Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tupelo Honey


Before there was the little blonde rascal,
before there was Libre the rascally dog who sleeps all day on the couch,
there was Tupelo Honey.

Honey from the Tupelo flower is supposed to be the sweetest in the world. And this beautiful Akita with the liquid almond eyes definitely earned her name.

I first met her about ten years ago, when she still had a right leg in the front. It dragged when she moved even then, flopping behind her other one a little, so that when she ran she made a sound kinda like "clop, thunk, clop thunk..." At six months she'd gotten hit by a car when she crossed a street to greet one of her favorite humans. The man who did it just took off without stopping, his little girl's hands pressed to the back glass as he drove away. The doctors thought she might regrow the nerves in the leg, so they let her drag it for a while to see.

Her human and i hit it off right away, so within her first nine months we were all one (practically) inseparable family. When the Millennium came around we were insistent on being on the top of a mountain to celebrate it, but we couldn't take her. We carefully wrapped a bandage over the sore that was constantly open and angry, where she dragged it on the ground. Then we left her with Grandma and took off for Colorado. Four days later we came home to find the same bandage still on her leg, but the back and forth between the snow and the warm Grandma house had tightened it so much that Tupelo's leg had had no circulation for a long time. Another four days later, we were picking up a three-legged dog at the vet.

She seemed to be happier without the leg dragging. She could get around fine and only seemed to tire a bit earlier than the other dogs. We saw just how "fine" she could be when two years later she crawled out of a half-open window, hopped a six-foot fence and got with a Shepard-Lab named (don't laugh) Angelo Garcia-Leary. The scoundrel. This, two days after we'd brought her a fine Akita stud to breed with, and let them frolic on the Oregon coast together for a couple nights. All they'd done was find a salmon run, and rolled in the dead fish. So a short time after the Angelo Encounter, nine puppies were born at the foot of our bed.

Josh chose to keep the biggest one -- Asha the blond bomber with the massive paws. I chose Libre the runt, who came out last and right by my feet in the middle of the night. She was the one who ran the other puppies around the yard. I liked her style. Tupelo was the most patient of mamas, and seemed to understand that we were there to be co-parents to her new little ones. When we became parents, she did the same for us. Her nickname was "Mamas" and she earned it. When strangers came knocking, she let the younger dogs do the charging for the door. Instead, she'd head to the baby's room.

Our daughter was born in the house we were happiest in -- the A-frame in Horton. The puppies were not born there but they grew up there -- chasing off coyotes, sniffing out critters, protecting our stuff when we had to go away. As the years got on Tupelo would often just lie in the driveway, while the other two would come back puffing and dripping from a romp through the creek. I will not live there again, but i do still honor that home as our family abode. The kiddo's dad just got the place back. After living there for much of her life, and then being away for four years, Tupelo and her son Asha got to move back too. When she got back she started to spend a lot more time on the deck, near the house, or just laid out on the living room floor. She was geting old, but she was also home, and it was time to breathe a sigh of relief. One morning Josh woke up and she was not there.

All sorts of theories are flying around about her getting nabbed by the cougar that's been lurking around Horton, or getting carted off by unscrupulous dog lovers who wanted a novel purebreed. But i am sure that she finally got home, and went off into the woods to die. I miss her, but i am glad that she was able to live her life happily, and die in the place she loved most. We should all be so lucky.

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