Rosie didn’t wait long to make her impact on our family. As we drove down the mountainside from the Costa Rican farm where we had picked up our second puppy, Rosie urped up the better part of a whole chicken in the back of my Toyota Landcruiser. We stopped in the plaza of the first town, two giggly boys and I pushing the enormous cargo of regurgitated fowl out the door and into the street as we struggled to keep trembling little Rosie wrapped in her brand new comfort blanket.
It was the first of many family moments at which Rosie was front and center.
Rosie left us this week, on my birthday, taken as painlessly as possible by our vet’s euthanizing needle. The house is strangely silent.
Rosie was not for very long smaller than her big brother Tucker, a mostly-Labrador Retriever who had come to us from a similar family farm, product of an ‘accidental breeding’—as these things are delicately put—together with his truckload of joy and spunk and his thimbleful of pedigree. But for the months
that she was the ‘little one’, Rosie scooted ahead of Tucker’s delighted chase and then peeled him off by running under the coffee table while he was left behind, too large to follow her under its low stance. Rosie was street smart from the beginning.
Her instinctive first move every time we returned home from somewhere and let her into our capacious back yard was to ‘check the perimeter’, running along the concrete wall to assure that no intruder—animal, human, or purely hypothetical—had wormed its way into the space of which Rosie had appointed herself the guardian. She transplanted this behavior to our Indiana property when we moved north in 2004. Indoors as well, when the gate to our upstairs living quarters was raised each morning, Rosie would hurry upstairs to check that all was well in this bedroom and that. Her security rounds always ended with a pause for an energetic ‘scritch’ of the head and butt. She preferred the butt, we the head. She got’em both, so hard to resist with her doe-like eyes and her Alpha insistence that things be done properly and completely
In her last weeks, as cancer began to steal her strength, she’d look into each bedroom and each bathroom to make sure everyone was accounted for, then—her mental checklist complete—would amble downstairs to her dog bed in the Red Room. No scritching necessary, I’ll just finish my work and then have myself a little rest …
They grow big, these Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They can project a menacing mien, although rarely is anyone ever hurt by a Ridgie. When confronted with a threat, they’d rather not let you in on the secret that they’d really prefer not to be forced to bite your head off. It would be so much better if you’d just go away. Right now.
In our Costa Rican neighborhood where our front gate was frequented by mostly harmless men begging for money, with the occasional dangerous opportunist mixed in, Rosie was the most effective safety check ever. In an uncharacteristic moment when she let her suspicions run to full throttle, we found ourselves apologizing to two men whom we found standing atop a car, sure they were about to be eaten, while Rosie danced around them barking furiously that ‘You’d better stay up there until I get this thing sorted out!’. In dog language, of course, which these men did not speak.
Yet this was not our Rosie as we knew her day to day. When Dear Departed Tucker left us and left behind his only partially embraced space as our family’s Alpha Dog, Rosie stepped in seamlessly. She showed all comers a generous spirit. First, Poor Blind Sammy—’Sammy ain’t got no eyeballs …’—arrived to begin his stupendous personal restoration project from Abused and Abandoned to Manly Man Rhodesian. Rosie made a big, warm space for him so long as he didn’t stumble blindly onto her when she was trying to have a snooze. She hated that.
Then came Psychotic Little Rhea, a badly abused puppy who might just have a bit of Catahoula Leopard Dog in her, but only on a really good day viewed through rose-colored glasses. Rosie became Rhea’s pillar, standing a few steps away as Sammy and Rhea discovered they were day-long tussle partners, Rosie occasionally joining in with a half-hearted romp but mostly just supervising the mêlée with a bemused dog-smile and a ‘Kids these days … ‘ expression on her ever-gorgeous face.
Rhea has spent the last two days roaming the house, looking for Rosie, who went for a walk and hasn’t come back yet. Sammy barked forlornly last night, little one-note cries out of his massive body that said, ‘I’m lonely. Where is everybody?’ He meant, ‘Where is Rosie?’, of course. Even dogs feel bereft in her absence.
Rosie had a dashing splash of white on her front left shin. People on the street would often ask as we walked with her, ¿Qué le pasó al perro …? (What happened to
your dog?), assuming her leg was encased in a plaster cast rather than brilliant tricked out in flaming Ridgeback white. Rosie took it all in stride, as though she got a kick out of the ever-new misperception.
In fact, Rosie appeared always bemused by the joke that seemed perennially to hang in the air, always assuming that it was just she and you who got it. She would look at you with a delicious irony in her eyes, as though life was shot through with wit and it was just amazing that only the two of you were aware. It was Rosie’s way to take her human friends into her confidence. You knew she thought it was ‘you and me, friends forever’, no matter what the species array of the moment was carrying on about all around us.
When Karen came into my life and eventually into this house, she and Rosie loved each other at first sight. On a first walk through beautiful Holliday Park in December snow, Karen spontaneously burst into a run up the path ahead of us. Rosie paused and looked at me, as though to ask, ‘What am I supposed to do with this crazy woman?!’ ‘Go get’er!’, I said. She did, and until Friday morning they were rarely parted.
Rosie liked the woods, a path through it, the squirrels that frequented it, and the company of friends who walked there with her. But at a bend in the road that might take her beyond line of sight with those of us whom it was her primary responsibility to watch over, Rosie always paused, looked back, and waited until we were close enough to keep an eye on before she forged ahead.
Rosie was always checking the perimeter. She liked a scritch on the head, but it was always more about getting her people home and keeping them safe after they’d got themselves back inside.
Rosie had been the runt of her litter just north of eleven years ago, but she got the lion’s heart.
On Friday morning, I let Rosie outside and pointed to the truck. With a puppy’s enthusiasm and an old dog’s failing body, she romped down the drive towards it for one of her favorite things, a special ‘car ride’ with Daddy.
We wept as she stopped breathing, a look of concerned vigilance still on her lifeless face. Who will check the perimeter now?
We miss you, Rosie. We were always safe with you.