Six years ago today Tara went down hard.

She was a beautiful black lab that we got soon before we got married. She played with and protected our girls. Six years ago today she lay down in the hallway outside Elena’s door.

They say that dogs know.

“Daddy, who’s they?”

“I don’t know baby. Just they. You know, some people.”

In my mind Elena snaps her fingers in both hands at once. She tips back a little sideways with her left hip slightly raised. She holds her fingers like mock revolvers. Index fingers pointed at me. Thumbs up in the air. Remaining fingers curled in.

“Got it, ” she says winking. “Dogs just know.”

I’ve been wondering why things feel harder to deal with this year than the past few. I think it’s because the days of the week are lining up the same way they did it in 2006.

President’s Day Monday was on February 20th then as now. That afternoon Kim took Elena to the doctor. The doctor said nothing was wrong and sent her home. As it turns out, the doctor was probably right. Monday afternoon nothing was wrong.

The next day was Tuesday February 21. Same as this year. Six years ago yesterday Elena went to school along with Maggie. I walked them both. Elena had a great day at school. She and her best friend planned their birthday celebrations. Two days apart and a little over a week away.

Wednesday morning February 22 began with Tara laying outside Elena’s door. Elena found the dollar the tooth fairy left for her for her first missing tooth ever. The perfect dollar.

Elena threw up so we kept her home. She’d just been to the doctor – she was fine. Just something kids got. She’d stay home a day then she’d be fine. If not, we’d take her to the doctor that afternoon.

Tara wasn’t herself all day. She watched over Elena and stayed close all day. When I let Tara outside, she came right back in.

Dogs just know.

We got Tara as a puppy just before we got married. Kim’s dad was helping us get our new house ready to move into. Kim stopped by to help as well. Kim asked if I wanted a dog. I said no, not yet. It turned out that the dog — our dog — needed to be picked up in the next few days.

We signed up for an obedience class. Those classes are as much about training the owner as they are about training the dog. Tara graduated easily. Kim and I barely passed.

Over the years Tara evolved into a wonderful dog who did well with other dogs and people.

So many great moments.

On Kim and my first wedding anniversary I picked up a picnic dinner from our favorite Chinese restaurant, put a twenty foot leash on Tara, and went to pick Kim up from work.

I knew she’d be free. I’d arranged weeks ahead with her supervisor to write fictitious patients on Kim’s schedule. We made up people with problems that would be difficult to diagnose and treat. Kim had looked at her schedule the day before and told me she wouldn’t be home til late.

Tara and I picked her up at 3:30. We knew she’d be free then. We drove out to property that Case Western Reserve University Owned out in the country and had a wonderful picnic. Just the three of us.

Tara was never a substitute for children but weaknesses in out resolve and technique as pet owners certainly foreshadowed mistakes we would make as parents.

Tara welcomed Maggie into our house and a year and a half later she welcomed Elena too.

“Welcomed, daddy? Really?”

“I don’t know, Elena. What would you be turning next week? Thirteen? I may not be remembering whether or not she welcomed you. She certainly benefitted from having you around.”

“What do you mean.”

“Well let’s just say you dropped a lot of food on the ground. Tara always lay next to your or your great grandfather’s chair when we were eating.”

Tara lay near Elena all day long the day she died.

Dogs just know.

After Elena died it seemed that Tara had had a stroke. I needed to carry her up and down the steps every time we needed to let her out or in. She mostly recovered and lived another year and a half but she was never the same.

When she was younger we’d hear her jump off of the couch as we came in the back door. During her final months on earth she didn’t even bother to disguise that she’d been up on the furniture while we were gone.

One afternoon, long after Tara had recovered, she refused to come back in. She’d clearly been out long enough but she wasn’t moving. She was on the ground behind the swing set shivering. I went out to the back yard and picked her up in my arms.

She hardly moved. I brought her in and sat on the ground next to her. I tried to get her to drink a little but she wasn’t responding.

Kim came home and decided to take the dog to the vet.

It was so much like that afternoon six years ago today. I carried Tara to the car and placed her in the back seat. Same car, same seat as the one I’d placed Elena in six years ago today. Last time Elena didn’t make it to the hospital alive. This time Kim had to make the decision to put her down.

Everything from that day six years ago came back for both of us.

We knew we could never replace Elena, Tara was a different matter. Kim checked out the dogs on Petfinder.com for weeks before we decided to go up to Michigan to get another black lab. This one is named Anabelle.

It turned out that the dog was half german shorthair and that was the half that determined the way she behaved most of the time.

Today Anabelle was quieter than usual. She didn’t jump on me and ask me to play with her. Mostly she napped in a chair. Now and then she stood up to go outside, eat, or shift positions. Mostly she just napped.

Dogs just know.

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 9:47 pm  Comments (2)