimes, keeping all four feet securely on the ground. This was especially true in the last year or two, as his eyesight failed and the infirmities of age began to settle in.

Things changed a couple of weeks ago. One night after I’d come home from school, Ernie followed me down the front porch, stopped midway, and then suddenly gathered up and launched himself into the black night. The landing didn’t go well. He crashed on the concrete walkway three feet below, limping and yelping with lip bloodied. The next morning he was good as new, but the incident made me wonder whether he’d finally give up and turn in his wings.

But a couple of days later, he tried again—this time launching himself off the corner of the bed. Alas, he hit the wall. The bedroom wall. And then sort of slid to the floor as if in one of those Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

He’s been quiet since, rethinking the situation. It’s a hard thing to readjust one’s dreams in the face of reality. But given his advanced age (going on 18) and poor eyesight, it may be time to leave the pursuit of flight to the younger poodles. That doesn’t mean he won’t still dream about it. Yesterday I caught him deep in a doggie dream that had him whining softly, all four paws stirring the air and his tail ruddering behind, no doubt steering him through the clouds.