A best friend’s merciful exit

Heidi filled our hearts with joy at first blush, when she mirrored our exuberance, previewing a symbiotic relationship we were eager to relive in early 2003, after our third miniature schnauzer succumbed to liver failure amid a toxic pet food scandal. Heidi pranced like a tipsy ballerina obsessed with expressing puppy love in pirouettes without tripping. “With four new legs, you should be able to dance circles around me,” I said, prompting the pup to cock her head as if to reply, “Sometimes less is more, you pedantic jackal.”

Thus began a feisty conversation in my imagination, where Heidi’s sarcastic smackdowns keep me on a short leash.

Our instant connection and deep affection stoked my will to crush an undefined but palpable complication.

God bless the random coincidences and broken roads that brought us together. But they weren’t sufficient to bring us home. A promise mercifully broken by a schnauzer whisperer proved to be our saving grace.

Heidi already had been assigned a forever home when we recognized her destiny with us. We would take her home and treat her regally as a precious, rare blessing — at any and all cost. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition; it was our manifest destiny.

A co-owner/breeder of the canine masterminded the reassignment with a compelling rationale: She had witnessed a dour girl-child of the assigned family disparage the puppy as “ugly.” Let us praise juvenile fits of radical candor and the application of situational ethics to bury a pledge for the higher purpose of diverting a splendid pet from Malice in Wonderland.

Heidi was pampered, privileged, played with, petted, praised, fed, watered, walked, groomed, bathed and talked to with holy reverence and extreme TLC for nearly 13 years. During the final chapter of her luxurious life — after she presented with diabetes and vision-blurring cataracts — we spared no expense to maintain her quality of life. She became our most affectionate, intelligent, human schnauzer because she flourished in direct proportion to the unprecedented, steady flow of love and attention from my mother.

I’m never more flattered than when someone says, “You treat me like a dog.” When it’s appropriate, I might note the irony that dogs don’t bitch. Admittedly, healthy persons don’t bark either. But a withering bitch-a-thon can be more insidious than a rabid bat attack.

 As a diabetic, Heidi’s water intake escalated. We adapted to her Titanic thirst by adding opportunities to pee outside. When she couldn’t wait for us to walk her, she marked the occasion with a puddle we were well equipped to suction and sanitize. It upset us only to the extent that it bummed her out. Instead of  scolding her, we told her, “It’s OK.” That was our operatic catch-all whenever she was vexed, flummoxed or hurt. She knew it was meant to reassure and soothe. She trusted us implicitly to love and forgive her no matter what. She understood our plea to “be still” when we groomed sensitive areas. She, likewise, was exquisitely careful to distinguish between finger and food.

The only time she nipped anyone on my watch was when an accelerated return from a brisk walk was interrupted. I had to urinate urgently, but a retired and lonely neighbor was blocking the sidewalk between us and the door. Heidi apparently felt that I shouldn’t have to say, “Get out of the way; I need to pee,” so she dispatched him with a growl and a scrape at the ankle. He reacted as an un-numbed amputee. Of course I apologized, but Heidi heard what I really wanted to say: “Klingon aggression will not be tolerated, ya big wussy.”

After a meal or a drink, she would seek us out and gently extend a paw to telegraph, “Restore dignity to my beard and kiss my forehead, you lucky so-and-so.”

Our luck began to expire a few months ago, when she started camping out on the bathroom floor. Eventually, she emerged only to eat or excrete — before she lost her appetite.

When she became bloated and unable to stand, the vet confirmed she was bleeding internally, presumably because a splenic tumor had ruptured. There was only one good choice — and she trusted us to make it quickly. The tears keep coming but there was no panting, pain or complaining.

Heidi had an extraordinarily good life and death. I don’t believe it’s possible to love a dog too much. In fact, that’s the comfort that best assuages our grief. I don’t think we’ll ever fully recover — perhaps until we have another.