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Uma: A Love Story

Before Kent left for the veterinarian's office Sunday morning, I dug out a manilla folder filed in the cabinet under "Uma." It held her vaccination records, microchip ID number, and her original paperwork from the District of Columbia Animal Shelter. 

One of the forms was labeled "Wiggles Medical History."

We never called her Wiggles, so I don't know why that's what tripped me up today and made the tears fall in a hot, uncontrolled rush. 

Perhaps because Wiggles seems so childish and Uma grew old and is now gone.  

Uma was always too dignified for such a silly name. Even when we she was just 10 and a half months old and we drove her home to Raleigh. She acted more wildebeest than puppy, then, gnawing the baseboards and standing atop the kitchen table when we went to work. But Wiggles? Never. 

She didn't answer to it anyhow, so we changed her name. The family who saved her from the shelter told us she was a German Shorthaired Pointer mix. Uma is a beautiful name and it sounds German enough, we thought. Later, we found out she wasn't even remotely close to a German Shorthaired Pointer, but the name suited her. 

"What kind of breed is your dog?" they asked every time I called the groomer's.  "She's a mutt," I'd say proudly. A gorgeous, gentle, kooky mutt.  

Uma was on double-secret probation once way back when we first got her and she was such a handful. I told Kent that if there was one more baseboard ruined, one more bite, one more table trampled, she was getting shipped back north. He pulled her snout to his, looked deep into her eyes and they had their first of many "talks." She was as good as gold after that. Except for when she wasn't.

My mother remembers the time Uma escaped and bolted to the house across the way. Kent and I stood in the middle of the street to block any car that threatened to hit her as we coaxed her back.

"More cat than dog," that's how we always described her. She could be aloof. She was often very shy. But she was always unfailingly gentle. Given her shelter background and skittishness, we didn't know how she'd react to a new baby in the house. She couldn't have been more generous. She gave way as one, then three, then FOUR little people stole the attention and love she once owned exclusively.  


Uma started to slow weeks ago. I first noticed it after our morning walks when she took the steps back into the house slowly instead of bounding through the front door, bystanders be damned.  She seemed to breathe more deeply. Last week, about midway to the coffee shop, she needed to stop. Her mouth watered, she struggled to catch her breath. I knelt to pet her and our neighbor asked if there was anything she could do. "No," I said. "We're ok."

She wasn't, though. We put off calling the vet because we figured it was something big, a sickness we couldn't afford to fix or one she might not pull through anyway. On Wednesday, Kent left for Florida and Uma stopped eating. That was the last time I walked her to the coffee shop as well. She didn't even want to get up from her bed to go to the bathroom in the back yard. When I insisted, she came back winded. 

On Friday, I called the vet and got an appointment first thing Monday morning. She never made it. She died Sunday after Kent rushed her to the emergency clinic. He walked through the front door with her and they labeled her a Code 1. They put her in an oxygen tent, gave her a sedative and Kent called home. 

Without an X-ray or any diagnostic tests, the vet was fairly certain she had congestive heart failure or pneumonia or both. Her chances of surviving any sort of treatment were grim, he said. About 10 percent. We decided to euthanize her. 

The night before Uma died, Esme asked if we could buy her a puppy pop from The Dairy Godmother. She hadn't eaten in days and even standing left her breathless, but goddam if she didn't stand to eat that entire pop. Every last bit of it. I take great solace in that and I think Esme feels proud that she could comfort Uma in her final hours. 

Heartbreak is one thing but watching your child suffer a loss is crushing. "I don't want her to die," Esme said as she wept and I ran my fingers through her hair. 

"Flowers come back after they die, why can't Uma?" Tobias wondered. 

Desmond asked immediately for a new dog. Josephine surprised me. She didn't say much of anything. 

