Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Farewell, Anyabelle

The start of the hawking season is usually joyous, but so far this year it has brought frustration and sorrow. First the frustration: Stekoa's first outing was nearly our last together. The debacle was entirely my fault, as I made a series of compounding errors, but I was fortunate enough to recover him the next day—warm, windy, and the opening day of the shooting season—after leaving him out overnight with a failing transmitter battery. Some re-training is called for, mostly for myself.

As for the sorrow, I'm sorry to report that Anya, the younger of my two dachshunds, has died. We've been expecting it—we nearly lost her back at the end of February, which is when we found out she had cancer—and we're grateful to have had these extra months, but there's never a good time to say goodbye.

She went by many names, this little puppy. Officially, it was just Anya, but I called her Anyabelle as often as not. Ellie (and later Jessa) called her Anya-bear, to which I always pointed out that "she's a dog!". In the kitchen, she was Anyanka the Underfoot, and I'm still a little surprised that she didn't meet her end by tripping one of us. She was also Keeper of the Two-leggeds, a title awarded by us but a role appointed by herself: anytime one of us went out to the back yard, even for a moment, Anya would come trundling along; and if we were doing yardwork, she might be out there with us for hours, as indeed she was just a few days before her passing.

We loved Anya dearly, but she could be a pain in the arse. She was a jealous little prima donna; if anyone fawned over Maxine, Anya would insinuate herself until all pets and scritches were hers, and she would bark obnoxiously whenever I hugged Jessa in her presence. She would also bark incessantly when Stekoa was on the ground with quarry—even after a decade of working together—and sometimes her bad manners extended to crowding him on the kill or even trying to appropriate his rabbit. She did not bark, however, on those occasions when she wandered off after hawking; nor would she respond to our calls, and I remember more than one pleasant day afield nearly ruined by the stress of trying to find my missing dog afterward. She did the same sort of thing at home: if the gate came unlatched, Anya would go on walkabout, completely unresponsive to our calls. (If we even knew she was out, that is; on a few occasions, our first indication that she'd gone was when a neighbour phoned or just brought her back to the house. ID tags for the win.)

But: Anya flushed a lot of rabbits for Stekoa over the years. She went out in good weather and bad, covered miles of ground on those short little legs, sometimes rubbed her chest and belly raw on brush and tough prairie grasses, swam across half-frozen creeks when she had to...then went out to do it all over again the next day. She may not have had quite the same zeal for hawking as her "sister" Maxine, but she hunted loyally and hard.

During her final days, I fingered memories of Anya like the beads of a rosary. Visiting the house in Seward where Anya was born, Ellie leaning over the edge of the denning box and picking out the same golden-yellow puppy that had already caught my eye. Bringing Jessa to the house for the first time, seeing how excited Max and Anya were to meet her and how warmly she responded to them, thinking in that moment that my life might just work out if my new friend liked my dogs that much. Camping at Verdigre Creek, several times but once in particular: we had left the dogs in the tent while we went to see a movie at the drive-in cinema down at Neligh, and immediately the film ended, a violent thunderstorm blew up out of nowhere; the twenty-mile drive back to camp was an agony of worry and guilt, as I envisioned the tent, dogs and all, whirling away on the gusty winds; we finally arrived to find camp still intact, Maxine asleep, and Anya whining softly to be let out to pee, God bless her—at home, she'd have had no compunctions about just peeing on the floor. Calmer drives, too, lots of them, my right hand gently stroking Max and Anya's fur as they slept in the passenger seat, worn out from hawking, the occasional ringing of Stekoa's bells from the box in the cargo area, driving home fulfilled and contented in the company of three of my closest friends.

Anya hated going to the veterinarian's office, and when her condition took a sudden turn for the worse on Sunday, we hoped desperately that she would simply pass in her sleep. We awoke Monday morning to find her still with us, but her breathing even more laboured, and I reluctantly made arrangements for the nice young Scottish vet to come to the house to put her down. Mercifully, however, we were spared that necessity, as she slipped away in her sleep, stretched out on her pillow next to Maxine, later in the day. Absurdly, perhaps, I recalled Sir Winston Churchill's tribute to King George VI, and his account of the King's end: "During these last months the King walked with Death as if Death were a companion and acquaintance whom he recognised and did not fear. In the end, Death came as a friend, and after a happy day of sunshine and sport, after a 'goodnight' to those who loved him best, he fell asleep as every man or woman who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may hope to do."

As has often been noted, the tragedy of living with dogs is that their lifespans are so mismatched to our own. And as the song says, to love is to bury. So why do we have dogs, get married, have children? Why do we put ourselves through it, embark on journeys-for-life, build relationships that will inevitably end in the death of one party? Because not to do so is even worse, even more heart-rending. Anya will be missed—is already missed—but Jessa, Ellie, and I are so grateful that she was our dog.