The snow lays over the gardens, still and silent and sparkling under the moon. It is late. And cold — about ten degrees below zero. We are trespassing here at this deserted hour.
I breathe in and feel the frozen air bite my throat and lungs. The girls run off-leash, a rare luxury in the city and a fine-able offense. I chose this frigid hour carefully so that our secret would be safe. I love to watch them run.
Sachi streams over the drifts of snow, and my breath catches at her fluid beauty. She’s a puff of gold-grey smoke flowing across the field, her nose to the ground. Sometimes she lifts her head and stretches her body and legs to their full lengths as she flies over the landscape, her beautiful, long fur streaming in the wind.
Coyote trots more than runs, her bottle-brush tail held high at the alert. She pauses to sniff delicately at the base of a bush, and her tail relaxes a little as she paws at the ground to get a better concentration of scent. In a fit of humor, Sachi swoops past her, jostling her a little, and she’s caught up in the swirl of her sister’s dash. I watch as Coyote takes off after her, transformed into a white shadow against the white background of the snow.
Coyote is more nimble than her Golden sister, and she turns sharply, leaving Sachi scrambling to change course and catch up. Coyote’s ears are laid back, her eyes slits, and her jaws partly open in that Husky grin that makes me laugh aloud. She springs to one side and twists, facing Sachi, then pounces on her — and away again — with breathtaking speed and grace.
My two dogs laugh and play together, and I think: This is what it looks like to be wild and free and joyful.
It’s not the crash that wakes me, although I’m sure there was one. It’s the scrabbling of claws and the sound of water splashing across the tile floor and off the walls. I throw back the covers and reach her in three strides, knowing Coyote is panicked. When I flick on the bathroom light, I find her splayed out, one of her hind legs twisted beneath her and a front paw reflexively clenched and caught in the water bowl from which she’d been trying to drink. Her eyes are wide, dilated in terror, and she’s panting hard as she struggles to free her paw and untwist her hindquarters. I crouch down, gently wrapping my arms around her belly and pulling her to her feet.
I feel every rib, every vertebrae in her frail body, as she kicks her hind legs and continues to thrash in my grasp. I murmur soothing words to her, trying to calm her as I slowly guide her from the tile to the carpeting, freeing her front paw from the bowl and rearranging her limbs for her until she’s standing on her own.
She’s shivering and soaking wet, and my heart breaks open. She bumps her nose against the gate that contains her and her brother, Bodhi, in the small area — hall, bathroom, and bedroom — where we all sleep. She clearly wants to go outside. I lift the gate and help her navigate to the back door, then down the two low steps to the yard. She simply stands there, dazed and trembling, panting in the thick summer air.
Once again, her dying body has betrayed her.
My mind flashes to that winter night in the garden, watching her leap and dash like a diminutive wolf at play, with a sister who left us years ago.
This is what this looks like, I tell myself for the hundredth time. This is what it looks like to grow old and sick and weak.
I let her stand there for a few minutes, gathering herself. When her panting slows, I call her name softly, and she turns and totters over to me and lets me guide her slowly, patiently back to her bed.