Requiem for Harriet

Dearest Friends and Family, Your words of sympathy have meant the world to us. Here is the little sacrifice I made for our loving and loyal friend. Love, Malka

Requiem for Harriet, 5-27-02, Memorial Day
As always these days, I’m in the casita trying to make a deadline, but today is different. Ozzie are Harriet and keeping me company. They have never liked being in here with me, generally pacing, panting, and staring at me until I return them to the house. But today Magdalena is not here, and Harriet is dying. She began throwing up Thursday night, a sign of the end.

By Friday, we saw that she had declined dramatically, no longer able to have even five or ten minutes a day of playfulness. The wagging tail is my sign. She’s been sick for so long, over a year, maybe two now, so it’s no surprise. Still, you’re never ready, and a dog friend is so hard to lose, because the relationship has been simple and pure. We have no unfinished business; it’s all love. They are flanking me at this moment, each panting and not knowing what to do, but I couldn’t leave them alone in the house. Harriet has been following one of us now for months. She doesn’t want to be alone, or so it seems. They will fall asleep soon, I hope.

When I first brought them in here and looked at them beside my desk, it was so sad that I could hardly bear it. Then I thought, ‘You have now, a wonderful, quiet day to be with the dogs, Ozzie and Harriet, the little guys we picked up almost fourteen years ago. Get over it and enjoy the moment.’ So that is what I am doing and we’re doing our favorite thing, eating. The grey people (Chaya’s name for them) and I enjoyed a mid-afternoon snack of tofu salami, matzah, and cheddar cheese –it was all I had down here that was already made and they would like.

Harriet liked the snack a lot, and would have eaten lots more if I’d let her eat their fill. They were so normal in their eagerness that for a second I forgot that we are going to put her down tomorrow. I wish that she would just die by herself but it’s not likely. The pain comes up again and I move it away to reflect on the good times we had together in her long, mostly happy life, despite being a nervous little dog who always seemed stressed.

When we met them, they were nine weeks old. Ozzie was my pick, the next was Gay’s. Characteristically, she insisted that I decide the second dog. Harriet didn’t have the same soulful eyes and didn’t grab me the same, but we agreed on her. They were well-bred, confident puppies, Harriet more opinionated than Ozzie, until Hailey drop-kicked Harriet at thirteen weeks, explaining that she “spilled the dog and kicked her as hard as I could.” Hailey was three. After that, Harriet barked like crazy, didn’t trust children, and cowered whenever she was petted. Otherwise, she was intelligent, affectionate, and dominant over Ozzie by virtue of being smarter and more demanding.

He was Buddha, she was Janice Joplin. In time I took to calling her Mouser because she was considerably smaller than Ozzie, and because schnauzers are ratters. She was a great hunter and had a good sense of direction. The half dozen times they escaped for a few hours, it was always she who returned first, or at all. She was the better looking dog because of Ozzie’s overbite and being a little hefty. He was the mellow fellow, she the more interesting, higher maintenance dog.

They were a hell of a team. We took them to Dad and Ri’s for a weekend when we were going out of town. Perri, their bichon frise, thought that he’d let Ozzie and Harriet know that this was his house. The schnauzer sibs cornered him and let him know who was in charge. He didn’t give them a bit of trouble after that. Three years ago, I glanced idly out the window to see the dogs calmly, seriously, and methodically, eating a rabbit as large as Harriet. They didn’t leave a tuft of hair, and when they were finished, they slept like lions for ten hours and awakened with a new look in their eyes.

Maybe Harriet is going before Ozzie because she’s had a more difficult life. Her second trauma came in Idyllwild, where we’d let the dogs out by themselves to pee in the morning. They’d come back ten to fifteen minutes later. When they were about two years old, we heard Harriet bark at the front door to be let in. She rushed into the house, but what caught my attention was Ozzie taking off after a coyote. It was eight a.m. in the winter, with a foot of snow from the night before. I took off after him,screaming at the top of my lungs, ran across the meadow, and saw another coyote join the first one. I anticipated watching Ozzie attacked and devoured before my eyes. Then the miracle happened. When the coyotes reached South Circle Drive and started running down the road, Ozzie turned back.

Back at the house we found Harriet shaking, her back soaking wet, not with blood, however. Then we saw a puncture on one side of her. We rushed her to the vet who says that Ozzie may have saved her life. Her wet rump suggested that she was in the mouth of the coyote, and Ozzie saved her by chasing the coyote and causing him to drop her.

