Readers of this blog have seen my dogs, Hank the dachshund and Rosie the beagle. The two have been my companions through many years and many adventures. Above and below are pictures of them warming by the wood stove. They established a winter routine: lie beside the stove until overheated and panting, then run outside in the snow, then back by the fire, close enough to risk ignition. And the process repeats.
Last month, Hank and Rosie both died. On a crisp morning when the first stray snowflakes fell, Rosie was struck by a car, with injuries too severe for repair. Three weeks later, Hank became ill, stopped eating, and died the next night.
They were my closest friends, full of gladness, faithful to me and to one another to the end. Suddenly, they’re gone. My home now is quiet, the bed at night rather cold. The wood stove blazes again for winter, but it’s less fun. I go for hikes and remember hundreds of hikes we shared. I think of them involuntarily, suddenly recalling their tricks and traits that punctuated each day for so long. Yes, life goes forward, yet I don’t think I’ll ever stop wishing we might be together again.
I had Hank for fifteen years. Through seasons of wandering, through much loneliness and uncertainty, and finally into gathering success—through more than one-third of my life, as I assembled an adulthood—Hank was with me. Rosie I rescued five and a half years ago, after a Missouri River flood orphaned many animals. In a crowded room at the St. Louis pound, she came and leaned her head against my leg, picking me before I had even seen her. I stopped at the pound that day “just to look,” because Hank was seriously ill. Then he rallied, and so I had two dogs.
The long, low dachshund is an inherently comical sight, yet they are true hounds and bred to hunt. “Dachshund” is German for “badger hound.” As if aware of his teutonic heritage, Hank carried his little frame with compact strength. He seemed to prance as much as walk. He loved roaming the woods, dashing off on scents yet always returning to my call. Here in Vermont we climbed many mountains, impressive jaunts for his little legs. Hank also had a strange vocabulary of grumbles, grunts, and squeaks, variously sounding like an exclamation, an inquiry, a little pig, or a duck. I’ve been around dogs all my life, but I’ve never heard these vocalizations before. He was so attached to me that it could seem pathological, or perhaps just the height of fidelity.
Many beagles bay noisily, but Rosie didn’t speak for weeks after joining me. Thereafter she reserved her mellow “bark!” for meals, car rides, and occasional impatience at the door. She was the softest dog I’ve known—she could have passed for a mink—and she was one of the most affectionate. This combination proved irresistible to nearly everyone she met. Outside, she roamed with more independence than Hank. After chasing all the rabbits from my land, she took to sniffing out wild apples in the woods, which she carried back and chomped in the yard. Once this fall, while I lay in the hammock, she retrieved and ate three apples in a row. Following her, Hank also developed an appetite for apples. They became apple fanatics, and whenever I bit into one, they both appeared, inquiring for a slice. Hank also loved eating chicken feed, and each morning he followed me to the coop. Rosie preferred sleep: when Hank and I returned with fresh eggs she had invariably burrowed under the blankets.
One of my last pictures of Rosie (above), in mid-September, with an apple from the woods. Hank sleeping shortly after Rosie’s death (below).
I buried Rosie on the hill behind my home, and then Hank beside her. I squared the edges of each grave and leveled the bottom as if I were an architect. In each grave I made a mattress from boughs of golden rod, hydrangea, and aster. I included some wild apples. I wrapped each dog in a favorite shirt. I read a few poems. Then I filled the grave, salting the soil with many tears.
They were the best of companions, central characters in a central time of my life. I could not have loved them any more. I’ll miss them very very much.