Howie & Penny

Penny & Howie

Penny - "Poodily" - July 1983 - November 2, 1999

Howie - "Do"- February 1980 - September 10, 1995

A day or so after Pud died at Thanksgiving time in 1986, my mother and I took a walk in the field near her house and stood silently by the grave. It was a very dark, star-filled night, as it often is in the mountains. My mother pointed at the sky. "There's Pud," she said tearfully, indicating a very bright star. When Pud's half-brother Pepe died five years to the day later, my father said that he hadn't felt so sad since his own sister passed away, ten years before.

I felt both of those ways and even worse after Howie died, but I suspected that there were a few people who were secretly glad he was gone. You see, some people didn't like him. Which was perfectly fine by Howie, because the feeling was mutual. He was such a funny little dog, half beagle and half schnauzer, and 100% human. I got him when he was about six weeks old, from a woman who wasn't thrilled with the pups, because her schnauzer had gotten out accidentally. She picked him out of the pile of four puppies; I couldn't bear to choose. "You want a baby," she told me as I tucked the tiny, wiry haired puppy into my coat. But I knew she was wrong. I wanted a puppy. He was always serious and sometimes grumpy, though with me he was invariably sweet. His hair was every color but white -- a mixture of gray, black, tan. Allergic to many things, clumsy and not carefree like the other Frisbee-playing dogs in the park, I fussed over him and worried constantly that something bad would happen to him, afraid he would be taken from me too soon. But he was amazingly resilient, survived a few illnesses, and for most of his life was robust.

When he was three years old, he seemed to be lonesome, left alone during the day, and so I got him a poodle puppy for a companion. Penny adored him with an intensity she could never feel for a person, and he protected her from all bad things, including what he saw as unnecessary human intervention. And so it was impossible to discipline Penny, and for her entire life she refused to listen.

He loved toys, and would unwrap Christmas and birthday gifts; if he saw a big bag from a discount department store, he pouted until his new toy was produced. He always stuck his head in the grocery bags to check for hidden squeaky toys. When he rode in the car, he became depressed if he was not taken to a fast food restaurant for a snack. When he wanted to come in from outside, he scratched the door. Once. Then he waited. He had a huge vocabulary, consisting mostly of sophisticated culinary items; he never ate dog food, because I made enough for the animals when I cooked, or I fed them left over restaurant food. At night, he slept, unmoving, right next to me under the covers.

A couple of years before he died, I adopted a homeless cat. How is Howie tolerating her?, everyone wanted to know. Fine, I said. He mostly ignored other animals; he wasn't one, you see. At the end of March 1995, when he was fifteen, his health started to fail. All summer I cared for him, carrying him around when his mobility was impaired, fussing over him, praying. I know he didn't want to leave me, and I'm sure he stayed as long as he could. On September 10, 1995, he passed away, as I held him on my lap. We successfully resuscitated him for a few moments, but then decided it was time to let him go.

My husband Bob made him a cardboard coffin, and we buried Howie in his basket with a favorite blanket, a toy, some flowers, a photograph of us together (me, Bob, Howie, Penny), and a crucifix which I got for my eighteenth birthday. I saved his other favorite blanket for Penny, and his harness, as a keepsake for me. He is there next to Pepe, in the animal cemetery at my parents' farm, and my father made a wooden cross to mark his grave. In 1996, their dog Kate died, and so she is now on Howie's other side. In life, none of these dogs especially liked each other, but that is OK.

Suddenly, the house was so empty, even with Howie's canine and feline companions still there. For a few days, Edna, the cat, was very sad. At first, Penny's grief seemed to be not as deep, but later I realized it lasted a long time, and changed her personality for a year. But mine, I think, was the greatest of all. Everyday I watched for my answered prayer; a miracle. Then, one day, I was reading the paper, and spotted a picture of beagle mix pups at the shelter. They were being used to generate publicity for a fundraising drive, and would be given away in a lottery. At least fifty people arrived to claim one of the five puppies, four females and one male, and I sat nervously waiting, hopeful and pessimistic at the same time. What if my number was called too soon? I didn't want to choose. One puppy was left when number twenty-nine was called. It was mine! "My puppy! My puppy!" I cried. "Is it male or female?," I asked, though in my heart I knew the answer. "Male," said the shelter attendant. And so I took Rudy home.

