Eloise is the love dog. She sidles up to you and scooches ever closer. Pretty soon she is sitting on your foot or lifting your hand gently and teasing it down her back with her nose for a rump rub. She has a sweet friendly way when she leans into you. At 110 pounds you feel the lean and steady yourself as the warm presence takes you over. When I work at my desk she is always close by. She is content to be…her example has quietly taught me about calm over fear and worry. She has always understood what matters. There is food, cheese especially, (the cheese rinds from the boutique farmsteads at the farmer’s market are cause for celebration), bones are nice for a long sunny afternoon chew, and only scratches and cuddles are urgent. She let the cats clean her face over the years just as she let little children climb on top of her. She has always taken the long view.
She is pure love. Everyone smiles when they look at her. People comment about her graceful elegance. She is always calm and ever poised. We share nothing in our personalities except that she has taught me every single thing I know about being calm and centered. I am excitable and loud. She is quiet and dignified. She is content with the view from the porch. She watches Stuart run around protecting us all from the unsavory terrorist in the garbage truck, or the thief who conceals himself in the appliance repair suit. Stuart barks and worries and Eloise herds him back into the house, reminds him about the fire and settles him back down. Pippi, the newest member of the house jumps around begging for “mom” to lick her. She rolls on her belly and Eloise obliges with a few long licks and eventually noses her down into something closer to calm. She opens her paws and lets the puppy scoot into her warm embrace. She always preferred sleeping alone. She is big and gets hot, but she tolerated little Pippi who needed a doggie mom and accepted this role too with her usual grace.
She loves to watch the chickens. She especially likes when we give them scraps of things like POTATOES. They think she is a bear. When she ambles over I swear she smirks when they run off and she gets the scraps. But a cautionary quiet calling of her name, and she takes only one bite and then comes right back to the porch letting those chickens have their supper. This lady can sit next to a low table filled with canapés and never even put her nose near. She waits to be invited, which of course she always is.
There has only ever been one thing that ruffled her. When the kids were younger and we would wrestle and play with wilder abandon she would bark and chase us away from whichever child she felt needed her protection. Eli losing a game of hide and seek and tag would call piteously “Elooooise”, and she would come running and pin whatever bigger kid or adult as Eli giggled and happily ran away. She protected him fiercely like a Mama Bear would a cub.. Once when a dear friend played soccer with him in the yard and he screamed, Eloise came bounding out of the house and caught that friend’s arm holding it gently in her mouth until Eli sounded the all clear.
She has the biggest vocabulary of any dog I have ever known. “Where is Eli, Eloise?”, and she’d run and bark wherever she discovered him. She is smart and beautiful and she is all love. Her first vet asked us why we’d chosen a Bernese Mountain Dog. I answered that they were gorgeous and smart. “Brains and beauty” he quipped. We didn’t know the half of it. We walk in the woods with all three dogs and our cat Zoe. How did we get a cat to walk with us off leash? Well, Eloise taught her. She came along a couple of times and hopped out of sight amongst the fallen trees. Eloise would go off trail and herd her closer and eventually she got the idea. The cat stays as close now as any dog. Stuart leads the way because Eloise lets him. Pippi runs ahead, falls behind, and bounds off the trail after chipmunks. Eloise galumphs along after her and gently redirects her back to the path. We all fall in line around this calm natural leader. She smiles and leans into you and you find you have no choice but to accept her superior wisdom. Once when we lost power during a winter storm she slept next to me and I was as warm as toast. She never once moved despite her preference always to sleep alone.
When any one of us is sick she sits vigil by the door to whatever bedroom we are in. She waits and just sits with us. She holds whatever we must hold as steadfastly as any minister ever has.
I don’t know how to face losing her. I am not ready damnit. Anyone can see I need about forty more years with this dog to become even remotely the better person she calls me to be. But I figure she’ll teach me how to do this hard sad goodbye thing too. I know already that it has something to do with more cheese rinds and maybe if we are especially lucky a few quiet days on a quilt in a sunny patch of soft grass. She has taught me how to get past fear with presence and constancy, love and hope. I expect she has something to teach me again But I sure hope she waits a while….