How many times will I look out the front door to see if she's back? Or walk along the road calling her name and whistling?
On Saturday, our old shaggy dog Savannah went off on her last adventure. It was still dark out and snowing lightly when I let our gray-and-white Shitzu mix who had lived with us for 16 years out the front door for a few minutes on our private road. She spent her life in a fenced yard but occasionally I gave her a special treat of going by herself to our mailbox to check out the neighbors before trotting back up our driveway, with her plumed tail wagging, and a happy grin.
When she didn't come right back and the snow was coming down thick, I began calling her. She's deaf so it didn't really do any good, but I didn't know anything else to do. I followed her paw prints to the end of our walk. Then they disappeared. Just disappeared.
Throughout the day Bill and I searched surrounding woods, and called neighbors. He walked a mile down Lawyer Drive onto Wildwood and back again, looking underneath anything where she might have taken shelter.
We figure she probably just went off to die, on her own terms. These last few months I've taken to checking in the mornings to see if she was still breathing. Sixteen is old for a dog. We knew it.
She had slowed down a lot in the last year, I realized, from looking at this picture I took of her and next-door dog Mars in the snow in February 2010. When I called his mistress, Gayle, about Savannah she told me the black Chow mix had died Dec. 30 while they were all together in South Carolina. It's appropriate two mailbox buddies passed on about the same time.
Last week I noticed Savannah lying very close to Hairy Dawg, our blind 12-plus-year-old Lhasa Apso. I thought maybe she knew he was fading. Instead, she might have been telling him goodbye.
She was not an alpha dog. Youngest daughter Haley picked her out from a litter a former boyfriend's family had. Mama was a Shitzu, Daddy was a traveling man. My guess was a speckled bird dog. Savannah always did have her nose to the ground while walking on a leash. She put up with a lot. Haley dyed her lavender one time. I put a sweater on her in October and took her and Hairy to the Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul's Episcopal.
She was the one dog I brought with me when I moved to Salem 11 years ago. Bill and the other dog stayed behind in Madison Heights to go through the accumulated "stuff" of 26 years, three children and leftovers from two sets of their grandparents.
Our yard wasn't fenced then, and Savannah didn't do well alone by herself during the day. She leaped puppy gates closing her in the kitchen – the only room not carpeted – and another time nosed the kennel down the stairs until it and she was standing on her nose. So we adopted Hairy Dawg to replace Putney, our Lhasa who didn't wake up from a grand mal seizure when we were in the throes of moving.
Hairy led Savannah out and in the doors, and gave her somebody to lick and play fight. I wasn't sure how he'd do without her, but he's managing.
Two years ago on Mother's Day morning, Savannah brought me a present when I let her out the back door into the yard in the dark. It was a half-grown baby possum she dropped at my feet. It was, of course, playing possum. I picked it up by the tail. One eye blinked open, so I took it outside and freed it across the fence.
This week just after Bill and I watched the last-minute field goal by Auburn (Go, War Eagle!) to win the national championship over Oregon early Tuesday morning, a possum I've dubbed Cracker climbed onto the glass-topped table on the front deck and gobbled down the rest of the homemade cookie crumbs left for the birds. Savannah's rescue, maybe?
I'll always see her come running down the walk after one of her short adventures. This was her final adventure – one she chose.