Callie, the First and the Last

The back garden thrives with life this colorful, fall morning: Doves bob across the ground beneath birdfeeders eating fallen seeds, some bluebirds and brown-headed nuthatches take deep drinks from a birdbath, and the cold-tolerant pansies turn to face day’s first sunburst, but the gate to the garden no longer needs to be fully closed, the “poopy bags” are no longer needed, and the screen door to the porch no longer will be scratched by an impatient paw, the abelia bush will no longer shake as it is used as a backscratcher, no longer will a set of inquiring eyes ask when the next treat will be given, the wicker chair in the library no longer will need to be kept empty in case a nap becomes necessary, no longer will the broom or vacuum be barked at as it is cleaning a floor or rug, and Mary Ann’s “brown dog coat” will no longer be needed on cold, winter nights, no longer will a beagle stand on my footrest for me to scratch her ears, and no longer will the click-click of toenails announce her walking to the kitchen to investigate what’s for supper. Callie, our 15-year-old beagle, died in Mary Ann’s lap this morning after Dr. Shivers administered the shots. Her grand heart finally failed her, and one lung filled with fluid; so like many loved animals, she was gently “put to sleep.”

Callie was Mary Ann’s first dog. She was rescued with her two brothers when they, mere puppies, were found in the middle of a busy street.  She was given to Mary Ann, but eventually, Nolan the abandoned hound and Mickey, one of Callie’s brothers, came to us. That’s quite a pack for a woman who never had had a dog before Callie– who came first and left last. But over the 15 years of life with Callie and her mates, Mary Ann discovered the joy of life with dogs. Especially hounds.

Fifteen years shared with a beagle carries many memories. As a young dog she sat under one of the hackberry trees of our Shenandoah Valley farm peering into its branches for the squirrel she had chased, and neither rain, darkness, pleads from her owners could convince her to end her vigil. Always playful, and Mary Ann and I still laugh at the memory of her pulling a ear of Nolan with her teeth in an attempt to get him to run and play. She loved company and two weeks ago she ran circles in our garden when Judy and Mike came for dinner-we like to think that was her way of being polite and welcoming. An open car door could only mean one thing and unlike other dogs, she looked out the windshield in anticipation of an adventure or things to see, no head of hers would hang out a side window seeing what was past. During her last ride to the vets, she perked up for that memory moment when she realized where she was, but her sweet head too soon drooped back onto Mary Ann’s lap. When we moved to Lake Norman four- and one-half years ago, the hounds rode with me. Of course, she sat in the passenger seat, the alert surveyor of all that was coming. While Nolan and Mickey always obeyed her commands, she never found the courage to remove any cat from her chair or bed. This past summer when we extended our garden fence, she enjoyed walking on the sidewalk to the end, sometimes looking back over her shoulder as if to clarify that her walk was permissible.

All of this and more. But physical failure demanded that our sweet Callie go. As sad as that is, we are a better couple for having shared fifteen years of life with her. Now, two days after her death, the back garden holds its abundance of life, but there is no little beagle who will walk along the sidewalk to survey the newly expanded space while glancing over her shoulder.  And the gate need not be tightly closed.

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