Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our Dog Asta

Asta 1997-2009

The death of a beloved pet has a way of shaking us from our day-to-day obsessions to remind us that although nothing gold can stay, the memories live on. At first they stab us with sharp fresh wounds. Then we laugh a little and tell stories about the puppy who became the top dog. Then we move on to loving the surviving pets with more ferocity, at least for a time.

My husband sneaked Asta into our home in Costa Rica one summer while I was in the US with the kids. Our old bouvier Spree had recently died and Turbo, our one-year old bouvier, and Spree's annoying companion, was lonely. So, Marty adopted 7-month old Asta from a German woman who was bouvier-rich. Asta's name was Lucy, but not for long. When I returned, I saw a dark form on the wood stairs who didn't seem to be Turbo. It wasn't.

The name Lucy had to go. She became Asta, after the dog who helped the martini-drinking Nick and Nora solve crimes in their posh world. Asta soon established herself as the alpha-dog and as Marty's pet more than mine or the kids. Turbo accepted his fate like a gentleman. Turbo and Asta were half siblings on the father's side. Different colors and opposite in personalities, they made a handsome pair and had a great life munching mangoes, defending our property and chasing wildlife. Asta was resonsible for our pet parrot Juanito dying of heart failure, but this is a story you'll have to read in my Costa Rica Chronicles.

Asta was a well-traveled dog, spoke at least two languages and held dual citizenship. At age 4 she settled permanently in the US with the rest of us. One of Asta's special talents was that she loved to jump. Our daughter Mariel set up obstacles all over our back yard and put Asta through her paces. Soon Asta was flying over the back fence, with brother Turbo following suit. We were forced to install an invisible fence.

Asta was not a friendly dog. She barked at everyone who entered our house and then found a corner from which she could keep a wary eye on the intruder. She didn't like to be petted, even by Marty. Only Turbo was allowed true intimacy with Asta in the form of ear licking and other doggie acts.

At age 9, Asta was diagnosed with a slow-growing tumor entwined around her heart. The vet gave her a short time to live, saying she'd probably drop dead of a heart attack within the year. When Asta walked in for her 10-year check-up, the vet commented, "I never thought I'd see that dog alive again."

Asta's hip dyplasia definitely slowed her down in the past year. She didn't want to walk very far, and jumping was out. But she remained the fierce defender of our home and loyal friend to Marty. On Wednesday, the day after our return from Block Island, Asta refused to get up from Marty's side of the bed. Her breathing seemed a little labored; food wouldn't coax her. Marty and Harry put her in my van and took her to the veterinary hospital where she was quickly diagnosed with bleeding in the stomach, caused by tumors in her liver and spleen. Marty called to tell me there was nothing to be done, and that he would be with her when they put her to sleep.

Marty and the boys dug a hole in the backyard under the oak trees, laid Asta in it and buried her. Yesterday, we bought some foxglove (purple was her color), some river pebbles and made a fitting memorial to the dog that we'd loved and cared for for eleven years.

Turbo is now top dog, but not sure he's up to the task. He's getting lots of love and attention but he still sleeps on my side of the bed, and doesn't know what to make of the new state of things. Turbo was always a little slow, but I know he has a hole in his heart, as do we all, for Asta, a fine example of a bouvier, a great dog, a greatly missed member of our family.


George Jempty said...

Sorry for your loss, you're a great writer

Ronni Gordon said...

What a beautiful post! You are indeed a great writer. I'm sorry for your loss. Love of dogs is another thing you and I share. I love how you describe the process of grieving and healing. By now although she can be a pest I am very attached to Maddie :-)

Anonymous said...

My heart aches for you. Kimo is one of my best friends and especially going through cancer and a BMT- these pets have a special way of keeping us present and hopeful.

Big hugs,

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your loss. As someone who considers my dog his best friend, it caused me to shed somke tears.

Anonymous said...

Patty and Marty,So sorry to hear about Asta.Hugs to all and Turbo.Love Dori