In my imagination, she frisked up ahead in the snow, eyes wild with play-lust and laughing in that tongue-hanging way.
In reality, she had not been well enough to run unfettered for a couple of years. Yep, Drifter finally lay down for the last time a week ago and drifted clean out of this life.
We are sad. We are relieved. Hard to reconcile those two emotions, although it’s a little easier to admit when the loved one is a dog.
Then again, I’m pretty sure my wife won’t have the patience with me in my dotage that she had with Drifter in hers.
A dog couldn’t be better loved; let me put it that way. She lived with her mother and her siblings until they all passed and gave her a few years with the humans to herself. She had the kids as kids, no better time to be a dog, or a kid. She lived on acreage. She minded just well enough to win a blue ribbon or two at the county fair during that stage in her and our daughter’s life.
She smelled sweet and leaned into hands and kisses from beginning to end. She ran with the pack, but she’d often skip whatever the other pups were barking at outside or mealtime for a little personal people time. I always suspected she’d outlive her sister and brother for the opportunity to be an only dog for awhile.
The damn things do grow on you. I’m not sure why. Puppyhood and old age are fairly miserable times for the humans. Middle age ain’t all that much better. They require consideration always, not to mention feeding, minding, picking up after and lots of quality time outside regardless of weather.
That’s logic speaking there, and we all know people are rank failures as logical beings. We’re suckers for creatures that need us, that look at us the way dogs do, that don’t need to talk in a conversation, that comfort and play with us, that give us a chance to express affection, that don’t often have better things to do when we need them.
Ours were all strays. The first showed up at our Santa Barbara apartment dragging a long wire line he broke. He was an orange barrel of a golden retriever we named Drifter. His owners eventually showed up and told us they were leaving town and couldn’t take the dog. That was fine, because we were leaving town and could take a dog. He was an escape artist with us, too, though, showing up at the newspaper where I worked generally around lunchtime. He used the crosswalk always, down to looking both ways.
Other strays joined the family before and after the kids came along. They’d just sort of show up and wiggle into our hearts, I guess, before we could find homes for them. This happened in southern California, northern California, the middle of Illinois, upstate New York and again near San Diego when a dog that had been hit by a car and only my wife could save popped out three puppies, one we named Drifter.
I just covered 30 years in those two paragraphs. I’m not complaining. It’s just that we’ve done our service to caninity, and I’m looking forward to freedom from kennels, hiding them at motels, poop patrol, vet bills and, well, burying them.
But Drifter’s presence did not vanish with her last breath. It wasn’t just the last few difficult months, when we had to be alert for her getting lost in corners during her endless pacing. At least I don’t think it was that.
Memories of her leap out as I walk the house. I see her in my mind, the young and vital her, the one always ready to play or flow in and out of the house with the pack, barking all the way.
And so I saw her dashing and rolling ahead as I ran my road before the Broncos game. There she was, shiny black and just reveling in running around and being a dog so alive in the moment.
I guess I wasn’t quite as ready to let her go as I had thought.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2920.