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.