After losing my lap puppy, it was time to fill our lives with another dog. A visit to the pet store led me to fall in love with the fat wriggling puppy with the biggest feet and the most soulful brown eyes I’d ever seen. How could I resist? My husband always wanted a big dog and my daughters and I decided to surprise him. We hid Katie in a big box, but before he could open it, Katie popped her head out and lavished him with a very wet puppy kiss.
She was clumsy, friendly, and perfect for our family. That first summer she romped around the back yard, pink tongue lolling from the side of her mouth, her tail waving like a banner. She chased butterflies and bees with the same enthusiasm she used for chasing the kids. Rain didn’t deter her. She resisted coming into the house when there were raindrops to taste and puddles to explore.
Summer soon changed to winter and Katie experienced her first snowfall. It was a beautiful portrait in stark black and white, her lanky black body leaping through the pristine white blanket of snow, her long nose digging craters and popping out with a snuffle.
By the following summer, Katie had nearly grown into her feet. Her coat was thick, long and silky and she left pools of hair wherever she lay on the carpet. Katie had a thick white main, white feet and a white tip on her tail. By then, she had accumulated nicknames: Doodle-doggie and Katie-bug. Somehow she knew all three names were hers.
Katie cut her teeth on the bottom shelf of our built-in bookshelves in the family room. My husband was more tolerant of the dog’s destruction than he would have been with the children.
When our grandson was born, Katie was very gentle with him. She’d patiently take him for rides on her back, and she allowed him to fist his hands in her long hair and pull himself up.
Katie loved to eat anything and we had to be careful not to leave food within her reach. One night she got hold of an unopened bag of “fireballs,” a very hot candy, and all that was left when morning came was the empty bag. Katie loved popcorn. Her mighty jaws would snap as she caught each popped kernel mid-air. Her reflexes were fantastic, for she never missed a one, no matter how far off the mark we’d toss it.
Learning tricks was easy for Katie. She’d shake hands with anyone who came to visit, making friends easily. When asked to give her other paw, she’d do so. One of her favorite games was “stacking hands.” I’d place my hand on her paw, she’d place her free paw on mine, I’d add my other hand on top and she’d pull her bottom paw from the pile and place it on top of mine. “Speak” was another of her favorite tricks, though her loud bark could lift the rafters. So we taught her to speak softly, and she’d whuff a little breath of air instead.
When Katie reached full growth, she weighed ninety-five pounds, but she still thought of herself as a lap puppy. She couldn’t climb into our laps any longer, but she’d wiggle backward until she sat on our legs, her front feet on the floor for support. She spent many days sitting on the stairs of our bi-level looking out the front door at the children playing. Her rear-end would be on one step, her forelegs two steps below. She greeted everyone at the door with bounding enthusiasm, and though she wanted to make friends with everyone, she managed to frighten many would-be salespeople away. I’d clutch her collar as if struggling to keep her from attacking. When I’d tell them I wasn’t interested in what they had to sell, they gave no argument.
Katie became fast friends with our cat Sara. Eventually we added a new cat, named Prinny, to our family, and though Katie tried to befriend her, the cat ran to the basement where she stayed for two weeks. Eventually she made her way upstairs. Elated, Katie hurried to welcome her, but Prinny stood on her hind feet and batted Katie’s face from side to side. We roared with laughter. Katie’s tail wagged wildly for this was all a big game to her–Prinny had no front claws.
Katie loved family gatherings, but her favorite holiday was Halloween. She loved greeting the costumed children. Her size frightened some of them at first, but Katie’s friendly smile and wagging tail soon won their hearts.
She was the gentlest soul I’ve ever known. She loved her toys and spent hours at night chewing on the soft rubber; the squeaking nearly drove us crazy. Never once did she destroy a toy, though her strong jaws and sharp teeth could have snapped a grown man’s arm with one bite.
Too soon age began to take a toll on our beloved friend. Her black face began to pepper with white and though her mind was willing to play, her body didn’t cooperate as well as it used to. Our walks came to a halt when one day she sat down unable to make it the half block back home. Still she remained my faithful guardian, always to be found close to my feet when I’d sit in front of the TV or the computer. When I showered, she’d wait outside the door to escort me to bed. Then she’d lie quietly on the floor beside me keeping guard until the light of day.
Eventually her hips became riddled with arthritis, her legs giving out when she tried to manipulate the stairs. Since we live in a bi-level so she had to climb stairs to get outdoors. She was much too big for us to carry and we feared having to put her down. But my husband, always the inventor, designed an elevator for Katie. He cut out part of the railing on our deck, built an elevator box and attached it to a pulley. Katie knew exactly what to do. She wasn’t afraid to walk into her special box and wait patiently while we cranked her down. She had the run of the yard and when she was ready to come back in, she’d climb in and we’d crank her up again.
As time moved on, I knew it would soon be time to say good-bye. It grew harder and harder for her to stand. But she’d still follow me from room to room, and I began watching television in my office so she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs to be with me. We had many long talks about life and how much happiness she brought into our lives. Her soft brown eyes gazed into my soul touching me with her understanding. When the end came, I wasn’t prepared. I don’t think I could ever have been prepared to say goodbye. For fourteen years, she brightened our lives.
Her ashes are buried in the lily garden in our back yard, marked with a cross my husband made with loving care. I still see Katie’s shadow walking quietly through the house from time to time. I know she’s still guarding, keeping vigil until we meet again.