Tonight my parents called me to say that they had to put down our dog, Callie. She's had a rough time for the last few years, and they recently found out she's been fighting cancer. Tonight, after a good day, she collapsed and couldn't move her hind legs -- she was paralyzed. She was nervous and vocal, struggling to pull herself along, and my parents went to the ER vet, and they put her down.
We've had Callie since before I started high school, I think, back when we lived on Chain Bridge Court. Although we thought she was a lab when we got her at the shelter, she was a mutt through and through. As she grew her body maintained its pinhead-like proportions, her head small like an arrowhead, her tail arched proudly over her back. She had a scar on the bridge of her nose from the night our other dog, Belle, first came home, when I was a junior in high school -- they got into a scuffle and Belle's bite drew a thick bead of blood along her snout. My dad and I got in the car and Callie sat in the middle seat in the back, perfectly still, stoic, as we drove in the dark to the same hospital where she passed away tonight.
Her most notable trait, without a doubt (excluding her lovely pinheadedness), was her vocal stylings. Any time one of us walked through the door, you would hear the clatter of paws on hardwood, and then, once you were in sight, you would be greeted with a long, heartfelt "AroooORRooOWOWWWOORRRRR" for several minutes. This was the sound of a happy dog, letting loose with an ugly old yowl to celebrate the return of her pack. Coming home from college, I couldn't wait to hear that sound. She wasn't very friendly with others -- she barked at other dogs and had little use for people; it was remarkable to me when she finally started accepting my grandparents -- so she would constantly bark at guests in our home, cars in the street, or neighbors walking by. The sound of the doorbell would make her go berserk. In the old house she had her perch in the office where she would sit and watch the world go by through the slats of the blinds. From outside you could see her little brown head, ever vigilant, darting from side to side to follow all the action.
We all loved her, for so many reasons. Late at night when I would be up watching SNL, she would meander over and just sit next to me on the floor, staring intently as I absently rubbed under her neck or stroked her back. Sometimes she would growl contentedly, a low pleasant purr. Several times over the years I had dreams where she could talk and we would converse about various topics; on the mornings that followed it always seemed as if she were giving me the eye. On Christmas mornings she would sit at the top of the stairs with my sister and me as we waited to hurry down to the family room.
I remember Gene Weingarten writing about how having a pet teaches children about love, and how the death of a pet is so affecting because it reflects our entire lives in one brief existence. Callie was such a good dog -- loyal, affectionate, beautiful, protective, quirky, prickly, and endearingly stupid. My parents have spent these last few months caring for her with all the love and attention they would lavish on my sister or me, cooking her eggs and chicken and steak (and of course giving some to Belle so she wouldn't feel left out). They treated Cal like a queen in these finals months. I was glad Callie had a good day today, glad she could move around and bounce up the stairs for one more day, enjoying her home and the people who loved her. She lost a lot of weight as the end came, and her face is covered in snowy gray, but you could still see glimmers of the puppy she was. She was such a good girl, our Callie.