Monday, after she had gone through a year of increasing illness and much longer of not being quite right, we had to put my dog Nimi to sleep.
Nimi was a birthday present for my sixteenth – my parents decided they had to do something when they found me kissing the hamster. (I believe the hamster in question was Willow, who was remarkably dumb even for a hamster but quite amiable and so much as you can say this about hamsters, affectionate.) Most kids want their own set of wheels by sixteen; I was delighted with the promise of a puppy as soon as a new litter was born. My parents found the Bichon Frise breed because they don’t shed and are hypo-allergenic.
We went out to see the pups when they were three weeks old. One of them crawled into my lap and fell asleep. Instant love – the breeders agreed to put a dot of magic marker on her so they could tell her apart. Then a long period of debate where we tried to find a name that would fit. We finally settled on Nimue (Nim-ooh-AY), the Celtic name for the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. (Seeing as formal breed registration requires a name long enough for (some) uniqueness, Nimue, Lady of the Lake is her officially registered name.) Nimi for short.
About a month later, I brought her home. The fateful moment – all the puppies were playing in the yard. One decides to trundle off in another direction, exploring … and all the others followed. Instant thought: seriously alpha dog. My father, with some trepidation, “Which one is ours?” to which the breeder replied, pointing at the lead dog, “Oh, that one.”
She was small enough at that point that I could carry her in one hand. I quickly found she was both very smart and very stubborn. She was second in her obedience class – out of two dogs. Supposedly, Bichons don’t bark – Nimi loved to and almost up to the last would kill her food, play bark, demanded out of her crate during meals, let me know at the top of her lungs when she wanted something … she always had to have the last word. If you scolded her for barking, she’d tack one more tiny little bark on the end as if to say, “So there.” An attempt to teach her not to bark using the hose just ended up in her refusing to be outside if it was on.
When wound up, she dashed frantically around the house, a pellmell explosion of energy. We called this “mad dog” and it became quite a sight when we remodeled with wood floors and she went skidding … she chased rabbits and never came close to catching them. She never learned to distinguish squirrels, except for the fact they were harder to catch; they were both “bunnies” to her.
The baby of the family, she loved being cuddled and scritched and would twist her body back into it. Stop, and she’d paw at you for more. She licked faces as “kisses.” She invited herself wherever she wanted to be, clambering over people if they were in the way and then stretching out to make room. She adored people and when I started teaching harp, could tell when I was setting up for arrivals and patiently sat by the window on the lookout for them. We’d joke about her “Lively intelligence” when she was playing dumb – really, she chose to be smart only when it benefited her.
Some of her favorite past-times were walks and rides in the car. She had (far too many) toys and seemed to have the most fun with the ones far bigger than she because they “fought back” when she tried to throw them around.
She wasn’t too fond of other dogs most of the time; for some reason, multi-colored canines were a particular source of trauma. We ended up referring to them as, “Plaid dogs.” She made enemies of the lawn-mower and the inflatable exercise ball, barking at them and then valiantly running away, but for some reason was never bothered by the vacuum-cleaner and completely ignored my harp.
But she was never right physically, from a very young encounter with kidney stones that required surgery to continuous infections that eventually morphed into a trip to the emergency pet clinic on Memorial Day 2006. She was way too smart about her medications, dunking her food to wash them out or shuffling them to the side of her mouth even when placed in peanut butter, though after a while she generally stopped trying to get rid of them; she seemed to recognize they were meant to help.
She was back at the emergency clinic in the fall; by spring of 2007, her condition had worsened to the point where the vet finally prescribed subcutaneous fluids. I, terrified of needles, had to insert one under her skin in two places twice a day.
For a short while, it worked. She was as bright and cheerful as ever, and I breathed a sigh of relief – knowing she didn’t have long, but thinking on the order of six months to a year.
It was three weeks before she started to mope again, refusing about half her food every day. Last Tuesday, she ate nothing the entire day. When she turned her nose up at breakfast, I brought her into the vet and found out that her kidneys (the issue all along) had failed and she had almost no kidney function. There wasn’t anything left to do.
Making the decision was horrendously wrenching, but the vet was able to provide us with some shots to perk her up and give her some energy for the weekend. So she had walks, she had car-rides, she had the people food she was usually forbidden – and my family and I went through 54 exposures of film between Saturday and Monday. But we could tell that even these measures weren’t working: between shots, she was confused, wobbly, depressed and refusing food again, and for longer each time.
So Monday, the appointment. The vet and vet-tech were wonderfully compassionate and caring. It was so easy it seemed unreal. Got home, where one of my students – who is renting my smaller harp – very thoughtfully dropped it off so a young trial student could play something that wasn’t bigger than she was. Turned out she’d had to put her dog to sleep earlier that day. I felt terribly guilty that I’d asked her to drop it by.
I’m saving Nimi’s crate bear and her collar; the latter will have a locket and a few strands of her hair in it. I hope if there is a heaven she’s found my grandfather Papa Tony, who loved his “nutsie muttsie,” and his old dog Hutch. Maybe they’ll startle a few butterflies back to earth for us.
Addendum – my only real composition, The Butterfly Waltz, was written last year shortly before my friend Lauren’s wedding (hi, Lauren!). It came to me after I was grousing on a walk that I was really bothered I could write accompaniment, write lyrics, write *books*, but not music, when a butterfly flitted across my path. My mother believes butterflies are my grandfather saying hello.
I was playing the waltz and writing the section about “butterflies” above when my uncle Chris called. He said he had lost a few items, including his car keys, and asked Papa Tony to find them. Sure enough, they showed up. My aunt Jeanne said she’d spotted a butterfly at about the same time and never seen one so high.
Hi, Papa Tony. Don’t let her boss you around too much.