December ? 1999–August 29. 2014
Angel came into my life as I was trying to get out of an unfortunate marriage. Knowing that I would be keeping our dog, the beloved Ebby, my ex wanted a smart, adoring dog of his own to take with him when we split. An abandoned female lab mix puppy (similar to Ebby) wandered into the yard of the one other person who knew he was looking for just such a dog, and when an owner couldn't be found, the puppy moved into our house. My ex gave her the name "Angel" – as he expected her to become his guardian angel.
I tried hard to not get attached to her, or to let her bond with me. Ebby was extremely jealous of and traumatized by this new thing in our house, and was never quite the same again. To try to reassure Ebby that she was still my best girl, I would shut the bedroom door each night so that Ebby and I could have our special alone time together and Angel could start bonding with the person she would be living with. Except Angel didn't. She lay outside my bedroom door, prefering to be closer to me, but never asking to come in.
I guess I probably ended up doing most of the daily feeding and care of Angel, while still trying not to bond emotionally with a puppy that would be leaving me; but she clearly loved me, and adored her disdainful "big sister" even though Ebby would have nothing to do with her. About 6 months later, when my ex was no longer living with us and was clearly not going to take Angel with him, I finally started to let myself get emotionally attached.
On the one hand, Angel was easy to love: she was always cheerful, easy-going, unconcerned about anything (in complete contrast to Ebby who eventually became tolerant of her, but never really enjoyed Angel's exuberance or got over her jealousy of any time I spent with Angel.) On the other hand, Angel was completely mis-named. She was a hellion on four legs. While I worked long hours, she merrily destroyed a love seat and two over-stuffed chairs. She drug in leaves and branches and a dead squirrel through the doggie door, and I came home every evening to a pretty much destroyed den. Typical of her labrador heritage, she remained wild and puppy-like for the first 5 years.
It was difficult to give her the same one-on-one training I gave Ebby, so I didn't think Angel was as smart for a long time. But she was every bit as smart, and maybe even more intuitive of my moods. She stayed near me at all times, including accompanying me to the bathroom every time I went in the last 14 and a half years. If I got too preoccupied with some project on the computer and forgot to take a break every now and then, I'd find a head resting on my thigh, asking for some attention. And while I'm sure she enjoyed the affection at those moments, I think her real purpose was to remind me to take a break for my sake.
Angel had this great way of waking me up -- sort of the dog version of one of those alarm clocks that starts softly and gradually builds in intensity. She would start by bringing her face very close to mine, to the point that I could just barely feel her warm breath, and an occasional tickle of her whiskers. If that didn't rouse me, she would very gingerly dart her tongue to my neck or cheek, just barely touching me. This would continue, increasing in intensity, until I was sufficiently awake and would give in and get up to make breakfast. This went on for years, and is one of the things I've missed as she's gotten older.
When Angel was young, she would often put her paws up on the kitchen counter and look for crumbs or spills or utensils with food left on them. Before I figured this out, I would find random spoons, forks, and even paring knives (!) in the back yard, where she had taken them to finish washing them for me. She also quickly discovered the George Foreman Grill. After I would leave the house, she would stand at the counter and lick all the grease and drippings off of it. As time went on, she got braver and braver. She figured out that my showers last long enough for her to finish grill duty, so if I even started the water running in the shower, I could hear her trot down the hall and into the kitchen. I had to be careful to always leave sufficient cool-down time before leaving her unchaperoned.
Where Ebby was definitely a typical ball-chasing retriever, Angel had her own technique. She was not the least bit interested in running, but would back up about 6 feet from me and then leap straight up in the air to catch the ball. My totally unpredictable (read: uncoordinated) throws would often require her to twist and flip as she jumped, which was absolutely incredible to watch.
There was not a trip I took to any room in the house in all these years in which I wasn't accompanied by at least one dog. Every single time I walked down the hall toward the bedroom, Angel would race ahead of me, leap up on the bed, and instantaneously adopt a relaxed lounging pose that made her look -- when I finally got to the room -- as though she had been there forever. It's a silly little thing that always made me laugh, and I hope it's a memory I never lose.
When the last 16 months of Ebby's life became so challenging, and she required so much of my attention, Angel patiently waited and watched and let me spend as much time with Ebby as was required. After Ebby died, when I thought Angel would miss the "sister" she so adored, she just calmly accepted her place as only dog for the next two years. She never seemed lonely -- just content. As she matured, Angel's boundless enthusiasm mellowed into the most wonderful happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow attitide about everything! During and after the divorce years, as I struggled to deal with the challenges and eventually grew into the strong, independent adult I have become, it was her attitude about life that guided me.
With the arrival of Finn three years ago, Angel got to have her second puppyhood. She patiently taught him how to play, and finally got to have the companion she'd waited her whole life to enjoy. The two of them had so much fun together, and I know it added great joy, if not years to her life.
Angel was an incredibly healthy dog her whole life. Even as she aged, she was quite easy to deal with, and her end this week, while a bit abrupt, was really as drama-free as her life. She lived more than 14 and a half wonderful years, and selflessly gave me more than I could ever repay. Goodbye, guardian Angel!