Thursday, May 18, 2017

Honoring Bonnie

 April 9, 2001 - April 13, 2017

There's no easy way to say it so let me get it over with. Bonnie, the eldest of our two dachshunds, is dead. She died four days after her sixteenth birthday. Cancer.

Bonnie wasn’t the sweetest dog our family has had over the last 40 years. That's a distinction shared by Clyde, who looked just like her, and our surviving dachshund, Billy Ray, who will be 14 in August. Nor was she the smartest. That would be Sybil, the doxie-corgi mix we got three months after we married. Sybil could have probably done algebra if I been able to teach it to her. With her swayed back and bland brown coat, Bonnie wasn’t beautiful like the three long-haired dachshunds we’ve had, but she did have a marvelously expressive face, especially in her final years when it turned gray. She wasn't sociable, like our two beagles. Bonnie pretty much kept to herself unless she wanted something. She didn’t get excited and dance in circles to express her gratitude like Ocean, the little terrier we found begging on an Aruba beach, whenever he saw his food bowl being filled.

What Bonnie, more than any of the others had, was presence. She didn’t just occupy space. She reigned over it. We jokingly called her the Princess Royal but the fact is, she was the Queen. Bonnie, who got her start in an Arkansas puppy mill and, owing to her physical flaws, had been marked down 50 percent by the Connecticut pet store where we found her, had a sense of entitlement.

Everyone else’s comfort was secondary to Bonnie’s. She considered herself entitled to occupy whatever part of the sofa we wanted to lie on and the front passenger seat of our car on our long drives between Connecticut and Florida. She pushed us off our pillows at night; rested her face on my chest as I read, pawing me to make me put down the book and scratch her neck; nudged Clyde until he gave up his spot in front of the heat or AC vents whenever she decided she was too hot or too cold, and ate not only her own food but Billy Ray’s. She tricked him out of his breakfast almost every morning by pretending to see something at the door and barking. When he ran to the door to see for himself, she would double back and inhale his food.

Those traits in a human would be objectionable but in an 11 lb. wiener dog they were hilarious and endearing. We knew we were in the presence of royalty and that our wishes came second to Bonnie’s.

We miss her terribly but we’ve been through this before. From the day we got her we knew we’d likely outlive her and that our hearts would someday be broken. 

Every time we’ve lost a dog we’ve run out within the month and brought home another. We tell ourselves and our friends we’re getting another dog because the one left behind is sad and lost but that’s not the real reason. We do it because we are.

I spent the four weeks after Bonnie’s death searching online for another dachshund. A female dachshund. An adult female dachshund A smooth-haired adult female dachshund. (I prefer smooth coated weenies, my wife likes the long-haired versions.) A smooth-haired female adult dachshund no older than two because, having just had our hearts ripped out, we want one we can love a good long time.

I scoured and – looking at some as far away as Seattle – but almost all were mixed with something else, usually Chihuahua. In past years that would have been fine but Chihuahuas, supposedly, aren’t good with children, and we have toddler grandsons who visit often so we can’t take that risk. Other dogs were too old, or had physical or medical conditions we're not prepared or willing to take on.

I checked out dachshund rescue organizations from Miami to Boston and Chicago. I visited local animal shelters. I scrolled through hundreds of listings on craigslist and hoobly for a thousand miles in every direction and spent hours visiting breeder web sites to see if any had adult dogs they no longer wanted or needed.

Nothing fit.

I told my wife that maybe we should get a puppy and went to a pet store. (I know pet store dogs come from puppy mills and don’t want to encourage them but Bonnie came from one, gave us 16 wonderful years and I was desperate.) I even took my wife to see a litter I found on craigslist. I assumed we’d come home with one but we left empty-handed.

My wife finally said that maybe, this time, we should wait a while before we got another dog. I reluctantly agreed. But I didn’t know she was looking, too.

Sunday morning she found a dog on a breeder’s website that had just become available, a three-and-a-half year-old male long-haired dachshund. Everything I didn’t want. We called, jumped into the car with Billy Ray and drove 220 miles each way to pay him a visit.

It goes without saying we fell in love with him and he will be joining our family as soon as he is – ouch – neutered. He has been a stud but his Playboy days are over. Billy is a male and we don’t want the two of them to get into pissing matches. Neutering should take care of that. His name is Josh, an awfully nice name for a human much less a dog, but we’re planning to keep it because he already answers to it.

Nothing will bring back my Bonnie to me but Josh is going to help heal the hole in our hearts. He will need training and that’s going to take a lot of time – time I look forward to spending as I get to know him and he gets to know and trust us.

For the first time since Bonnie left us five weeks ago today, I can talk and think about her without getting a lump in my throat or misty-eyed.

Curled up as I know she is on heaven's most comfortable sofa, I have a feeling she approves. 

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