The Long Goodbye

Once we became a multi-dog household, I began to count noses. It began with one-two: first for Barnie and Bea, later followed by Beau and Belle, then Boots and Tippy, and finally Duchess and Gus. When Elmo joined Duchess and Gus, I had to learn to count all the way up to three. One-two-three-four began when first grand-dog Charley adopted Missy M; we dropped back to one-two-three for a bit in 2007 until Ella Rae came along to cheer M up. When Dixie arrived in their house and would come for a visit, we hit the high water mark: one-two-three-four-five.

So, since the grand-dogs are here for Spring break, I got up this morning as I usually do, counting snouts: one-two-three-four...and then I remembered I had to stop. For Belle Bea Boots, Duchess of Dacula, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge yesterday, following a lengthy roller-coaster battle with cancer.

She had an amazingly long run for a Basset, whose lifespan is typically quoted at 10-12 years, living to a ripe, old age of  14 1/4 years. Even more amazing when you pause to consider that she has been on the downhill slope for nearly 5 years.

To begin her story, let's return to the Holiday Season of 2000, when we were still grieving over the death of Boots, who lost her battle with kidney disease at Thanksgiving. Missy M returned to her final semester of her Senior year at Mississippi University for Women in January, and I remember being doubly-sad that week.


We got a phone call from our sweet daughter, telling us she had seen an ad for a litter of Basset puppies on the school's list serv. Did we want her to go look at them? Now, we all know there is no such thing as just "go look at them" when we are talking about better be prepared to come home with one, hadn't you? Mr. T's only instruction was "get a boy dog, please." I think he was weary of being the only member of our little family with a Y chromosome.

Anyway, M took a friend to see the litter, and they fell for the tiniest one of the bunch...who was also the only female. She brought her home to Dacula that weekend, and somewhere on the long trip from Mississippi to Georgia the runt of the litter gained a regal name: Duchess. When I sent in her AKC papers, I named her to honor the memory of those ones who had gone on: Belle Bea Boots, Duchess of Dacula.

Because Duchess was with us for so many years, we have mountains of memories. Like of how she teethed on a brick on the fireplace hearth. And how she used to get so excited when she heard her first boyfriend, Willie, as he barked when he went by on his daily walks behind our house in Dacula. How she bonded with Mr. T, who shared his home office with her for the first 8 months in residence.

How she loved walking to the mailbox to meet up with Flash, her Florida boyfriend...and how she stood at the back of the pool cage to bark at the cows in the Kissimmee pasture-land behind our house. How she said "I don't think so! when introduced to the Chip (or was it Dale) character at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

How she could always manage to put the brakes on full-stop and walk right out of her collar...and run faster than you could imagine anything on such short legs could go. And how she always thought she was a lap dog...even when she topped out at 60+ pounds.

Going for a walk with Duchess brought to mind how it must be when the Queen of England takes a ride in the countryside. If she could have managed that little wrist-wave, I'm sure she would have used it. Whenever she spotted another person, Duchess was certain s/he was coming just to see her...and she would wiggle-walk toward the on-coming subject and present her belly for a rub. OK, so maybe the Queen doesn't do that last part.

Duchess was pretty much a by-the-book Basset: "A calm pet that enjoys and needs human companionship. Relative to its size, it's the heaviest boned dog of any breed. Its deep, rolling bark can be amusing. This is a serene and well-behaved dog, but if it's spoiled it can become stubborn."

Did they say "human companionship? Yes, Duchess loved "her people." Other dogs? Not so much. She tolerated Gus, who we adopted thinking they would make great playmates. Not really. Most of the time, Duchess looked at him like she was just about to say "when are you coming to your senses and taking him back?"

When Elmo arrived, she was mostly indifferent...allowing the boyz to be boyz together. As the canine population of her world changed over the last few years, she simply adopted the attitude: "hey, I was here first. Deal with it."

Did they say stubborn if spoiled?  You better believe it...on both counts! She marched to her own drummer...and she typically expected all the rest of us to do likewise. Breakfast was to be served within 15 minutes of her sashaying into the kitchen. Dinner was to be at 6:00 on the dot. Oh, and there were expectations that whenever she...or anyone, for that matter...went outside and came back in there would be treats...plural. And there had better be water in each and every water bowl around.

There were some "bad" breed traits she had also: frequent ear infections, skin allergies, and skin tumors known as lipomas, which are normally benign fatty-tissue tumors. She endured several surgeries to remove multiple "lumps and bumps" over the years earning her the nickname "Duche$$."

Then in 2010, she was diagnosed with an infiltrative lipoma (one between her front legs that had grown into the surrounding muscle tissue) and another liposarcoma (the malignant form of skin tumor). Both of these were inoperable, meaning it was just a matter of time. [Read more about lipomas in dogs here, where they even have a picture of a dog with a lipoma on its chest, just like Duchess had: ]

As in life, Duchess set her own schedule for death. She knocked on the door on more than one occasion, prompting us into anticipatory action (regular readers might recall that is how we adopted Abbie, back in 2013). When she could no longer manage to get her back legs to follow her front legs up onto the sofa or bed or into her favorite chair (AKA: Mr. T's morning room chair), she simply began to tell us what to do when. We called this assistance The Butt Lift. Woof! became the Basset equivalent of "I said NOW!"

But, for the past week or so, things were steadily going downhill for the old girl. She stopped eating for a couple of days, followed by a few days of half-rations, only to return to not eating. Yesterday, we knew the time had arrived when neither of us could get her to take her pain meds, even though she was in obvious pain. So, we did the hardest job a pet parent must do: made the decision to make that long, sad trip to the Animal Emergency Hospital.

So, goodbye Missy D...Big Girl...the D-girl. We will miss you mightily. You gave us plenty of time to prepare for your departure, but we will still feel a hollow place in our hearts created by your absence.

And when I count noses tonight for dinner, I'll still say "five" in your memory.


I put together an album with photos highlighting Duchess' life, which hopefully you can access here: 


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