I paid close attention to our dog Clarissa’s licks these last weeks because I knew she was dying. I wanted to make sure I remembered what her kisses smelled like as if the scent of her tongue were her signature. She was euthanized this morning. Before the vet came in, I put my face under her mouth and she gave me one good wipe across the lips. It took a lot of effort to lick me once.
I expected to develop a single scent memory. Strangely, her breath got better. Her final kiss even had a sweet scent. It smelled clean like an angel. Mostly I will remember the rank tongue that swept my mouth for 16 years because that’s the Clarissa I know and love stink and all. Clarissa had a great lick ratio, three or four at a time and no slobbering. She was very ladylike in this regard. You’d get your kisses and then she would turn her head to signal she was done. If you asked for more, she demurred.
On the other hand, she was very unladylike when it came to table manners. She sat next to me every night and begged with brown eyes like saucers, an incredibly intense stare, and the posture of a dog ready to hunt. She could sit at attention throughout the entire meal without moving, waiting for a single scrap from your plate. It drove my husband crazy.
Clarissa was tough as nails too. She recovered from Parvo, a deadly intestinal disease, when she was eight weeks old. She survived a deadly liver infection when she was eleven, and countless encounters with things dogs shouldn’t eat, including chicken bones and large wads of tin foil. The most horrifying thing of all – she tumbled down the stairs every morning these last two years. She couldn’t navigate the downward approach because she had bad hips which yielded bad legs, and she wouldn’t let us carry her. Listening from the kitchen, we winced and squeezed our shoulders every time she descended. She arrived at the bottom of the stairs with a splat and headed unfazed directly for her bowl.
She put up with our foster puppies, even Lance who we adopted four years ago when Clarissa was twelve. He grew to three feet and over seventy pounds of angst and energy.
Clarissa turned 16 in April. She was in pretty-good health four weeks ago. She could still yank the leash if she was interested in something. I had a little bit of a my-dog’s-better-than- yours attitude. We were just lucky.