The day we went to look at the house, she was there on the street, watching us as we drove by. Then again on the day we moved in. She was out on the cross street, a busy road, herding a child to safety. She stood tall and weighed well over 100 pounds. Her coat was pure white but often filthy after she took to the woods or the brook.
At first I feared her. Shepherds, in general, I feared. When I was a child, there was a shepherd on my street that would chase me when I came home from school. I learned to start running from the stop sign. This was a mistake. Running only made me more tantalizing. Then I started taking a short cut through yards, but still there was no escaping her.
This white dog was no different, I believed. I avoided her.
Out running one day, she approached me, barking and then growling. One of my neighbors drove up and I told him how afraid I was of her. He said, “She’s harmless.” I wanted to believe him, but I wasn’t sure I could. One day I held out my hand to her and she licked it. Then she let me pet her. From then on, we were friends.
She had accepted me onto the street once I let go of my fear. Actually, she accepted me before I let go of my fear. I was the one holding back.
For the past four years, she’s been a constant on this street. Standing in her yard. Lying in the road. Cruising up and down to make sure everyone’s homes are in order. She’s been here watching us. She was sixteen years old.
Over the winter it was clear that she was starting to fail. Her head hung lower. She moved more slowly. Then, this spring, she followed someone from her house as he ran with his dog. On the way back, she lost the use of her back legs. She was stranded in our yard. My son and I talked to her, encouraged her. I was worried that she would die and we would witness it. I was worried she would die. Instead, she used her two front legs to pull herself across the street into another yard. She rested a few minutes and then stood.
She made her way slowly down the road to her house.
Dogs are amazing in their pain. Briefly it is visible and then it is covered over. They will not show it. Our old dog had been living with pain for a while. We brought him into the vet in earlier December and he told us outright that he would likely not be able to make it through Christmas. Making the decision to let him go was excruciating. The second he died, I begged for him back. “My friend,” I said. “I want my friend. Come back. Come back.” I yelled this out in the room, in the vet’s, on a Sunday morning. The vet had come in specially to help us. He did not want this dog to be in pain.
My friend. We had gotten him after my mother died. For years, I spent more time with him than I did with any other living creature. We were a pack. The last morning, I felt the soft fur behind his ears. Most dogs have that same soft fur behind their ears, I’ve found. It’s their puppiness. Their vulnerability. We let him go because we had to.
The last time I saw her was one of the hottest days so far this summer. She stood in her driveway, swaying. Her coat was blowing out. Her paws were filthy. I was going to stop the car and say something to her like I normally would but I drove on.
Day before last they knew it was time. She’s gone now.
I think of her with gratitude for helping me let go of one of my fears. It’s never too late to let go of something that’s holding you back. A dog taught me that.