Having recently lost our 16-year-old, one-eyed Jack/Rat terrier, Rosie, as quiet as she was, how silent the house has become. I see her everywhere and nowhere: her empty bed beside the blue hutch, the image of her rising, stretching, her docked tail wagging with happy anticipation of breakfast, lunch, dinner or countless treats before having a deft trot around the house and barn before returning for another long nap.
When you live on a farm, animals generally just show up. People dump dogs and cats frequently in the area, and 15 years ago Rosie was one of them. It took Paul and me no less than six months to catch her. She would take a treat from our hand, then scurry backwards, eating it with the frantic anxiety of a last meal and bark repeatedly at us, bouncing off her front paws, snout pointed skywards.
Then she saw Bonnie, our late-beloved Jack, and that was it. Rosie was besotted, and Bonnie, an only child, was horrified, jealous and only begrudgingly allowed her to tag along while insisting, often with bared fangs, to remain Alpha dog. Rosie cheerfully acquiesced and in that blissful union Rosie lived her life with Bonnie dictating when they would bark, eat, bark, chase a squirrel, nap, bark, pee and bark.
When Bonnie left us at age 15, having outlived even the most generous prognosis given to her failing heart, Rosie was bereft. She had said goodbye to Bonnie and even sniffed her motionless body after Dr. Evans assisted her into an endless sleep in our home, but like a woman married 50 years to a man who paid all the bills and took care of all household issues, Rosie had no idea how to function.
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Paul and I had to help her know when it was time to go outside and when it was time to eat. Always a dog who bolted her food because, we wrongly assumed, when she’d been dumped she never knew when she might eat again, she began to eat slowly, in a detached manner. It was then that we realized that Bonnie’s greediness would lead to her scarfing all her own food as well as Rosie’s, so Rosie gobbled her kibble before Bonnie shoved her snout into her stepsister’s dish.
We loved Rosie as much as she would allow us. Her allegiance was to Bonnie and owing to PTS from horrific prior abuse, regardless of the fact that she had lived and slept and cuddled with us for 15 years, she would still tremble and indeed cower when we approached her. We would have to sit and allow her to sidle up to us in her own good time. And she would. She ached to trust, but the damage done so many years ago clung like cobwebs within her instincts.
Even with four cats, the house feels quite empty and it borders on the absurd to have a farm without a dog, or dogs, spilling out the front door and excitedly underfoot as I walk across the yard to the barn each morning. The squirrels have grown bold and have stripped the orchard of its apples and make no attempt to even move from my path as they eat their stolen booty as I walk past. There are mice in the tack room for the first time in years, and I’ve put away the stainless steel water dish I used to keep in the barn aisle.
Perhaps we’ll get another dog. Perhaps we’ll take a break. I can’t bear to kennel a dog, so it might be nice for Paul and I to actually take a trip somewhere together instead of one of us remaining home. But for now my eyes remain fixed on the driveway where I watched both dogs roar to the mailbox and back in a pointless, yet exuberant tradition that greeted each day for 15 years. Should that image begin to dissipate, then there will, I think, be room for another dog to take up residence.