Years ago, sitting in our living room, Mariah tilted her head to one side with amusement as she heard her name from an unlikely source. Radio Bob at KPR was playing “They Called the Wind Mariah,” and the song wasn’t lost to our sweet dog who was more sunny than windy.
We found Mariah at the Humane Society when Daniel, his friend Katie, and I went in looking for a special canine pal for Daniel. Mariah was the dog who was so loving that the staff kept her at the front desk all day to help sustain them in their dog-in, dog-out work. To say she was the favorite animal of the joint is an understatement. Six months or so old with what one friend called “a high gloss finish,” she showed immediate interest in us when she showed interest in her. Soon, we couldn’t stop petting her, and she couldn’t stop wagging her tail. While we didn’t intend to get such a big dog — Mariah was mostly black lab with a arrowhead-shaped patch of dalmation on her chest — she was clearly our dog, and we were hers.
That was 14 or more years ago, and since that time, she’s been the live-action not-so-stuffed animal sleeping with all our kids and, as they got bigger and needed more of their own beds, at the foot or side of our bed. She’s dreamt alongside us as our toddler and elementary-school age tots turned into wobbly and daring young adults, and as we went from relatively young to solidly middle-aged.
Mariah has always been cheery and affectionate, equally loving exploring outside and nuzzling up to humans of all sizes inside. She slept tight next to Forest’s bed and ours after he was in a bad car accident, and she didn’t leave my side during my trek through chemo and cancer-related surgeries. She’s been the first and last stop for all of us during moments of loss, heartbreak and despair and has absorbed more than her share of teenage angst along the way. She had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and despite being close to 80 pounds or so, never seemed to take up space but instead embrace the space we occupied.
While a relatively young dog, Mariah had a taste for Birkenstocks, saving us any trials associated with wearing them. Once she cleaned out all cork-related footwear, she turned her attention to socks, and was known to all our friends as the dog who would greet them with a sock, dropping it at their feet to show how much she welcomed them.
She also welcomed other critters. Saulina, our genius-sweetheart cat who died at age 20 (about five years ago), would hang out so casually with Mariah that the other cats followed suite, but it was especially the cats with the Japanese names that truly bonded with her. Akio slept wrapping around her. After his mysterious disappearance (coyotes? feral cats? owls?), our pair of kittens, Miyako and Hideki, were almost as bonded with Mariah as they were with each other. When Hideki met the same fate at Akio, Miyako transferred her velcro affections to us and to Mariah. She regularly slept with Mariah, tending our dog as her hospice patience in recent months. Finally, there was Shay, a highly-energetic, all-boy-dog, smiling wise-ass, who treated Mariah as the alpha animal of the house (which she was). Shay’s propensity for action got Mariah on her feet and running for many more months, maybe years, that she would have otherwise had.
In the last few months, and especially weeks, it was clear that Mariah was either in pain, or asleep, thanks to the wonders of doggie drugs. Standing on her back legs especially was searingly hard for her, and she seemed a little embarrassed to be losing control of her bladder in the house. By today, it seemed that it was time to let her go, and so Forest and I loaded her into my car’s backseat, and I drove her to the vet with plans to meet Ken there. On the way, Mariah stood up and seemed a little anxious. She didn’t want to die, we didn’t want her to die, and yet here we were.
Once in the room, the reality of what was happening, the first time I chose to help a beloved die, hit me as Mariah tried to hide behind my legs. After the vet and Ken lifted her onto the counter, and the vet injected anesthesia into her, she died quickly and easily as we held her, told her we loved her, and stroked her fur. Driving home with a dead dog in my backseat, I sang along to Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide.”
We just carried her in the moonlight, some stars burning through bright clouds, onto her big dog bed I made for her out of flannel and fake fur, and then moved that bed and dog into the bottom of the hole Ken spent hours digging in hard ground. With Forest, we said our goodbyes, then shoveled in the dirt in the night air. Ken made sure Mariah was facing south to see the incoming weather and migrating deer and turkey. The car was still on from driving her to this side of the house, and playing was Nils Lofgen singing, “Long May You Run.” Yes, please. And thank you, Mariah.