That night I sat on the kitchen floor and cried at my disloyalty. A little puppy came up and licked my face like mad. "There is no greater tribute than to get another dog," I thought. His short hair is every color but gray: white, black, tan. Fully grown now, Rudy unwraps Christmas and birthday gifts, he likes to check the grocery bags for squeaky toys, and he loves our weekly trip to the fast food restaurant. Plus, he's developing quite a vocabulary of nouvelle cuisine.

Yesterday, November 2, 1999, a bit more than four years later, Howie's companion, little Penny Poodle, died. She was an old lady of 16, hardly sick for a day of those years, tiny and frail-looking but tough as nails. She failed badly for a bit less than a week, with a slow, dignified, slight decline before that. I spent the last night on the floor next to her basket, and in the morning she went peacefully as I stroked her.

I am going to miss that gentle, timid dog so much. She was so perky, even as a senior citizen. She was an athletic dog; good at "catch," at balancing on her hind legs, at digging holes in the yard, at jumping. I always groomed her myself, and she was cute as a button, but not one bit a wimp. She didn't have a mean bone in her body, although she was quite adept at getting her way, and she was fiercely independent. She loved those car rides too, and especially enjoyed spicy foods -- Italian, Chinese, Mexican. She also loved sweets, and was particularly fond of soft donuts in her old age.

We stood in a downpour with our umbrellas, the weather appropriate to my mood, as my father dug Penny's grave with his backhoe, at the head of Howie's. Actually he had already finished digging when we arrived, but needed to widen it a bit to accommodate the box my husband had fashioned into a coffin, complete with a flowered wallpaper border as trim, which we found in the rollaway with the boxes we scavenged behind Sherwin Williams paint store. We decided Penny warranted something a little more classy than the plain cardboard with the "This End Up" label.

I took one last look inside, and my action made my mother cry too. I'd tucked a purple latex squeaky ball, a favorite when she still played, a silver cross of mine, some photos -- most notably, one of her and Howie on a happy Christmas morning, chewing their new rawhide bones, big ones more appropriate for German Shepherds, but the 15 pound poodle and 30 pound beagle/schnauzer managed them quite nicely. In that photo, Penny's hair was jet black; it didn't have a hint of the gray which was now so characteristic. Then a more recent one, taken last fall, wearing her new fleece jacket at the house site, Rudy her nearby companion. And, of course, photos of me and my husband and Edna. I scoured the remnants of my garden and found two snapdragons and a geranium, and added that small bouquet. And so we buried her in her new soft basket, with a favorite blanket. Two canines, our Rudy and Hobo, my parents' rescued Doberman, were among the mourners. This weekend, I will mark the place with a slate stone and a statue to match the one which has now replaced Howie's wooden cross.

At home, Edna was hiding under the bed. Rudy seems quite sad. Exhausted from not sleeping, I put away Penny's leash and harness and bowl. My husband folded up the green fleece blanket from her chair. I saved it for her after Howie died four years ago, and now I will save it for me. Her other basket, the wicker one which she had almost her entire life and which she loved so much, a hand-me-down from Pud, is empty now, but still sits in her spot under the kitchen table.

I got Penny, a miniature Poodle with no papers, while in college, and in some ways I feel a part of that past has slipped away, the page has turned at last. She too was from a litter of four pups, and the woman who had her mother selected her for me, because I could not choose. I named her after a dog my aunt had when I was a child.

So, now she is at the farm also, in the animal cemetery (there are now 5 dogs, Pud, Pepe, Howie, Kate, Penny, and one sheep, Bufford, there), near a big oak tree. I comfort myself a little by thinking that Howie and Penny are together, inseparable as they were in life, that the little dreams she was having the night before she died, complete with little barks and the motion of running, were because after all this time, she finally saw him again, waiting there for her to arrive, and she was barking in delight as she ran to greet him.