I first saw you on the internet. You were my rebound baby- chosen as I mourned the loss of my rat terrier Belle, a victim of a hit and run. Belle was fierce and protective, exposing her tiny canines to any creature who dared intercede between us. Her abrupt death was traumatic.
Wanting to replace Belle, I traveled to a farm in northern Iowa, to the Jack Russel Rescue. You were wild, slipping through my hands like a little white pig, wrestling away from my touch.
You were so nervous you vomited the entire ride home. I tried to comfort you, to hold you, but you were having none of that.
You were about three or four years old then, but you’d have never known- you had the wild spring of a puppy. My friends laughed at the chalk marks on my kitchen wall where I tracked your high jumps.
You weren’t interested in listening, or cuddling or learning. I wondered aloud to my son Sean, “What the hell am I going to do with this animal?” I meant it. You were nuts.
“You’re just going to love her, like you did Belle,” Sean said. Other friends suggested I take you back, but I couldn’t do that. I took Sean’s advice and loved you on your own terms.
That was the first lesson you taught me. I prayed for Grace, and named you Grace to remind me. I forgave you when you peed on the carpet and dragged rabbit entrails into the house. I protected you when you picked fights with dogs four time your size, and laughed as you ran manic in circles until you collapsed.
You needed a lot of exercise so we ran together in the days when that was possible for both of us. When you tired, you’d stop running, refusing to go on until you were ready. No amount of coaching or shame could motivate you. My little eighteen pound Jack Russell taught about clarity, decision and self-determination. You were unapologetically headstrong and defiant. Our power struggle was my second lesson.
As time pass you opened your heart. You let me rub your wiry neck, exposing your belly for a good scratch. But you were selective, only letting a few others near you. When Herb first met you, you flew into his arms. I was shocked because it was so unlike you. But you knew instinctively what I’d learn later. Herb was the man to love me and you; a good man who’d take care of us.
Small dogs live longer. I was lucky to share your world for sixteen years. Your age was never apparent until recently. First you lost your hearing, then your eye sight and finally your ability to tolerate the extraneous. You preferred your own space in the heated garage, away from distraction and noise so you could rest undisturbed. When friends came to visit, asking where you were, we’d open the door and show them the room we called the “nursing home.”
Of course, I knew your time to go was coming, but today was not the day I wanted to say good bye. You lead me once again dear friend. You stopped eating and drinking, finally needing my help to stand.
Today you could not walk and your breath, labored and heavy, let me know it was time to let you go.
We wrapped you in a blanket, crying all the way to the vet, trying to find the courage to let you go. You needed our help but God it was hard.
Both Herb and I sat crying, holding you, waiting for the doctor.
”Oh God, Herb. I suck at this. How in the hell am I going to be able to help you when this is so hard?” I sobbed.
He laughed and shook his head. “You’ll be fine.”
I held you today as you slipped away. I loved you through your last breath. Thank you for teaching me about patience, surrender, and grace. You were my champion. I miss you already.