Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
--Mark Twain

Yesterday morning, at 3 AM, I came downstairs to find my old dog, Misha, lying stiff and cold under my writing desk. He had been ailing for some time and his demise was always in my thoughts, and so, I was not surprised. I got out my journal and began to write out my sorrow and loss, and to remember the wonderful friend who has graced my life for nearly a decade.

Misha came to me as a rescue dog who was snatched from the jaws of death by my friends Karen and Abbas, just minutes before he was to be euthanized. When he arrived he bore some completely bland name--Fred, perhaps, or Barney. Half-Pitbull and half-boxer, he was a beautiful brindle who pranced rather than walked, and who executed a perfect arabesque when lifting his leg. This last trait earned him his lasting name, Misha, after the nickname of the Russian dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov.

We did all the usual dog and person things: walks, snuggles by the fire, more walks. He learned a smattering of tricks; enjoyed the dog bones he earned; left crumbs and hair all over the carpet—the usual doggy behaviors. We had a good relationship but I was still grieving over the death of my Rottweiler and somehow, the bond with Misha wasn’t strong, a situation of which we were both aware.

But then one day, during a howling blizzard, I went out to get firewood. At the edge of the porch, my feet slipped and suddenly, I was launched into space. I fell four feet, landing flat on my back on the graveled garden path, knocked out cold. I have no idea how long I lay there. But when I came to, the falling snow had blanketed me and, to my utter astonishment, Misha was standing beside me.

But standing is too pallid a word for his stance. His four legs were spread in defiance of the fierce wind. His head was held high, with ears pricked and nostrils flared. And he had positioned himself along my side, to shield me from the driving force of the wind and from as many snowflakes as his body could deflect. I knew in an instant that he was prepared to stand that way all day and into the night, if necessary.

That was the turning point in our relationship. Finally, after more than a year, we bonded.

So yesterday morning when I saw his beautiful brindle body lying stiff-legged under my desk, there were really no words to convey my sense of loss. Around 6 AM I posted a quote by Emily Dickinson as a brief memoriam. Beyond that, there were no words to express what I was feeling.

So imagine my dismay, as I slumped, disconsolate, in my armchair, upon hearing what sounded like a shallow breath. And then another. And another! And my astonishment as, Lazarus-like, Misha slowly but surely rematerialized from the Land of the Dead!

I have no explanation for this, beyond medical marvel or pure miracle. To hear his tail thump-thumping against the parquet was the most heart-lifting music! To have him rise and stagger rummily about the room was the most beautiful dance! My friend was back!

And there are really no words that can express either the sorrow or the joy of that experience. I always assume that, as a writer, I can express the inexpressible. But I am mistaken.

With Milan Kundera I say, “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace." I know that each day with Misha, now, is a gift, pure and simple. Of course, it always was, but it’s easy to forget how precious and how brief a life can be. And when his time comes, I hope I will be as steadfast beside him as he was beside me, in the wind and snow.

I stand corrected. How glad I am to announce: rumors of Misha’s death have been greatly exaggerated!

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