Today would have been Keisha’s tenth birthday but five weeks ago we learned she had cancer and four weeks ago she visited the vet for the last time. For a week Peter and I together mourned her loss, at home, received condolences from family, friends, and dog-walking acquaintances, and poured over hundreds of photos in search of the best one to hang on the wall between our offices. We felt keenly both her absence and her presence. We cherished encounters with dogs who knew us and sensed, as we’d seen Keisha do with others, our need for their brand of comfort, and it wasn’t long before we knew that there would have to be another canine companion in our lives before summer came.
During my first days at Fool’s Paradise, while Peter was in Halifax, we arranged to meet a pup. We liked her. We would bring her home from Misty Pines soon after my term here is over. We named her Georgia. I returned here to immerse myself in my work-in-progress and Peter left the too-quiet house once again to visit friends.
It has been easier here. Tears have all but stopped flowing. When I think of dogs at all, I think about a new pup I don’t even know, as much and possibly more than the senior dog I loved for almost ten years. I tell myself that’s okay, it’s good to look ahead, to move forward; and Keisha was never a jealous dog, she wouldn’t mind at all that we’re ready to lavish attention on another member of her tribe. But I wonder if the timing of this writing retreat has denied me the opportunity to fully grieve, and to cherish memories of the dog who enriched our lives so deeply. And so, instead of leaping immediately into the lives of my characters this morning as I usually do, I’m turning my attention to Keisha.
As I write this, I long to wrap my arms around her (and smile at how she leans away); to stroke her lovely coat and her soft, expressive ears; the see and hear her bounding into the water and come swimming gracefully back with the ball or stick we’ve thrown. I long to say her name and see her dark eyes look at me full of expectation for what wonderful thing might be about to happen — or she might just twitch her eyebrows, not even lifting her head. How is it possible to so adore a dog’s eyebrows?
But I’m also looking forward to getting to know another pup, to find out what her quirks will be, endearing and otherwise, what brand of joy she will bring into our lives, and . . . Another puppy? What have we done? Bringing home a puppy, someone has said, is a recipe for heartache.
It has been a hard season for a number of dog people we know. Gone in recent weeks: Lesley’s Murdo, John’s Rupert, Trudee’s Dudley; in recent months: Jennie’s Mosa, Anne’s Keira, and Corrie’s golden retriever whose name escapes me. Going back not much farther, countless other dog’s we’ve known whose passing their people have deeply mourned. I suppose we would all like to believe there’s a great dog party happening somewhere, with all our dearly departed canine companions in attendance, romping and sniffing butts.
Some of the condolences from friends, on hearing that Keisha was gone, assured us that dogs leave us and yet remain with us. Keisha will certainly be with me today, perhaps sitting with her back to me waiting to be patted, perhaps reminding me that rain is not a reason to stay inside, almost certainly appearing suddenly from wherever she would sleep here, when I start peeling the carrot that will be part of my lunch. She might leap to ‘catch’ it in her mouth, or she might take it ‘gentle’ from my fingers. I may have to give an extra chunk or two. It is, after all, her birthday.
Happy birthday, Keisha.