RIP Jasmine

December, 1994- June 1, 2008

This past weekend our family endured one of those events that many people experience in life... and one that highlighted where we stand in our natural lifespan. Our goofy little beagle Jasmine died. Actually, I think she died twice.

The year we were married, we were about to move into a little house in Maine and decided it was time to graduate from gerbils and goldfish to a real pet. Heather spotted an ad in the local paper for a 4 month old beagle puppy that was being given up by an elderly lady who's medical problems were preventing her from giving proper attention to the dog's training. Four hundred dollars was the price for an adorable little tricolor package of silly fuzz who hadn't yet discovered her bark. Those first few years we spoiled that dog, taking her everywhere we went.

She learned all the standard commands of sit, lie down, speak, paw, and roll over, and added her own tricks of hunting cats and burying slimy chewbones under the cushions of the couch or my bed pillow. She was with us when we bought our first house, and the long years of trying to start a family. When that first baby was born, I don't think she ever forgave us for bringing Avery home. She wouldn't even look at him; would actually turn her head away when we put the baby next to her. Despite her initial indifference, she tolerated endless earpulls from Avery, then Hadley and never nipped either child.

Dogs age much faster than humans. She grew odd looking skintags and subcutaneous fatty lumps. An upper respiratory infection nearly killed her in 2005. Two years ago she lost her hearing. She developed a nagging cough and wheeze. Throughout, her temperament remained thoroughly pleasant... wanting for nothing but to be fed and a pat on the head.

In these last few weeks the effects of age really began to show as she began being a little unsteady on her feet, and preferring sleep over snooping under the table for crumbs and cheerios. Last Friday she uncharacteristically sniffed her food and walked away. Saturday she wasn't interested in water. I spent some time with her out in the yard trying to get her to drink, then brought her into the house. As I was kneeling next to her, wiping the springtime pollen from her eyes and nose her whole body suddenly went rigid, like she was seized in a full body muscle contraction. Then she went slack, tongue lolling from her mouth, and not breathing. I felt for a pulse in her foreleg and found none, watched for breathing and saw none, then sat back on my heels not believing that my dog had died right there in front of me. I teared up a little, which for me is a lot since I don't cry easily. I was about to pull myself to my feet to tell my wife what had happened, Jasmine drew a huge breath, began panting and struggled to stand. Everything I've since read seems to indicate a stroke. That evening we had the kids sit with her to say goodbye as I was certain she wouldn't last the night.

Sunday morning Heather got up early and Jasmine wanted to go out. The old dog seemed full of more energy than she'd had in weeks, and went right into the yard to sniff around. About an hour later I looked out the kitchen window and with my eyes followed the lead of her run around the back of the garage. I went out, and as I suspected, she had crawled into the hole she'd dug between the garage and her doghouse, and died. I got an old bedsheet and after pulling the dog out of her hole wrapped her in the sheet. Heather came out and we spent a few minutes being sad, talking about how young we were when our family was we two and a little beagle... how her comforting loyalty helped fill the empty-feeling years of miscarried pregnancies and fertility treatments. We spoke of how 13 years wasn't that old for the breed... how the span of her life seemed to correspond with our own youthful years, as we were but young pups when we first met Jasmine, and now at her passing were solidly in our 30s and stepping into midlife.

I retrieved a shovel and began preparing the spot to lay her down. I was in the middle of a task I really wasn't feeling up to, but dutifully continued because, well, some jobs in life can't be delegated. I looked up as Avery and Hadley stepped out onto the back deck, and I honestly had to fight the urge to tell them to go back inside. They asked where Jasmine was. I poignantly realized this was something they couldn't be protected from, that I hadn't taken Jasmine up the road to the farm where she could run freely in the fields for the rest of her life. Their dog had died and they needed to be part of that experience. I brought them over to where her body was wrapped in the sheet, and pulled it back so they could see her face. Avery knelt down and patting her on the head began saying, "good-bye Jasmine..." over and over and it just killed me. At 7 years old he had a greater understanding of the finality of the event than his sister. Hadley asked obvious questions like, 'why doesn't she get up', and 'why won't she open her eyes'. I left them to continue digging, but watched as they talked about the dog's body. Hadley seemed preoccupied with her eyes; kept opening them to look inside, and just as I was about to tell her to stop poking the poor old dog, she sat back, pressed her fingertips to her lips and placed a kiss on Jasmine's head. It was an image so sweet and sad that seemed much longer than the half second it lasted. A life snapshot burned into my psyche, now part of me and never to be forgotten.

As I finished the grave, Hadley walked over and asked me what I was doing. I told her burial was one of the ways bodies empty of spirit were dealt with. She asked about Heaven and if dog and human Heaven were the same place or apart. She wanted to know who was coming or had come to take Jasmine's spirit. What was she imagining? Was there a big Italian Mastiff angel of dog death that came to escort Jasmine home? Not being good at explaining that particular aspect of death, I pointed out that her body eventually would turn to earth, and nourish the soil for grass and trees. 'How', wondered the child. Well kid, it's like they say...' the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...' Then she wanted to know when we could dig her back up and see her bones. Weird kid.

I collected Jasmine's body and we placed her in the hole, then said a few words. Hadley threw a big fat earthworm in on top of the sheet covered dog and said, 'do your job'. The kids then collected bouquets of lilac flowers and tossed them in as well. Avery took the shovel from my hand and began refilling the grave. I reached for a spade and Hadley took that from me and without a word began helping her brother. The two of them kept at it until nearly finished, then they let me complete the job. We raked the area smooth, and later planted some flowers that Auntie Mandy brought over.

The passing of our dog wasn't a surprise as she had been slowing and recently of failing health. Her place in our family and in this house is certainly missing. There's a significant part of the morning routine gone; no putting the dog out, feeding her, petting her. I've been catching myself headed back into the house because I've forgotten to fill her water bowl. She was a good dog, and the finality of her passing closes a chapter in all of our lives. Rest in peace little hound.