I remember my first dog very well – she was a beautiful Collie named Blaze. I recall being 4 years old, playing with her on the floor of our apartment with my brother Hal, of blessed memory. It’s been a long time, and the memory is fuzzy, so I can’t say why I remember her so well, but I do.

Dogs are that way. They come into our lives as pets, and grow into our hearts as family. It’s funny how that works, since they can’t talk – coming from a very verbal Jewish culture, I suppose this is a reminder that words can only express a part of our life experience. It’

We tried to look happy for the camera

Our beloved Corgi Blanche

s better that dogs can’t talk; one of their gifts to us is their quiet, non-verbal communication.

We have had two Corgis, sisters, a year apart, for 10 years. The older dog was Blanche, who was just 12. She had been my in-laws’ pet, and for them, the last of a 20 year relationship with Corgis, as avocational breeders. We promised to love and care for her on their behalf. Blanche made it easy – she was a very soft-coated, gentle little girl who loved to cuddle. She’d make friends with everyone who offered her an ounce of attention.

To keep up with the dogs’ needs and our busy lives, we had installed a dog door in our kitchen when they came to live with us. Even though we were sure to walk them around the block twice daily (to be fair – a responsibility borne mostly by my husband and shared by my kids) the dogs have had the freedom to go into the dog run on their own any time. Blanche often used this for a chance to be protective of us; we were always calling her back in the house when she barked at some perceived threat. She always obeyed and sat by our side quietly, an obedient, loyal friend. Even with her darting out into the dog run to make her presence known, she was anything but threatening. A gentler soul you could never meet.

In the course of an overly busy life, I haven’t thought much about what it means to have a pet. While I was always happy for their company when I had the time, I was glad to know the dogs were walked and fed and brushed. Blanche became my teacher. During the last two years, she developed a neurological condition known to Corgis, an illness that her mother had endured until her death. It produced a progressive loss of the strength and control in her rear legs. She has stumbled on the stairs, sometimes falling backward down several, increasingly having moments when her rear legs just fell out from under her while walking. It pulled on our heartstrings. Over time, she required more and more care and attention. But in the way of her breed, she never complained – no whining or whimpering, no crying, no distancing. She would still love to sit in our laps and try to lick our faces, showing great pleasure from the attention showered on her. She was just pure love.

If only more people had such an ability to appreciate what they have as she did.

A couple of days ago my daughter came home from college and saw Blanche try, but completely fail, to climb the stairs. In a split level house, that is very limiting. Blanche kept trying, refusing to give in to her condition. My daughter was heartbroken – here was this sweet dog who asked nothing of us, trying to remain independent.

And so it was that on the next morning as I walked both dogs, that Blanche lost the use of her legs during the walk and didn’t complain, she simply let them drag along the road. When I looked down at her to see why she was moving so slowly, I saw two bloodied paws, scraped raw along the street. I picked her up, carried her home and cleaned her. The whole way home she licked my face, grateful for my help, and she cuddled close, ever a loving companion.

She was now completely crippled. We decided that we could not bear to have her suffer any longer, and we arranged for the vet to euthanize her today.

I admit that my busy life has made me a lesser friend to my pets than they are to me. Blanche didn’t hold it against me. She was always at the ready to be by my side if I could sit with her. And when she became crippled, when I came home covered in blood from her wounded paws, and she only just wanted to be held close, I felt very sad for all the missed opportunities to spend time with her.

My husband has always spent much more time with the dogs and has taken the greatest responsibility for them. And so he had a picture in his mind that the day would come, in the increasingly close future, when he would take Blanche to the vet for her final goodbye, and he would stay with her as she came to rest. But as it happened, Blanche lost her ability to walk precisely on the day when my husband was having hip replacement surgery. He did not get to say goodbye to her. I was the one to say goodbye for all of us. It was very sad. She was such a sweet dog, such an unconditionally loving friend and member of our family.

Why did I remember my dog Blaze all these decades later? Because dogs bring out the best in us, bringing love and companionship to our complicated lives. Blaze brought me joy as a very young child. Blanche brought love to our home amid our hectic lives.

How fortunate we are to live in a world filled with loving family and friends; a world where gentle animals can become part of our lives, filling the voids we didn’t know we had. They teach us about love and loyalty and we are the richer for it.

Blanche, may her memory be for a blessing.


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