On Monday I had to put our dear dog, Tess, to sleep. She was nearly eleven and was suffering from lung cancer that had invaded her chest. Her days had dwindled to lying motionless, almost unable to move from crippling spinal arthritis, with stertorous panting and incontinence. She had been on barbiturates for several weeks to manage her discomfort. Her eyes would open and her tail still wag when you called her name — but Tess had such a loving nature that her tail might wag even in a coma.
I bought Tess in the spring of 2007. It was a difficult time for our family. Our wonderful dog Ned had died the previous November. In December Jon had moved home from college in a depressed Sophomore Slump. In January DH had been diagnosed with cancer.
My solution to all this stress was to buy a dog. I know it sounds slightly nuts. However I felt the whole family needed a boost and, in particular, my big, sad teenaged boy needed a gentle creature to hug and hang onto.
I did realize we didn’t have the time or emotional resources to cope with a puppy, so I went searching for a retiring breeding bitch to buy as an “instant dog.” Here’s Tess’s pin-up as a two-year-old.
She was now four and had borne two litters. She had a long AKC registered name and the call name “Jewels.” We are not a family given to jewelry. I bought her and re-named her Tess.
Having spent her first four years in a concrete kennel, Tess came to us with some serious baggage. She was not housebroken and seemed unable to learn. She also had extraordinary anxiety. On her first evening in our home, when DH raised a remote to change the television channel, she cowered away from him in terror. I called the breeder, who explained that her husband had trained the dogs with shock collars. She also mentioned that she’d once sewn up a gash on Tess without anesthetic. After hearing that, there was no possibility we would return Tess, despite the housebreaking woes. (The solution was that we were housebroken for her, and kept her on a schedule of walks.)
Though worry would always be a part of Tess…
…it became a small part. She blossomed into a happy dog.
In some respects, like Winnie-the-Pooh, Tess was a bear of very little brain. However, her heart was boundless.
Though her breeder had described her as inclined to be snappish with other dogs, she was the soul of patience with Toby, our young cairn terrier mutt, wrestling with him gently for hours.
Best of all, she was wonderful with my children. As I’d hoped, for Jon, from the very first, she was a source of unconditional love. For years he would come home and immediately flop on the living room floor as the dogs swarmed over him, Tess licking his face.
If he couldn’t get down on the floor, she’d reach up.
For Lucy at eight, Tess was an immediate member of the family.
All Lucy’s friends loved Tess, too.
She was ever-available for snuggling.
It will be noticed that Tess’s figure changed from the svelte days of her pin-up photo. Part of it was motherhood, but most of it was Tess’s inexhaustible love of eating. Her breeder had confined her to a half-cup of kibble and a cup of green beans per day. In our more relaxed household she grew rather more portly.
Lucy always walked the dogs together before supper.
Her signal to Tess that it was time to go home was to scream, “Food time!” She once captured Tess’s happy response in this tiny video clip.
In her early years, Tess accompanied me down to the farm.
She supervised the building of the cabin in the winter of 2007.
And the garage in 2009.
Unfortunately, increasing arthritis in her spine eventually made climbing into the truck impossible. She became more house-bound. Still, she radiated gentle patience. One of her favorite pastimes was gnawing on beef bones. Though at intervals I removed the extras, she maintained quite a collection.
DH referred to Tess’s L.L. Bean dog bed as The Bone Throne. She would occasionally leave these sharp trophies lying around on the floor, which made any barefoot walk through the apartment after dark a wincing experience.
Tess had two classic resting poses. In the first, she crossed her paws demurely.
Here she is waiting hopefully with Toby’s food bowl, just in case someone walked by and happened to want to fill it.
The other was her favorite position for sleep.
You always knew everything was right with the world when Tess was snoring upside down.
Tess was diagnosed with incurable cancer in mid-May of this year. By June 10, her last morning, she was breathing with difficulty and drugged for pain. As she became sleepy she tried automatically to roll onto her back. She lifted her paws but then groaned loudly and flopped sideways again. We knew it was time.
The vet gave her the shot while Tess lay wheezing on her blanket in our car. I was rubbing her ears and telling her what a good dog she was when her eyes closed, she sighed, and her heart stopped beating.
She is buried deep at the base of the giant boulder down by the pond at the farm.
Our family will always remember sweet Tess.