In the early morning half-light, long before I would routinely switch on bedroom lamps, I drop to the floor in my nightgown to the spot where she is dozing next to my bed. She has never been much of a cuddler, preferring to demonstrate her devotion in other, more dignified ways, but on this day, I am the one who needs a cuddle. I scoot up close enough to wrap my arm around her substantial torso, then withdraw it quickly after my fingertips inadvertently touch the large tumor under her front leg on the opposite side. She does not flinch, but I do.
Settling for stroking her head and the back of her neck, I return directly the surprised gaze she fixes on me, curious at this change of routine, knowing as well as she knows the smell of bacon or the sound of my voice that the weekday scramble in the early hours does not routinely include this. “You are such a good, good girl,” I say quietly, “such a very, very good girl.” Perhaps because this statement is not news, or perhaps because I have morning breath, she sighs deeply and averts her head. I think I should be able to muster up something more profound to say—as though it mattered to her—but I cannot, so I just repeat the praise and continue the stroking.
This is permissible for about 45 seconds, until it isn’t. Heaving another of her deep, trademark sighs, she hoists herself out from under my hand, stretches briefly, and begins to lumber away. She stops briefly in the doorway and turns back, resuming eye contact. We read each other’s minds pretty well over the years, so I’m pretty certain I got the correct interpretation of the look and the mild rebuke it contained: “This clingy stuff—you know it’s not my thing. You’re worried about something that’s coming, but I only know now. And at this very moment, in this particular now, I want a drink of water and a bite of something, preferably with peanut butter on it. You coming?”
My heart is breaking, but I can’t help laughing out loud. There is nothing to do but get up and follow her.
Madeline Basset, renowned canine comedian and grand champion of relaxation, left this earthly life on a sunny day in mid-August after a short battle with cancer, two weeks short of her 13thbirthday. She is survived by her best friend, G-ma, who raised her from the age of seven weeks, and her many friends, family members, and neighbors, with whom she was a universal favorite.
Namesake of a femme fatale in the comic novels of British humorist P. G. Wodehouse, Madeline was a native of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, daughter of red-haired Daisy and massive Cletus, two fine country Basset Hounds. While it may be rare to describe a Basset as beautiful, with their blocky heads, stubby legs, and mournful expressions, Madeline received many compliments for her good looks. Her massive front feet filled the palm of G-ma’s hand when she learned to shake—no small achievement for a dog with her architecture. Her enormous, drooping, earth-dredging ears were favored targets of passing cats, small children, and other dogs who clearly wished for ears as majestic in scope.
While those who knew her best might indulgently describe Madeline as well-behaved, stories of her quintessentially hound-like habits survive her. As an adolescent she was prone to steal shoes left innocently on the floor, though just one at a time, often leaving guests strangely confused and questioning their alcohol intake. She was once ejected from a family party for repeatedly demanding additional servings from the cheese board, positioning herself near the tray and attempting to shield it from taller party attendees. She trained a neighbor to come to her porch railing and provide treats when Madeline presented herself at the railing and announced herself. She was a devoted co-conspirator of a bold cat who shared the house during her younger life; when he leapt on the table to knock off a piece of pizza when backs were turned, she stood guard below, prepared to drag it away to where they could share the bounty if they moved fast enough. Madeline was never happier than when the grandchildren were visiting, as there was always a steady flow of crumbs and food bits dropped beneath the table for a patient hound crouched below.
G-ma is deeply grateful for the many expressions of sympathy she has received since Madeline’s passing. For those who have asked what they can do, she would only suggest: Go love a dog, and make your life the richer for it.