So long and thanks for all the fish

When my friend Katie called me two weeks ago to tell me that she and her husband had to take Angel, their Australian Shepherd, to the vet hospital with a very serious and unknown ailment, I think I was in some level of denial. Angel couldn’t be sick. Angel couldn’t be dying. She was the smartest dog in the world. She hadn’t nearly finished her plans for world domination yet. She’d be fine.

Even when they identified her disease – lyme nephritus, nearly always fatal to dogs – I wasn’t worried. She was back home and showing signs of improvement. And as Rob put it, “She is a fighter and has gotten this far. If any dog can figure out how to beat this thing, Angel can!”

And then, tonight on Facebook:

We had to put Angel to sleep this weekend. We are very sad, and I’ll always miss my Angel.

 * * * * *

Dogs have always been an important part of my life. One of my earliest memories is of my mother crying because our Malamute Nikki could no longer climb the stairs into the house, and she was too heavy for Mom to lift. From there we had Misty the Malamute, then Mickey the wonder Scottie, who was given 6 months to live in 2002 and didn’t succumb to disease until 2006. Shortly after we put Mickey down, I moved to Lansing for grad school, where Rob and I started to hang out a lot, due in part to our mutual love of two things: the German card game Doppelkopf, and Rob’s Aussie Angel.

I loved that dog.

Rob would be gone – I’d come over to take her for a walk, or throw a tennis ball for her, or just sit and pet her for an hour. Or we’d be playing poker and I’d pick her up and put her on my lap for as long as she’d tolerate (usually less than a minute) and ask for her opinion on my hand.

Because she was insanely intelligent too. Rob had her well trained. She knew tricks – shake, speak, roll over, shut the door. Rob would tell her “Wait” and she would. This included one time on a camping trip when he buried her to her neck in sand and then walked away. She stayed put until he called – then she was out and over to him in a bound. Or there was the time we held her back from chasing a porcupine, or…

You get the idea.

When he got a job, I helped Rob move to Romeo, MI – helped him unpack a little bit before another friend and I returned to Lansing. When we got ready to leave, Angel hopped into the front seat of my car, like, “Okay, today was fun, but it’s time to go home now, right?”

* * * * *

Angel was the alpha dog. Angel was a mastermind. Angel was the number-one woman in Rob’s life, and she knew it. It put her out to have to share him with Katie when they finally started dating. And when Katie got Nala, the incredibly sweet Golden Retriever, the Pinky to Angel’s Brain – you looked at Angel, and got the sense that she was just waiting, just biding her time, that if she waited long enough, Rob would be hers and hers alone again.

And – as Rob and Katie moved to Ohio, and as our visits got less and less frequent, Angel still remembered me, and Angel was still glad to see me.

* * * * *

A funny thing happened tonight as I was looking at pictures of Angel. I have almost 6 years of photos from my digital camera – 6 years of Angel, and 6 years of memories. And next to every picture of Angel was a picture of Rob, or Katie, or Jon, or “The House” (Rob and Jon’s townhouse with the magenta – “dynamo” – wall). There was Nala, or Emma the Corgi, or Peri the technically-not-a-pit-bull. There was the Doppelkopf trophy. There was the picture of us playing doko outside despite the fact that a tornado siren had just gone off. There was the weekend Rob and Katie and I went to several different Catholic masses. There’s the time we went sledding down to the frozen lake.

I’ll miss Angel. I’ve been intermittently bawling my eyes out all night as I’ve been writing this. But remembering Angel means I’m remembering the good times, and for right now that’s enough.

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