A litter of eight puppies had just been brought in. They were Australian shepherd mixes, tri-color, mostly black with white socks and white markings on their chests, and brown highlights, although a few of them were mostly golden in color--we think the father was a golden retriever mix. A few puppies ran forward to meet us, but I was drawn to the one who didn't. She was the shy pup in the back, the runt. From the way she sat, folding her front paw, as she still sits today, and took in all the antics of her litter-mates from a few feet away, she seemed to me to be the pack's observer, the philosopher-poet, shy but thoughtful: the perfect match for me. I wanted a friendly dog, but I thought perhaps a really jumpy one might soon decide I was too much of a pushover. A quiet, laid-back one, I thought, would be the right fit. I later realized her standoffish manner was a sign of her independence, and that she has a very strong will, but in that way she's my match as well.
I called my husband and asked him what he was doing. He drove right over, and the puppy--we hadn't named her yet--perked up. She sat underneath him, looked into his eyes, and licked his thumb, sealing the deal. We took these photos soon thereafter.
Since we brought her home that summer, the dog has been the center of our lives. Kerry walks her every morning for an hour with two male friends and their dogs--we call this the gentlemen's walk--and I take her in the late afternoon, sometimes with a friend, sometimes with a student on campus, but often alone.
Zoe has traveled more than a lot of people we know. She has spent a great deal of time in Massachusetts, at the home of my sister, Mira, and her husband, Doug, and their dog, Sadie, whom we think of as Zoe's saucy cousin. She loves our North Carolina spring breaks on the beach. She was in Cleveland, Ohio, my childhood home, the day after my mother died (I had so hoped they would meet, as our mother was a dog-lover too), and she's seen much of Vermont and the state of New York, where we live.
In 2010, when she was six, she flew with us to France, where we lived and traveled for seven months. We were so happy to be in a country where Zoe could sit under the table with us when we ate at restaurants. Dogs are more welcome in France than any other country in the world. I think of France now as Dog Utopia. She spent her seventh birthday in a park in Rouen beside a flotilla of swans.
In late August of this summer, after some weeks of unexplained limping, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in her left hind leg. It was one of the worst days of my life. On September 1 the leg was amputated, and she started chemotherapy 15 days later.
But here's the thing: Zoe missed the memo that told her to be sad. Since she lost the source of what we now know was chronic, awful pain--the leg with the cancer--she has been lively, happy, sweet, and entirely herself. It is impossible to mourn a sad event of the not-that-distant future when a lovely, perfectly content dog is looking in your eyes in the present, wanting to share the moment.
Zoe and I have had a beautiful autumn together. We have walked together every day, and she continues to be strong and happy. She eats with gusto, she chases squirrels, and she climbs to the deck of my studio to stare at the river--what I call her doggy meditation. She has befriended many new students, and has helped me learn the lesson of mindfulness again and again and again.
|photo by Karen Strauss; October, 2011|