I paid close attention to our dog Clarissa’s licks these last weeks because I knew she was dying. I wanted to make sure I remembered what her kisses smelled like, as if the scent of her tongue were her signature. She was euthanized this morning. Before the vet came in, I put my face under her mouth and she gave me one good wipe across the lips.
I expected to develop a single-scent memory. Strangely, her breath got better in her last days. Her final kiss even had a sweet scent, clean like an angel. Mostly I will remember the rank tongue that swept my mouth for 16 years because that’s the Clarissa I’ve always known and loved, stink and all. Clarissa had a great lick allotments, three or four at a time and no slobbering. She was very ladylike in this regard. You’d get your kisses and then she would turn her head to signal she was done. If you asked for more, she demurred.
On the other hand, she was very unladylike at the dinner table. She sat beside me every night and begged with brown eyes like saucers, and the posture of a dog prepared to pounce. She could sit through the entire meal, waiting for a single scrap from your plate. It drove my husband crazy.
Clarissa was a tough lady too. She recovered from Parvo, a deadly intestinal disease, when she was eight weeks old. She survived a severe liver infection and countless encounters with things dogs shouldn’t eat, including chicken bones and a large wad of tin foil. The most troubling were her tumbles down the stairs. In her last two years she couldn’t navigate the stairway, and she wouldn’t let us carry her down. Listening from the kitchen, I squeezed my shoulders every time she skied down the steps and landed with a splat and no expression of pain. Unfazed, she headed directly for her food and inhaled the contents.
She put up with our foster puppies, including Lance. We adopted him when Clarissa was twelve. He grew to three feet and over seventy pounds of angst, energy and dominance. To the end, she regularly tried to steal Lance’s food and got a serious smack down every time.
Clarissa turned 16 in April. She was in pretty-good health four weeks ago. When we walked, she delivered a strong leash yank if something interested her. I had a little bit of a my-dog’s-better-than-yours attitude. We were just lucky.
Clarissa taught us about resilience and patience. Most of all, she showed us what unconditional love looks like, even if it was only manifest in a few ladylike licks at a time.