Sunday, July 13, 2014

For the love of a stray and the love she gave in return

March 24. 2013 8:16AM

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My wife Carole occasionally brings home strays. Orphaned plants, antiques and collectibles, the occasional rabbit, me. She has a big heart and our family is richer for it.

Nearly 12 years ago she brought home a cardboard box with a puppy that had been left behind at a gas station. The pup had beautiful brown fur with a blaze of white on her chest and white tips on her paws and tail. The kids christened her for the color of a coin but with a spelling that reflected the culinary flair and non-conformity in our home.

The name was pronounced “penny” but we spelled it Penne.

Penne’s rambunctiousness lasted beyond puppy-hood and patience. She played too rough with others and we were ready to end the relationship until our son — who was about 6 years old at the time — resolutely packed his things and left.

Literally. Boy and belongings, sulking outside the door. His adamant message: If the dog goes, he goes.

We had a lot invested in both so we kept the boy and dog.

She mellowed, we mellowed and Penne became thoroughly ingrained in our lives and routines.

It was dark when I’d leave for the gym in the morning but I could always hear Penne, still in her bed in the kitchen, thwump the floor with her wagging tail.

When son Will came down for breakfast Penne would get up and plant her jaw in this lap while he absently rubbed her head.

Dog greetings were huge for daughter Anne when she arrived home from college.

Carole, often the last to leave the house for the day, would have that brief reassuring conversation with Penne.

Penne was with us every summer when we stayed at a house near a secluded Pennsylvania lake. She ambled there at will, leaving the porch when she wanted, angling in the shallows for sunfish she’d never catch, carousing through ferns so high only a white-tipped tail was visible. On every walk she found a muddy slump to soak in. On one memorable walk she was between mom and son and a bear. All retreated with good sense to tell the tale. So it was for years.

Penne moved a little slower in recent months and when she was examined the vet said she was full of tumors. Last week the kids took her back to the secluded lake and even though it was frozen over it was a visit to a familiar and cherished place.

When Penne stopped eating, drinking water, and even sitting upright, it was clear the sickness was overwhelming her. The last time she stood she plopped herself on the cold driveway as if she was ready to surrender to the cold inevitably. We coaxed Penne inside and doted on her through the weekend.

Neverthesless the pain exceeded any pleasure for her or us so early on Monday, Will and I took her to the vet’s. We carried Penne into the examining room to be euthanized, stroking her brown flanks and soft ears, comforting and crying over her as she died away. We cried for pain and sadness, and love too.

Penne was a dog. Our pet. I don’t equate her demise to equal any of the terrible problems of the world. But she meant a great deal to our family. Even though she was a handful in the beginning, she became a wonderful companion and Penne could make bad days good and good days great.

Through the years, when caring for a dog was inconvenient I’d kid Carole: “You brought her home.” Now that she is gone and we can measure the significance she had in our lives, Carole gets the credit. She brought Penne home.

And that’s the lesson for this old dog. We took in an orphan. We gave her love. She gave it back.

What more can we ask for?

Joe Butkiewicz is Executive Editor of The Times Leader.

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