Gifts of the Season: A Dog's Life

Trixie. | Photo: Erin Aubry Kaplan.

It's been a year since Trixie died. She was about the eighteenth rescue I happened into since I moved to this part of Inglewood in 2004. Trixie was a coonhound mix that my husband discovered in an alley near our house late one night on his way home from work. He couldn't coax her out of her spot near the back gate of a house, the narrow space between the gate and the alley that was her sanctuary for the time being. I knew it couldn't be that for long. When I walked to the spot the next morning, she was still there. She didn't move and didn't seem surprised in the least to see me. I and a neighbor gave her food that she ate methodically before she rose and came with us. And then I was her sanctuary.

This change of fortune was unremarkable to her, or it seemed to be. Being homeless and being under a roof with a bed and three squares a day elicited the same look of patient acceptance, an air of resolve that was neither grateful nor indifferent.

Circumstances, in her mind, were simply what they were.

Yet she took note. Though never demonstrative -- she never once jumped up, licked me in the face, that sort of thing -- Trixie wanted affection. It was part of her new circumstances that she claimed as readily as she did the tuna fish that topped her kibble in the afternoon. When I came home and my other dogs crowded me at the door, Trixie pushed her way to the front of the pack and stood, trembling and expectant, until I gave her a pat or a kind word. She helped herself to the couch and the armchair in the living room. She raised her voice when she was so moved -- a heavy bark that turned into an extended, hound-like baying. She slept where she wanted. She did all this not because she was cheeky but because the parameters of her life had changed.

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She didn't ask why they'd changed or wonder why my husband and I had taken such an interest in a laconic older dog missing some teeth and suffering from a hernia, whose belly sagged with too many puppy births, or maybe just sagged. Trixie didn't puzzle over the universe; she lived in it. I knew she appreciated this particular universe even if she didn't or couldn't say so. That was fine with me. I found her wordlessness touching and deeply satisfying -- to be able to give this dog what it never asked for but took without hesitation or drama, as if love was the most logical thing in the world, the next circumstance of many more to come. I looked forward to Trixie every day.

The good fortune didn't hold. Trixie turned out to have a tiny liver that one day, without warning, began shutting down. Three days after that she was in the veterinary ER for the second time. My husband thought it best to put her sleep. As grave as her condition was, I didn't. I wanted very much to give her whatever chances remained for her, to be the next good, if not exactly logical, thing in her life of circumstances. I was still her sanctuary.

Like the spot in which I first found Trixie, the sanctuary didn't last. I have rescued three more dogs since last December. One is still here: Joey. Joey is not Trixie, though funnily enough, he has the same emotional reticence and the same silent demand for affection. He is not demonstrative and he does not say much. He does appear more grateful, but maybe that's because he knows who and what preceded him in this house.

Trixie's collar. | Photo: Erin Aubry KaplanAs for Trixie, she is still here. She is home. Her ashes are in a casket-like box in the nightstand cabinet in my bedroom. The bright red collar I bought for her shortly before she died, after we had officially decided to adopt her, is wrapped around the box like a ribbon. A gift. I don't know if this is ghoulish or appropriate or evidence of some stage of denial. I don't know how long I will grieve the loss of a dog I assumed would be just one in a long line of dogs that I helped, and will very likely continue to help. Though it doesn't matter that I don't know what it is. Grief is a circumstance like happiness, like love. It is the way things are, until those things change.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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