On the Death of a Co-Worker

It’s been a monastic life for me as a writer for the past 25 years, since I’ve largely abandoned newsrooms and classrooms in favor of a home office. For 15 of those years, my faithful co-worker has been my miniature schnauzer Pinki, who would arise with me at 5 a.m. and shepherd me into my workplace down the hall.

Pinki would wait patiently for her breakfast until 7 a.m., somehow knowing these early hours were my most productive. She would curl up under my desk, keeping me on task, but also letting me know when it was time for a break. At that point, she’d leave the room and get one of her toys – often a ratty-looking thing we called “Lambie” – and throw it at my feet. That signaled it was time for lunch or a walk.

When we rescued a second schnauzer named Rosie about 10 years ago, it was clear that she was nowhere near as bright as Pinki, an amazing dog who knew upwards of 200 words and could correctly retrieve any toy in her extensive toy basket on command. “Go get green dog,” I’d say and she’d return with the right animal.

pinki pup
Pinki as a puppy.

Pinki tried to train Rosie in the ways of our little office and even seemed to give her assignments. As Pinki grew older and a bit more tired, she’d occasionally leave my side, only to be replaced by Rosie. It became something of a joke in our house and we called it “the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” An hour later, Pinki would be back on duty and Rosie would retire to a chair in another part of the house.

Of course, this story ends with her death on December 27. She began to fail after Thanksgiving, but rallied at Christmas, walking a mile in the snow with her head held high and enjoying a hearty dinner. In the middle of the night, she lost the ability to walk. My husband and I wrapped her in her pink polka-dot blanket and took her to the vet. She had all the signs of a brain tumor or an autoimmune type of encephalitis.

Pinki on her 11th birthday.

“It’s time to say good-bye,” the vet said. And we all cried.

That night, I swore I heard her bark once outside my front door. Rosie heard it, too, lifting her head from the foot of the bed and staring at me. It was an emphatic, energetic bark that seemed to say, “I’m heading out.”

Oddly enough, Pinki died during one of my rare breaks from work during a week when I had no assignments and just a single tutoring student. Her timing was impeccable, as always.

Afterwards, I doubted if I could ever write again without my constant companion and spent several days reading by the Christmas tree and sitting with Rosie.

pink flowers
Dr. Karen Holmstrand, our vet, sent pink flowers.

I finished “Prairie Fires,” a wonderful biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of “Little House on the Prairie” series. In it, the author Caroline Fraser, talks about Wilder’s belief that memories are “treasures” and “consuming fires of torment,” something I was experiencing as I tried to come to grips with the loss.

I kept playing the movie of Pinki’s distressing final hours in my head and feeling guilty that I could not do more for her. Today, I decided to focus on being grateful for the best co-worker I ever had, a 13-pound terrier with a gray cotton coat and a crooked smile, my own version of Greyfriars Bobby. Rest in peace, my dear friend.

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