I walk into the kitchen, and see her on a makeshift bed on the floor. She is sleeping soundly, with a blanket tucked around her to keep her warm.
"Hey my old dog..." I say as I rub her head, the red snout long since turned gray. She barely stirs, looks up at me with old tired eyes. She was healthy up until about a four months ago, when we believe that she had some kind of stroke that has affected her attitude as much as her gait, which is now a sad, gimping sideways thing that keeps her from going near stairs.
Sixteen years ago, this golden retriever with the deep red fur of an Irish setter was a pint-sized dynamo, with endless energy matched only by the sheer destructive force that she brought with her.
She was a puppy when my old man was remodeling our second floor, and it was, as far she was concerned, a giant playground. She would grab the the torn edges of the paper that wrapped the stacked sheetrock and run, tearing it down the length of the piece. She would eat every screw and nail that she could find, an odd habit that led to us feeding her massive amounts of bread in the hopes that it would ease her semi-digestion of the metal she inevitably crapped out.
During Christmas, she decided that she had a taste for the glass ornaments that festooned our tree, and would eat them directly off the branches. This led to feeding her more bread, and the two decade moratorium on glass ornaments in this house.
She abused the shit out of me when I would wrestle with her- she clearly had some physical advantages over me, namely a low center of gravity and some viciously sharp teeth.
She is the only dog to have met my long since dead grandfather, and the first dog that started a habit of groaning and bitching whenever she laid down (which has been subsequently passed down to my other dog.)
She saw the Bills lose three Super Bowls, and then watched the Giants win last year's. She has been the first dog in generations of dogs to see the Red Sox actually win a World Series. She saw Bill Clinton's presidency, Nixon's funeral, and the election of Obama. She has seen much for a dog, probably more than most dogs should.
She is not the nicest of dogs, having always been fiercely protective her family and anti-social in a way that makes my family compare her to me. But she is a loyal old thing, and realizes who loves her.
And now she sits on that bed, her head only rising when I go to grab the bag of bread for a midnight snack. I throw her a slice, and she devours it, her red collar shaking as the tags bang together.
I know that it is all too soon that that collar will be hanging on the stairs to basement. It will hang their in silent memorial to a life once lived, like how the hats of the Cardinals hang in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
When she gets up to go out, I have to lift her down the stairs, and wait for her to come back in from the yard. She takes a spill trying to get back up, resilient to the end, not wanting help on stairs she once bounded effortlessly up. When I get her back inside, I walk over to the bed and kneel, patting it as if to say, "Come lay here." Eventually I will lift her back onto it, but she won't lay down.
She stands, with her skinny paws out straight defiantly, looking at me. It's as if she knows that if she lays down, she will not rise. She's not ready for the deathbed yet... not ready to see that reaper who looms silently above us all.