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QUINTESSENCE

The Importance of Being Duff

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

- Groucho Marx

I think the whole world knows about McDuff, our singing white Scottie. Well, technically, his color is more of a latte "wheaten" color as it's called in the land of official pedigrees, with creamy light patches on both shoulders and white white ears and whiskers that frame eyes as dark as chocolate.

It is the eyes that stop you. Expressive as a Scottish poet, the dog is both dignified and as emotionally transparent as a child. The tail is up and the bark fierce when he charges on the "invaders" - squirrels - sneaking up on the bird feeders in the yard. It is their game: the gray squirrels that live in the trees streak across the grass, take a lateral arabesque from the crabapple tree, flying over Duff's head as he circles the yard in a whirl, setting the leaves to dance. Job done, McDuff lies contentedly in the cool grass, big head on his stubby paws, dozing as the the quail and chickadee flock the feeders. Later, when he comes into the kitchen, tail wagging as he smells the salmon steaming on the table, I swear he smiles.

McDuff will be eleven soon. He was my young son's much desired surprise Christmas puppy. Not yet ready to be weaned, we presented David with a gift-wrapped photograph album of snapshots of McDuff growing. Nicknamed "Chubby" at the time, piled in a basket of litter mates, he was an easy going pup with an eye for lunch. Daivd looked through the album in delight, eyes shining. "Oh thank you, Mom and Dad! You gave me a book of dog pictures!" Ken and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. We explained that Duff could come home in three weeks. That Duffy was his dog, for real, and forever.

Last week I had to tell my son, away at the US Naval Academy, that his dog, our Duffy, has an unexpected illness. A quick and aggressive cancer that is changing everything, almost quicker than either Duff or I can cope. My big son held back his emotion. "He shouldn't suffer, Mom. I'll come back if you need me to be with you when its time."

And just like that my boy became the adult, and I cried in his dog's fur.

Not to be maudlin here (well, way past that point I guess), but it's day at a time now. Duff has a new cushy bed, his days eased with homemade casserole and pain medications and the bits of smoked salmon my friend Greg sneaks him. I hold him and he looks at me with those great dark eyes, and I know he knows. He's been with me though some very tough times: always my hiking buddy, my companion as the kids one after the other left for college. A few weeks ago, the kids home for just a few days, we stood on the top of a bluff at Priest Lake, sharing water as we took in the view and late summer butterflies after a long hot hike. We followed the trail down to the shore and Duff waded into the cool water up to his belly and lapped water as he stood there, laughing. So happy to have "the herd" home.

Now, time is finite in a visible way. Duff sleeping in a slant of sun.

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