When she was six, she got out the gate–this happened so many times I don’t want to think about it–and we didn’t realize that she wasn’t around until we were ready to go to bed. We found her in the yard unable to move. We never knew what had happened. The emergency room doctor gave her a shot that caused her to go into shock and she was failing fast. We got a good vet who came to the house, hydrated her, and said that the next twenty-four hours were critical. He thought a car hit her, and her leg had a hairline fracture. It was never as strong again and she pulled through to live to hunt with Ozzie. As recently as a year ago, the dynamic duo cornered an unfortunate little squirrel that had fallen down a chimney into the house, and Harriet delivered the mortal bite.

She was a serious talker; she and Magdalena had long conversations while Magda ironed. She was fussy with her food and was never on a diet, as Ozzie always was. I wonder how long he’ll survive without her, poor guy. Tomorrow Magdalena, Gay, and I will go to Dr. Hinko, who said that they would live until twelve at the most and has kept them going until now, and he will put the Mouse out of her misery. There will be only one Sweet Lips left, and that’s how it goes. It’s sad but I’m going to be happy all day today that we’re all still here, and tomorrow I’ll be glad that she is no longer hurting and only a memory of who she was just a year ago. Wow. No matter how inevitable, it’s sad and it hurts. I look at a photo of the two of them a few days after we took them home and I wish so much that I could roll back the clock to that day. I want the years back.

I’ll miss her, of course, but it’s been a long time since/ her high-pitched bark at every bicycle or horse; her morning chats with Magdalena; her biting Ozzie’s legs to get him to play her cleaning his ears and eyes and vice versa; long walks; and her kinky pleasure in drinking out of the hot tub right between one’s neck and shoulders. It was usually Gay she did this with, because it made me queasy. She also loved any brackish water, the grosser the better. It was as if she liked its flavor better.

Nothing good should die! I’m still four years old on this one. I thought that she might see summer. I hope Ozzie will. One year I won’t see summer, either. I’m straining to live with this reality, not be frightened or grieving. Harriet’s death is a reminder of my death. Her life of nearly fourteen years has been most of the time Gay and I have been together. All the days are gone now, not just Harriet.

Meanwhile, I’ll imagine that her spirit will sigh relief when her poor little body stops working. She’ll go off to dog land, meet Oscar sniffing in the celestial forest, and they will compare notes. Whatever love, loyalty, courage, service, and joy they brought to earth remains here forever. The world is better for every good dog that has ever lived.

God bless you, Mouse. The best we can do in loving you is to let you go, and I hope it’s right. May you feel at the very end, just for a split second, the joy of being set free and may you see yourself flying through the doggy door, Ozzie straining to keep up with you, as you two tear out in pursuit of a squirrel or cat. Every time I take the ridge walk, you’ll be there with me, running ahead to sniff and investigate, trotting back to us from time to time. I will always feel your warm silky fur as you lay in my lap, belly up, offering grunts of pleasure. And Gay and I will remember all your years with us; part of us is with you now.



Postscript: When I was fourteen and my beloved parakeet died after a night of struggle with some mysterious disease, I opened my journal, wrote for an hour, and learned two things. Writing and remembering is good for grief, and that I liked writing.


6/4/02. Harriet, you’ve been gone a week now. For a day and a half, I nearly drowned in tears. They subsided until now, as I write, about you. There is holiness in the love between people and dogs. They allow us to exercise an early, primordial part of ourselves, the time when we understood each other without language. Ozzie is stone deaf, yet when I stand near him while he sleeps, he looks up at me.

Harriet, you’ve left a hole in the family constellation. Everyone feels the hole, and the three of us, Ozzie, Gay, and I grieve together. It hurts so bad that I confess that it almost breaks my heart and faith. Sometimes life can be so painful that it doesn’t seem worth it, but then I remember: Solomon, meeting Gay, giving birth to my firstborn, a swim in the Aegean, the peace of Idyllwild, ordination and my whole family with me, Max and Betsy’s wedding, a life of such blessing I don’t have words. You’re gone, Harriet, Rita’s gone, and it’s just the beginning. I don’t know much, but I do know this: all the pain has been worth it.

Surprisingly and happily, Ozzie is doing fine. We were concerned about pining, so we gave him extra attention for a few days. He’s become more playful, more like you, Harriet, and has become a kisser, as you were. He even looks a little like you. Thank you, Mouse. Every little hop and skip that he takes reminds us of your hind leg stretched vampishly behind you when lying down, your dog breath, and your passion for potato chips.