Finally, a year and three months after her death, I was ready to lay my sweet daschund to rest. The plan was to set her ashes high up on a hill overlooking the meadows, at the ridge of our farm. I would plant a magnolia and some ferns, and find a flea market bench, so that every time I went north I could climb the hill and talk to her.
But what did I know? She had other ideas.
From the minute she arrived in our house, a handful of tremulous black fur with two brown kisses of eyebrows and gleaming onyx eyes, Jasmine was never more than a few feet from me. She was my erstwhile muse when I wrote, my shadow when I walked in the park. She watched me read, and yes, in those early days, I broke every training rule and brought her to bed with me. My son and I took her to puppy school, and he proudly introduced her to his kindergarten class. She so charmed them that several families headed to the breeder to adopt litter mates.
Jasmine quickly learned the sound my printer made as it began to click and spew pages; my morning word juggling was over and our kong games could commence. She would cock her brow and quiver with excitement at the door, knowing that lunch in the garden awaited, or tea by the kitchen window watching the snow.
At night she curled on my lap as I read. When I was sick, she stayed close; when I wept she licked away tears. We adopted a kitten some years later, and she even forgave us this. She soon figured out that the antic fur ball wasn’t a fellow canine but rather a far craftier, more supple and energetic force of nature. She retreated to her role as elder sage, allowing the kitten to tarnish her reputation by shattering everything she could hurl her paws against, and she bid her time until the cat food was put down and the kitten left morsels of canned tuna for her delectation.
Jasmine became rounder than she ought to have in the bargain. But she never lost her sweetness.
My neighbor, Chick, called her a hero. He was right about that.
The summer she was five, we had to rush her two hours south from the farm to the animal hospital back home. She’d become paralyzed in a matter of hours. We learned that all those years of leaping off sofas had triggered a disc problem to which daschunds are famously vulnerable. Hours of surgery and a nightmarish few days in the ICU later, the doctors predicted she would not recover. Grieving, we brought her home and set her up in her own ICU, a huge cage by the dining room door. We talked to her, hand fed her, slept close by. One night – miraculously – she rose and took two tiny steps towards us, following the smell of grilled chicken.
We didn’t look back. Until one day Chick observed what I had not allowed myself to, “Jasmine is limping.”
He was right. Her right hind leg has started to drag – the sure sign that her vertebrae were coming undone again. It was only a matter of time before one dragging leg became two.
She lived another three years — years when I carried her in and out of the house, washed her beds multiple times a day. A labor of love, but what dog isn’t? The cat took to sleeping next to her, and even climbed into her bed when Jasmine went out to pee.
In her final days, she and I sat vigil, waiting for the right time to say goodbye. When it came, it was unmistakable. I would never be ready, but I knew for her sake that I needed to let go.
A tree in her name stands in a national park out west. But until this writing her ashes had stayed in the cardboard box they’d been returned in.
I walked up the hill in New Hampshire carrying them with me. We found a rock beside a patch of wild lilies. My husband and son dug a hole. I slowly opened the box.
But instead of a bag of ashes, I found a beautiful cedar box, exactly the color of her eyebrows.
It was far too beautiful to bury. She wasn’t about to go into the ground. And truth be told, I didn’t really want her to.
So we stood by the open hole on the top of the hill. I read a few hilarious passages from E.B. White on his old daschund Fred. We laughed and remembered Jasmine. As a gesture, I slipped her official cremation certificate into the hole, and we filled it in.
Now she sits in my office, still here. And even if she isn’t waiting at the door once the printer starts to run, we still discuss events. I ask her opinions, about which she was never shy. I know that somewhere her eyes are shifting as she decides whether to chase a squirrel or just watch butterflies in the sun.