|It's appropriate that author Jeannie Miller's touching goodbye to her dog, Sandulik, should be a winner in this year's contest. After all, readers met the big, lovable dog in Miller's winning entry in our 2005 contest, "Sandulik Has a New Att-i-tude." Why then are we illustrating Sandulik's story with an image of a hummingbird? Read on.|
Next time around for Sandulik, things would be different.
By Jeannie Miller
For 13 years, I carried myself with elegance. Encased in a fur-covered, full-figured dog's body, I deigned to tolerate those who commented that I resembled a submarine, or remarked that I must have been the poster child for the grossly obese dog, or, when I was dressed in my summer "do," described me as a well-packed bratwurst with four strategically positioned toothpicks. I was quite satisfied with myself: I ate hors d'oeuvres before supper, lounged at my food bowl, established residency in front of the refrigerator in order to send silent commands for the door to open and spill out the contents purely for my consumption, and was present at every distribution of cookies.
I was Sandulik. San-doooo-lik. My person referred to me lovingly as "The Princess," but truth be known, I was "The Queen" and it was good to be the queen, the alpha and the omega. So, if I weighed-in slightly larger than the average dog, it was of no consequence. I hoped, though, that the next time around, things would be different. I hoped I would return as a creature of svelteness, swiftness and veritable weightlessness, a filament of magic on the wind.
I came back as a hummingbird.
I died in my bed on a Thursday night in April. On Saturday morning, my person's good friend Joan arrived on the doorstep with a shepherd's hook and a hummingbird feeder. "This is for Sandulik to visit, now that she's gone," Joan told my person.
"A hummingbird feeder? Why?"
"Just trust me on this," Joan said. "She'll be back."
You should know that in my canine manifestation, I hiked to the top of Hill 80 and McComas Peak. And I did the Continental Trail and climbed Gomez Peak — although I drew the line at that flight of stairs near the top, as the ratio of rise to run wasn't suitable for my physique — and I walked to the Big Tree, and explored out by the Fort Bayard Cemetery. All that and so much more. I waded in Twin Sisters Creek out in Arenas Valley and dipped in Little Cherry Creek.
But when my hips began to betray me, all this earthbound nature discovery slowed to a stall.
Some said that my hips swished. Some said they sashayed. Others chose "swiveled." Describe them as you may, my hips provided my fabulously plumed tail with the perfect platform for its display. When I hiked with my person and her friends, I followed no man's trail. I was very much an "in the moment" being and traveled wherever my nose led me, my hips in full swing.
While all the people hikers were working up sweats, the other dogs running around like lunatics, I strolled. I sniffed the scat, trailed the scent of a rabbit, weaved in and under the fragrant juniper trees, and, in general, savored my surroundings and milieu. As they all overheated and wore themselves out from frenzy, I reclined at my leisure in the shade of a scrub oak and watched the ravens ride the air currents. My person went so far as to attach a bell to my collar so she could hear me when I disappeared from her line of sight, but in truth, my glorious tail floating on those fabulous hips was the true locator beacon, waving elegantly amongst the tall grasses. To the very end, it was my trailing glory.
My person stared through a film of tears at Joan and the gifts she held forward. "She'll come back? You think so?"
"Yes, I do," Joan answered, "and we have to get this up quickly."
The time arrived when my hips could no longer carry me on long hikes nor provide the necessary strength to easily raise my back end from the floor. I accepted these new limitations with grace and dignity; I shifted to short strolls in and out the front door of the house in order to take care of certain necessary functions and to meditate on the ants.
In my new incarnation, wings vibrating at 90 beats per second, I hovered just above and behind the desert willow. I was absorbed in the sensation of my new lightness of being as I watched my person and Joan struggle to drive the shepherd's hook into the ground of the xeriscape, directly in front of the living-room window.
"The wind blows past here like a hurricane. I've watched it lay the sumac and Spanish broom down to the ground," my person explained. "The feet on this hook are going to have to go in a lot farther than this if it's going withstand that kind of beating."
"We have to put it up in front of this window. It's the only place where you can watch it from your big blue recliner."
"Well then, there's got to be another way to do this."
Dying wasn't easy. At first I stopped showing up in the pantry for hors d'oeuvres, a subtle change that my person didn't notice immediately. I slept more than usual and coughed in my sleep. After several weeks of ignoring the call for appetizers, I began refusing kibble, then canned food, then raw meat, even cottage cheese. No amount of coaxing from my person changed my mind. My weight dropped quickly. A visit to the veterinarian's office resulted in a diagnosis of congestive heart failure but a prognosis for a good chance of lasting quite a while. The prescribed medication seemed to help and my appetite returned, perhaps not to its most avid level, but at least I showed up for breakfast and supper.
Within days, however, I no longer went to my food bowl when dinner was served and my person resorted to feeding me by hand. She would place pureed dog food in her palm. Never one to drool or slobber, I would daintily lick it clean. A queen must maintain certain standards of decorum. But I soon lost all interest in the dog food and my person now came to me with offerings of peanut butter on whole wheat bread, cut in tiny squares and folded so I could easily swallow them. I knew I was failing but I continued to smile and wag my luxurious tail in gratitude for all the love and attention. And I did my best to get up and go outside several times a day, although I often needed help lifting my hips from the floor.
It's only recently that my person has become a solver of household fix-it problems. Before her retirement, she never attempted unhinging doors, or plunging sinks, or digging holes in the yard. Her focus prior to leaving the workplace was on the abstract world of cyberspace and software and, as she often lamented, the horrors of surviving middle-management limbo. Now she looks at a peeling door frame, a garden infestation, a stuck window or a stripped screw interface and announces, "I can fix that." And I guess it was in that frame of mind that she figured out how to make the shepherd's hook "hummingbird-feeder worthy."
"Nothing ever grows in this," she informed Joan as she dragged the faded Mexican pink clay pot over to the xeriscape and positioned it right in front of the picture window. She shoved the feet of the hook deep into the barren soil that filled the pot, then carried several large rocks from other places in the yard and stacked them around the base of the hook's post.
Joan tried to jiggle the hook. "Solid!" she applauded.
Hidden by the branches of xeriscape's large three-leaf sumac, I buzzed and clicked my approval at their success.
Although food no longer interested me in those final days, I insisted on keeping up appearances of normality, and how I looked and dressed — I had a wardrobe of many scarves — was still of great importance to me. And so it was on the morning of the second Thursday in April that my person announced in song, as was her habit, that it was time to go get my summer "do," my "gorgeousness." I smiled and waved my tail in royal agreement, although inside I was wary. While I loved the results of a visit to my favorite groomer, I was never totally keen on the experience because I had to stand for what seemed to me like interminable periods of time as I was shampooed and sheared. Now more than before, I knew my hips would give out and I'd have to sit down. The groomers would of course help lift me back up, but it would be lifting and sitting, lifting and sitting. Grooming me was a many-houred thing.
When I emerged, I was the model for the perfect canine makeover. My winter fur was gone and my now truly sleek figure was finally revealed. Broad at the shoulders, deep in the chest, slender at the hips. I was down to 75 pounds. My ears were the softest of velvet, my tail fluffed to perfection. So what if I didn't want to eat or drink? A girlish figure is worth a bit of sacrifice, but really all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep.
One minute I was hovering like a helicopter, the next zipping around the garage and soaring in and out of the telephone lines like nothing I had ever imagined. I flew over the house and sat in the Mexican elder in the backyard. From there I watched my person and Joan attach the feeder to the shepherd's hook.