Pets have an uncanny ability of ingraining themselves into the fabric of a household, so much so that their disappearance can cause great grief and disorientation to their owners. Such is the case with Rose, who passed from our household on Sunday.
An older dog when we took her in to our home last year, Rose was supposedly the runt of her litter, a fact confirmed by her diminutive 5-pound Pomeranian frame - too small for her breed but too big to be classified a "teacup." This suited her just fine, however, as she came to embody a singular personality as a dog among people, often little acknowledging some dogs and appearing frightened by others just as a hesitant human being might act around jumpy canines.
Rose embodied all of what defines unconditional love. She was raucous when we would leave the house and even more raucous when we returned, partly due to separation anxiety but mostly due to her sadness and excitement of being around us; she let us know her affection by remaining quiet and content in our presence, never making a sound or causing disturbance except to signal a potty break or needing some water. She was consistent in this undying love, our happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, and resignation nothing more than condition for Rose to either cherish or downplay. She made clear her position through the vigor she showed at darting after either one of us when packing a suitcase or loading a car, always angling to be part of the action and bring her joy along as well. It was at these moments where she displayed her greatest spirit, comforted in Wendy's arms or seated in my lap, tongue wagging and eyes softened as if in bliss. We came to realize that her energy was geared towards her ultimate wish - to become one of the pack.
Perhaps this is also what made her passing hardest as we were out of town for my sister's graduation. Alone in a hospital room after turning blue from a weak heart, Wendy's parents helped her valiantly - and appeared successful in stabilizing her condition - before cardiac arrest ended her life. We had to take a 9-hour car ride back to find her lifeless body, a Homeric ending to hold her one last time after losing the heroic battle. We hope that she knew her pack was with her when facing her greatest challenge.
It is only natural to want to do more for any of our loved ones, particularly when there is no more for us to do. We would give more than we care to admit for one last day with them, much less to be there for them in their last moments. But there is also the realization that this is part of the natural order of things, and we remember what we can for the time that we had together; the memories often sustain us and cement those special bonds that define our own existence for what time we have ourselves.
For Rose, the list of warm memories grows as the pangs of each wave of sorrow passes. Neighborhood walks, eating plants in the front yard, fuzzy paws slipping, and little burps after scarfing food. Bullying Wendy's mom with her cute little bark, readying her arthritic legs to walk, laying so peacefully under the desk while we worked, jumping excitedly into her bed in anticipation of leaving with the pack, sneaking out of barricades ever so craftily, finding mommy hidden in the house, growling to protect her greatest love, and hopping on to her hind legs to show how much she wanted to join us on the couch. Showing her sad face after peeing in the house, even when it was our fault for waking up too late to take her out. Snuggling up next to us laying on the ground. Devolving into putty in my hands when bonding over a belly rub. Resting so peacefully in her bed so as to snore a light, sonorous note. Wearing her winter parka with pride and positioning her little head to see beyond the fur lining. And always waiting, without fail, for Wendy to come up the stairs at that magic hour after a long workday when we were all so happy to reunite again.
Life without Rose will be quieter, less colorful, and less welcoming when returning home. It will take a number of days before we put her stuff away in boxes and overcome this feeling of sadness that has replaced her exuberance. But over time, our memories of Rose will remain to fill the void, even if the pitter-patter of her steps no longer follows. And she would love to know that she was always - and will always be for however long our memory remains - a cherished part of the pack wherever we may go.