My Aunt/Godmother sent me an email today letting me know that Cassie – there beloved family dog had passed on. This is the obit she wrote. I am sharing it because it is very moving and she is such an excellent writer.
Requiem for “Dog of Great Heart”
1995? – April 16, 2005
In the 1970’s there was a best-selling book in Latin America that went largely unnoticed here in the US, Requiem per un Cane – (Requiem for a Dog) – by Italian author Carlo Coccioli. A poetic and touching book, I had the good fortune to encounter it while living in Florence, and it aided me through the lingering illness and death of my first dog and childhood companion, Sissy. Like other works of literature, it has helped me in the grieving process of this latest loss, that of our big furry guardian angel, Cassie. She departed this plane of existence with the same grace, sweetness, trust and dignity that she lived on it, Saturday April 16th, about noon.
Cassied earned the title “Dog of Great Heart” not long after she came to be part of our family in 1998. I once marveled at how pet owners seemed to grieve their companion animals as they grieved their family members. Now I have learned through life and loss that that is because these beautiful, loving spirits ARE family members. Some animal companions remain “pets” to us, dear companions… However, some make an extraordinary leap in bonding and deep communion, crossing the illusionary divide between human animal and non-human animal, to become vital members of the family. In the case of a dog, on the flip side of perception, they make us their “pack” and we receive all the requisite honors of dedication, protection, nurturing, etc.
Peter christened Cassie with the exalted-seeming title Dog of Great Heart when she and he became lost in the wilderness during his 40th birthday year — a true Rite of Passage for both, getting lost in the wild San Juans of Colorado. She refused to leave him, even when her painful hip dysplasia was causing what must have been dreadful discomfort. We came to know over time that Cassie was a stoic of the first order – she lived in constant pain at times, with hips that had been distorted from birth. In her last months, she coped with a cancer in the frontal skull bone that must have been very painful. However, she taught us by living model the enlightened quality of coping with debilitating pain, yet continuing to be loving, kind and smiling.
Yes, that’s right — she smiled. A big toothy wolf-ish smile. She also often accompanied that smile with a certain bark, that definitely (even to us limited human primates) said “Hello dear friend! Where have you been?? How nice to see you again!” — a bark reserved for special members of the extended pack. The neighbors and local children who knew and loved Cassie can vouch for that, as she often greeted them that way. Speaking of inter-species communication, I often said to Cassie that I was supposed to be the “superior” animal, but she was the one who had learned so much English. While I still barely knew the difference in her barks, aside from the special hello and a couple others, she had a vocabulary of 20 or more English words. (That I am sure she knew…) In fact, her advanced canine ear could distinguish between bed and bad, and between work and walk. Anyone who has watched a foreign-language speaker struggle with English phonetics, or has studied linguistics, knows that this is no mean feat!
Of course, she was a dog and one of truly “wolfish” instincts, as per her mixed Collie-Samoyed or perhaps Husky blood lines. (In fact one of the names I often called her was “Wolfish”.) Her pack was her pack, and the delineations of loyalty and territory were carved in stone. Our children were her children and woe betide anyone who seemed to be invading her turf or her children. Unfortunately that often meant we had encounters with other dogs in her early life that were not pleasant – we called them the “Stalag 13” routine. The wolfish smile disappeared, and the snarling great jaws growled fiercely. Even the neighbors’ dogs had to learn that her backyard was hers, and she wasn’t too eager to share it. However, with the neighbor children, she was another caretaker – yet another Cassie moniker was “Nanna of the neighborhood”. I literally would ask her to watch over “her children” when I went out and left the kids with her. And she did. I knew she was a conscientious caretaker – of the house, the yard, her pack and her children.
Next to loving her family and her home, Cassie never met a meal she didn’t like… (even when it had been dead in the woods a little too long!) Another of her very favorite past-times was to immerse herself in whatever body of water she could find: creeks, reservoirs, lakes, ponds, rushing rivers – any kind would do. Her seemingly huge frame (sometimes likened to a walking sofa) suddenly looked comical and bony, when her thick wool double coat was soaked through. However, hot springs water did not suit her Arctic personality – she longed to be with us in the hot springs bath-house at the cabin in Ouray, but could not understand the delight with which her humans splashed in the steam and hot water.
Besides being able to understand certain words of English, Cassie read minds. (Yes, I know I seem a little wacky. Dylan, in inimitable 14-year old style, calls me a “Hippy-Dippy”.) However, I never had to say “walk” in the last years of her life. Even if it was an unusual time of day, or she couldn’t see me pick up a leash or biscuits, she would suddenly be there at the door, tail wagging, ready to go, before I had put my coat on. If I suddenly had a sad thought, even with my back to her, Cassie would give a little “Yip” and come right to me to lick my hand, sensing that I needed some comfort. Our precious kitty of 21 years, Dr. J, was so much a part of us that we called him “First Born Son”. (I told you we were “nuts”.) As I have recounted in various places, at my return home from that terrible final trip to the Vet in 2001 with Dr. J, grief-stricken, Cassie immediately knew I needed comfort. She practically climbed in my lap and put her legs around me, approximating a bear hug in the best way a 120 lb. doggy could. If we needed any more proof of her total dedication to her extended pack, we saw it just two weeks before she died. Despite being crippled and nearly totally blind at the end of her life, when our friend and neighbor, one of Cassie’s frequent caretakers, arrived to tell us of her father’s death, Cassie was instantly worried about Janet and her family. Disregarding her own personal pain, Cassie struggled up the stairs to lie on Janet’s feet and listen, with her heart and intuition.
As I wrote earlier, many of the greats of literature have given me solace in the many losses we/I have sustained over the last 20 years… One is Emily Dickinson:
“She died – this was the way she died.
And when her breath was done
Took up her simple wardrobe
And started for the sun.
Her little figure at the gate
The Angels must have spied,
Since I could never find her
Upon the mortal side.”
Emily wrote that for her mother, it is said. I read it many times when my mother passed away. It comes back to me now.
Surely the Angels must have been delighted to recognize one of their own when Cassie arrived “on the other side”, smiling and barking a special hello.