From the first time we met Emma, it was all about her tail.
On the day we adopted her from the Humane Society, we actually went looking for someone else. Brogan had his heart set on growing up with a particular kind of canine, “I want a golden retriever puppy, so she can sleep at the foot of my bed and we can grow up together.” There wasn’t a golden available on the day the family went, and 7 year old Brogan’s heart seemed about to break. He walked just about every dog in the place and none of them captured his heart. After a while he joined me on a bench in the courtyard with head hung low.
Right about then a van pulled up having been at an Adoption Day at a Pet Smart or someplace and the three dogs who weren’t chosen exited. I nudged Brogan and tried to say something encouraging. When I looked back at the dogs, one dog sat with her back to us. It was her tail I saw first. It was the most beautiful tail I had ever seen. It was as long as the dog was tall. The tail was woven blond and red and copper. I’d never seen anything like it. I nudged Brogan again, he looked at her and agreed, it was a beautiful tail. When I asked the volunteer walking her back into the kennel about the dog, she said, “Her name is Emma. She’s a red-boned coonhound, pit bull. She’s our smartest dog.” Brogan went over to her and she became his dog.
As she grew up her tail changed colors and Emma merged into a body of blondish, copperish, brown. It happened slowly and we never really noticed.
It was her tail that became her identifier, it was her most effective communication tool. That tail let us know where she was in the room whenever one of her people entered. Thump. Thump. Thump. That tail let us know when she agreed with a suggestion, “Wanna go for a walk?” “Wanna go for a ride?” Her tail told us when we made her heart happy. Her tail was stronger than anything I’d ever known – it could wipe out whatever was on the coffee table and whack, whack, whack you on the leg, immediately getting your full attention.
We gathered round her one last time this afternoon. She had developed a tumor on her back leg and treatment was not possible. Sarge (Emma's favorite person after us) was with us. Our vet, Dr. J. who has long-known Emma, came to the house to put her to sleep. She did not go quietly into the good night, and although it wasn't how we'd hoped, she was strong. She had a big, big heart. And she fiercely loved her family. She truly didn't want to leave us. Her spirit was just not enough, and we tenderly let it go.
We thank you Emma for
- being fiercely loyal, especially to Brogan and Sam
- growing up with Brogan and being his most enthusiastic fan
- teaching Sam how to pace himself in long-distance running (Sam was usually the first one out the back door, following after her when she was busting loose down the driveway and beyond)
- loving Linda more than your natural instincts of eating the chickens in the backyard
- taking (read: pulling) me on hundreds walks
- teaching K'bu to love and trust us
- all the rides through the neighborhood in the car
- being such a great watchdog. Even when Dr J came this afternoon to help you pass over, you hobbled, barking to the door to let us know someone was here
- teaching us not to judge a book by its cover ("pit bull" used to be an intimidating image until we met you)
Grace upon grace to you, sweet girl. You companioned us lovingly and left way too soon. Please pass along our love to Maddie and Buzz when you see them. You will always be in our hearts, sweet girl.
[thanks Linda and Susie for collecting the pictures]
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.