When Uma was a pup, we took her for long romps off leash in the woods near our house. There was a creek there that she loved to race through. In June, about the time she would have celebrated her 13th birthday, we'll return to Raleigh and spread her ashes in the forest, near a bend in the path that she especially loved. It was Kent's idea and I think it's a beautiful gesture. 

"Did you know I once tried to give her away?" I asked him today when the kids were gone and the house quiet. If Uma had been there, she would have pushed her nose onto our bed or sat curled beside it. I confided that shortly after we moved to Virginia and the twins were still small and I felt I was drowning, I called a dear friend back in Raleigh. The way I remember it, I could barely talk for the sobbing and I wondered what she thought of helping me find someone to care for Uma. I felt like I was doing Uma wrong, neglecting her in my inadequate attempts to care for three small ones, myself, a husband, a dying brother. 

My friend talked me off the cliff and Uma stayed. I still feel guilt for loving her so completely then making her split that love by people who came first. 

After lunch, I rifled through hundreds of old photos. So many moments I forgot. So much joy we were lucky to know. 

This is the last photo we have of Uma, taken the day before she died. She was beloved and adored until the end.

Reader Comments (11)

beautifully done, dana. uma was such a lucky do to have your family

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermo

What is not evident from the photos, because with an eye behind the lens one never is in the frame, is how much Uma loved you. It is very clear how much you loved her.

She helped us heal when we broke -- nurtured us in the mountains, at the coast and when our hearts were ready to give up she extolled the virtues of expansive love in the household. She was there to walk, to run, to roll and to jump -- the elements of life. She relished water, dirt, animals and the whole of the outdoors. She taught us the Southern elegance and beauty of a sturdy porch well sat upon in the morning sunlight. She was reflective and generous with affection but not too quick to give of her overwhelming tenderness and love.

She was complete. She was ours and we were hers. Oh, how I miss her so.

Thank you for the eulogy. It soothes my ragged, hurting heart.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHusband of the Goddess

Oh no. I am so very sorry for your loss. I lost my beloved Tucker- Uma's good friend & walking buddy/ my very special boy- last December. Heartbroken doesn't even begin to cover it. We will always have such sweet, sweet memories of caring for Uma. She was such a beautiful soul. You may have lost a dog , but you have gained an angel. I have become incredibly active in rescue the last few years and have added to my furmily. My heart, thoughts & prayers are with you all. Beautiful, sweet Uma. We adored her so.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

My goodness, yes, I remember Tucker, Kimberly. I'm so sorry he's gone too. Hopefully, they're off somewhere now running and splashing together. Thanks so much for your kind words.

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDana

Sad to read this post Dana, Loosing a member of the family that is so loved is very hard. My thoughts are with you and family. Thank you for sharing the story.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNora Partlow

I'm so sorry. She looked and sounded like a lovely dog.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVee

Now Dana and Kent you have officially made me cry.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawson

As one who has lost beloved pets in the past, I sympathize with you and your family at hearing of your loss. Uma will never fade from memory or ever be replaced, but I hope you and your family will once again love an animal who adopts you as her family when you adopt her as your companion. Your writings about Uma, both your post and Kent's comments, are lovely and moving. Thank you for sharing these personal thoughts with all of us. I enjoy your blog immensely, Dana, and wondered why you had not posted recently; until I saw Uma's story. My heart goes out to you and yours and I wish you all the best.

November 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

I'm so so sorry for your family's loss. Our family lost our german shepherd, Shadow, over 2 years ago and still miss him so much! He was a great friend, the best, for the almost 9 years we had him. Just think of all the doggies up in doggie heaven who can now play together without any discomfort or pain or unhappiness! We have a book called Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant, which my 10 year still gets out and reads. She wrote a dedication to Shadow on the inside cover just the other day. So sorry for your loss.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjody

Oh, I'm so sorry for the loss of your beloved Uma. Dogs are amazing. We have two old guys so we are not sure how many days we might have left.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterARC

beautiful. Thank you. I am so sorry for you all.

December 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkristin

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