I decided to ask Cosette into bed with me this evening.  It's a special privilege when I Iet her:  when the sheets are about to be laundered, when I'm sick, or just in need of a little more canine companionship than sitting beside the bed.  She's not allowed on furniture otherwise unless invited, so when she's invited up, she treats it like a glorious chocolate-covered fudge sundae; in other words, she laps the attention up and flops around luxuriously like a queen. 

Tonight I was feeling a little down from a work situation - nothing big, just tiring - and decided to read a veterinarian non-fiction book while Joel was prepping his lecture.  I scooted over and patted the bed, inviting Cosette up.  She looked at me suspiciously, then elegantly jumped up, turned around, and sank down beside me, curling up against my body.  I gently stroked her fur, continuing to read my book.  I ended the chapter, unfortunately one that talked about the decisions vets make to euthanize an animal (by the way - did you know that euthanize means "good death"?).  I set the book down on my bedside table and gazed down at Cosette and thought of how many memories we have together.

I remember seeing her when she was three weeks old, meeting her for the first time.  Even in her large whelping box, she managed to crawl over and find me  several times during my first visit.  I was still wanting a chocolate Lab at that point, so I just politely pet her and studied her brothers and sisters. 

Two weeks passed, and when I returned the puppies were spending a few hours each day outside in the spring weather.  When I walked to the yard where the breeder had them, all the puppies stayed asleep under the table, and one tiny black female came up beside me and sat down at my feet.  I looked up at the breeder and she said, "That's that black female that you were petting last time.  She likes you!"  I hadn't even realized that it was the same puppy, but she must have realized it was me.  At least that's the story I tell myself.

Then on the drive home, I couldn't get this black puppy out of my head.  I kept thinking about how she deliberately came up to me and plopped right down beside me.  I came back the next day to make a final decision.  This time, the puppies were scattered in the yard, and the breeder did a funny little yelp to them, saying, "Here pup pups!" in a high-pitched tone.  They all kept on playing, except for the little black female.  She came straight over to me and I swept her up in my arms and held her to my chest.  She was five weeks old, and she was mine, I was sure of it. 

I was house-sitting for a dean that year, and when I say house-sitting I mean I was living in the house and had no other residence, so I decided to keep the little black female at the breeder's until she was 10 weeks old until I had just a few weeks left in the dean's house.  During those next five weeks, I picked up a tiny red collar and leash, a crate, soft chew toys, water and food bowls, and picked out a name:  Cosette.  I fell in love with her more strongly even when I wasn't around her.  I kept her collar and leash in my car, and while I drove around town, I'd absentmindedly finger the collar in the passenger seat, imagining the dog who would soon be wearing it.  I imagined her sitting beside me, taking rides with me, hiking, playing. 

We've done all that and so much more.

When I did pick her up from the breeder, she was a beautiful 10-week old puppy, and I was a stressed-out graduate student preparing to move to a different state for a doctoral program, defend my thesis, and say goodbye to my close graduate school friends, all within the confines of a month. 

Cosette was a very good puppy, with the occasional accidents and a few nights crying alone in her crate.  A few sleepless nights for me, a thesis due in several weeks, and the stress of having a new puppy were almost a little much sometimes.  I wanted so much to play with her and revel in her puppiness, but I simply didn't have the time to devote.  I needed to finish my degree requirements.  I balanced as best I could, but sometimes it was hard.  One tear-filled evening after I considered telling the breeder I just couldn't do it and taking her back, I vowed to her to always give her the attention she deserves after I was done with my thesis.  Since that night, I have kept my promise.

We have explored several states, many hiking trails, hiked many non-trails, water retrieved in every nearby lake, taken long car trips, taken short car trips, visited the vet many times to ensure a healthy puppyhood, walked many miles, played games, engaged in hours and hours of retrieval, met all my friends, played with other dogs, been through training, moved with me, welcomed a wonderful man into my life, welcomed a five-year-old child into my life, stayed in hotels, camped outside, slept in her bed, slept in my bed, picked up her poop, cleaned up her pee, wiped up her vomit, groomed her, and loved her for two solid years.

I thought about all of this as I was lying there tonight, stroking her soft black fur, watching her eyelids slowly lower and flutter.  Watching her breath enter and exit her body evenly, without hurt or pain.  I cherish the two-year-old before me, the wonderfully graceful, beautifully elegant, lean and strong body.  I feel the muscular structure underneath her fur, the muscles poised at any given moment to catch just one more tennis ball.  And my throat choked up a little, like it is right now, thinking of the cherished years we have in front of us, my dog and I.  And how I vow even stronger every day to keep my promise to her to always give her the attention and love she deserves.  That's the least I can do for her, because she's given me so much more, more than I've ever asked or demanded.  She has been, and continues to be, a source of comfort, stability, routine, playfulness, but above all, a friend. 

Taken December 2007

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