Truth be told, Emma entered our lives somewhat like that unexpected child who suddenly appears in your life, tugging at your heart and at your patience. I didn’t intend that morning nearly 12 years ago to get a dog. It was just a working mom’s Saturday, nothing to think of past the errands. I dropped Reid off at a birthday party and went to the store for a gallon of milk. I’m not sure whether she spotted me or I spotted her, among the dogs primped outside the Safeway for adoption. She rolled on her back as I approached, putting her foal-like legs into the air and fixing me with almond eyes, each fringed in a different color. White, speckled, freckled and sly. They called her Lemondrop.
Adoption was nearly too easy. I filled out a form. Neighbors walking by vouched for my good citizenship. Of course, this was the same couple whose home would be bombarded several years later by a dozen eggs thrown by my son. But that story has already been told.
This pup, I figured she was about a year or so, had been rescued from a kill shelter in West Virginia. Anything else I know about her early months/years is merely conjecture. Her fear of loud sounds made me wonder if she ran off while being trained as a hunter. Of course, I learned quickly that this was a dog that would never accept boundaries. She might have run from anywhere, for any reason. Ironically, she also attached herself to people — the Greyhound in her would lean in, push against a person until they gave her the affectionate feast she so desired. Her ability to dazzle humans must have been learned from once-loving owners. She interacted well, acted the good dog. And an actress she was, as I would learn.
I decided to surprise Reid when I picked him up at the birthday party. Lemondrop came in the car, along with our five-year old Shenandoah, a sweet Labrador more than happy to open her heart to another dog. We’d lost our older Lab — Ouija — the year before and there was a gap in our lives. I think that Lemondrop sensed that.
“Whose dog is that?” Reid asked, when I opened the car door.
Although he never admitted it, I think that Reid wasn’t ready to replace the other dog. He saw this long-legged pup as a bit of a usurper. But it was too late, cause Shenandoah and I were smitten. Still, Reid decided her name should be Emma, for no other reason than that was the name that Rachel gave her baby in the TV show Friends. And so she became Emma, often Emma Bean, for her West Virginia roots; later Emma Lily Bean, as she eventually grew gracefully into a mature dog.
She was a terror in her early years. Our house in the suburbs of Maryland was fully fenced in, but that never stopped Emma from escaping. I never knew how she got out, but I’d hear children playing on the block ordering her to go home. If she didn’t listen, they would grab her collar and lead her home and she loved that. Her game with the kids. Once, a stranger noting the address on her tag tried to bring her home. Emma led him right to the open gate, walked in, and kicked the gate shut behind her. She didn’t want this person inside her yard.
She mostly liked other dogs, Shenandoah most of all. But there were those few dogs that just plain irked her. Marley, Coach Kuhn’s black Labrador mix, made her bristle. They were alright off leash in the large park, but should they cross paths on leash, it was all sound and fury. One morning I made the mistake of suggesting that we let them off leash on our morning walk. Emma beelined for Marley and the large dog ripped open Emma’s ear. I had Reid pressing towels to the ear in the car, as I dropped him at school and then got Emma to the vet before going to work. Stitched up, she had to parade around with a bright scarlet bandage. The Kuhn family offered to cover the vet bill, but I declined. Emma went for the larger dog and got what she deserved.
Emma would sometimes disappear into the large parks near the Potomac’s C&O canal. Eventually, after calling and calling, I’d have to take Shenandoah home and tend to Reid. Inevitably, Emma would come skipping up the middle of the road within an hour or so. She’d missed her ride home, so she maneuvered the busy MacArthur Blvd and the quiet roads in our subdivision on foot.
When I decided to move to Maine, I figured Emma would love the 7 1/2 acres that were all ours. She especially liked the wildlife, chasing turkeys, deer, a moose, and, of course, the porcupines. We had a few visits to the emergency vet clinics to remove the quills. But she took it in stride.
Losing Shenandoah, who had gotten old and weak, was hard on Emma, but getting Oscar Wilde six months later was much harder. I brought home this bundle of a puppy, barely two months old, and all mouth, tiny teeth and large feet. Emma growled at the little Lab and Oscar barked back. Emma wanted nothing to do with him and Oscar wanted nothing more than to lie next to her and nibble on her legs. When Emma couldn’t fight him, she taught him all her tricks. Before long, I had two dogs testing the boundaries of my large property and chasing everything from racoons to chipmunks into the trees. They learned to like the clammers that show up at low tide to work the mud flats. They could suss out where the guys would store their food and cigarettes. So, we’d walk along the shore and the dogs would dig out the packaged chips, cookies and anything else that seemed appealing. The clammers soon learned to string their food from the trees, much as if they were up against bears.
When I noticed that Emma got too close to the busy road, I decided to install an underground fence. That involved wearing a collar with a zapper. Oscar had no problem with the device and would stay far away from the offending line. Emma went on strike. If I put the collar on her, she wouldn’t go outside. She couldn’t escape this fence, as she had the picket fence in Maryland, but she could protest it until she won.
I’m not sure when exactly Emma began to mellow, when she stopped pushing against boundaries. Maybe last year; maybe last week. She was so wily and agile that I thought she would go on forever. When I found out a few weeks ago that she had cancer, I wondered how she would defy this barrier. We tried, she and I. When she stopped eating her kibble, I began cooking her things like chicken livers, matzoh ball soup, grilled salmon, Quinoa, sweet potatoes, and farm fresh eggs. She had some wonderful moments right up until the end. Reid came to say goodby and they lay curled one night on the sofa watching a movie. It was a night that Emma just didn’t feel like moving. She was much more perky the next day.
As long as she still had joy in her life, I wasn’t going to take life away from her. Yesterday she grew very tired in the afternoon; I thought I’d head out with Oscar and take care of a few things. But Emma got out the door, unsteady on her legs and sunk down right in front of the car. She didn’t want us to leave. The sun was out and I let her spend the afternoon on the lawn, gazing out at the land that she so loved. Oscar and I stayed close by. Eventually, I had a neighbor come by to help me carry her inside before it got dark.
I knew this morning that she was ready to go. Lying on the huge dog bed in the kitchen, it was clear that she had no more energy left. Emma looked up at me, not vacantly but with purpose. She didn’t seem to be in pain; just spent, like the long roller coaster that was her life had finally come to a stop. She lay there most of the day, peaceful, until the vet could come.
If I believed in heaven, I’d say she’s roaming far and wide. But I think she just crossed that last boundary. She’s at rest.