I stand in the animal clinic’s lobby joined by several other patients and their owners.
Then, I see her.
There she is for a fleeting moment. By the scale next to a pet supplies display. She jumps on the scale. Yikes, an always eager 48 pounds! What will the vet say about that?
An assistant informs me she’ll return shortly. I nod, take a seat and then am distracted by a woman entering the lobby with a Springer spaniel puppy tugging on leash.
Again, there she is. Just like my dog, Ellie, begging to be noticed. Bobbed tail wagging non-stop like an egg beater. Hardly giving a sleeping couch cat any more than a quick glance.
“Tell ‘em boss. I’m Ellie!”
I recall more of our life together:
Wouldn’t it be neat, I remember thinking back then, to feature Ellie on the Upper Midwest TV program I produced and hosted — “Northland Adventures”? With assistance and advice of our veterinarian and two trainers who’ve befriended me in the past, periodically we would show our audience how she grows and develops from eight weeks to a year old in three-minute segments that hopefully would inform and entertain viewers.
Stuff like house-breaking. Her reaction to voice and hand commands. Exploring her daily expanding world. Interacting with our older Springer spaniel, Matty. Teaching dummy retrieves. At the blast of gunshot, proving she was certainly not gun shy. What and when to eat. Where to sleep. Adapting to the wants and needs of my wife, daughters and guests and a line of diverse dogs she would meet.
Simply, stories about “Life with Ellie.”
In a hunting world dominated by black and yellow Labs and pointers of all sorts, people adored her liver-and-white charm.
From backyard locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Dakota grasslands and waterfowl marshes, “Life with Ellie” reflected situations and topics ordinary hunting dog owners could relate to.
Yes, it started with ducks after her mentor, Matty, died. Her first waterfowl retrieve, a wood duck, came on the Mississippi River at Lansing, Iowa. Her last, a gadwall, was at Boisevain, Manitoba. In between Ellie gently but firmly brought back ruffed grouse, woodcock, ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, white-fronted geese, snow geese and even Canada geese she dragged to my hands. In the offseason, she would drive away squirrels and rabbits plundering our flowers and garden vegetables or raiding the bird feeders.
The hunter spirit was burnt in her heart. You could count incoming birds mirrored on her lovely dark brown eyes.
Aside from routine aches and pains, it took only one encounter to teach her to avoid porcupines. But the major trauma in her life came when she tore a ligament in her right rear leg flushing a large flock of sharptails in North Dakota. Several days later back home in Wisconsin she had a new metal joint implanted that served her well the remainder of her days.
Over the years her kind heart dispensed generous unconditional doses of doggy medicine to both me and my wife. Sue constantly had Ellie at her side licking her hand through two bouts of cancer and I had the re-assuring pleasure of her wet nose while overcoming several heart procedures.
Toward the end of her days Ellie and I were still logging three-mile daily walks around the neighborhood. And she never turned down a chance to chase neighbors’ pets, dogs and cats roaming outside our fenced back yard.
However, try as she did to keep her demise hidden, Ellie’s health and stamina began to decline. On her last night, she leaned against our legs like always when we arrived home. She stared at us intensely. Her stubby tail never wagged stronger.
But the next morning she was not around to greet us rising from bed the way she had daily for most of her life. Suffering an apparent stroke, she could hardly move and refused any food or liquids. Her tail was still. I loaded her limp body into the truck for that final trip, just as we had with two other Springers. Back to the clinic where they each had passed and some of their memories, like Ellie’s, linger.
“You have our sympathy,” the compassionate clinic assistant said. “One bag contains Ellie’s ashes, the other her metal ACL device.”
Ellie was gone from this place, gone from everywhere. Yet there she was, etched in memory. I took the bags and turned to the door. People and their pets were silent.
Inside the truck I placed Ellie’s remains on the passenger’s side seat where she customarily rode for so many miles.
Well deserved rest after nearly 16 years of giving and living.
A Life with Ellie.
Carlson is a freelance writer who lives in Eau Claire.