A mutual admiration society of two, we were bonded, exquisitely and ecstatically, Mini and I, for nine years — longer than my two brief marriages combined. In fact, one of her t-shirts famously boasted, “I may be small but I am the BOSS.” And she was. The center of my world, she ruled my heart, and my life ran on Mini time. Having never been socialized with other dogs, she was passionate about people, particularly me, and people were just as passionate about her. Having never been taught to play with toys, she was passionate about playing with me, and we compiled a list of code words to initiate each of our increasing number of “games.”
“Flip!” and she would flip onto her back on my bed, roll back and forth, her head tossing from side to side, paws partially covering her eyes and flirting, yes, flirting with me. “Tummy!” and she would stretch out languidly, her lean body perfectly still as I rubbed her tummy in gentle circles over and over and over again. “Treats!” and she would scamper round the corner into the kitchen, dancing excitedly on her hind legs in eager anticipation of whatever was on the menu at the moment – from blueberries, sliced strawberries and bananas to peanut butter, tiny doggy biscuits and pieces of kibble. “Up! Up!” and she would leap into my waiting arms to be snuggled and kissed. “Walk! Walk!” and she would dart through the opened front door into the carpeted hallway, race to the end of the corridor and back again, her white plumed tail gaily waving like a banner in the air above her head. (Pre-COVID, I walked her three times a day around the vast, private landscaped terrace of our building where she invariably ignored the other dogs and eagerly approached their owners for cuddles and pets).
Mealtimes meant Mini lying on my lap and keeping me company while I ate. Night times meant Mini lying on my chest as I lay in bed watching TV, her head resting on my left shoulder while I petted her for hours, feeling truly peaceful and safe for the first time all day. Then, she would turn over, curve herself against me and fall asleep while I, who am always cold, wrapped my arms around her small body for warmth until I too fell asleep. Mornings meant Mini curled on my chest, her paws around my neck while I hugged and kissed her and thanked her for loving me. So attuned was she to my moods and my pain, that each time I felt panicky, depressed or sad, each time I wept in agony through gritted teeth, she would lick the tears from my cheeks, consoling and comforting me as only Mini could.
Refusing to be separated even when I took a shower, she would follow me into the bathroom, place her front paws on the side of the tub and gaze up at me before curling up in a ball on the very towel I used to climb out of the tub. Loath to be left alone too long, she pouted when, for safety’s sake, she was placed in the kitchen with its multi-paned glass door each time I went out. Invariably, upon my return, I would find her hopping back and forth along the length of the door, barking gleeful “welcome home” barks and licking away at the glass. As soon as I opened the door, I pulled her into my arms, hugging and kissing her until she eventually squirmed out of my hungry embrace.
Meticulously groomed every three months, she was always a good sport about donning a dress and posing for pictures. While I waved a treat high above her head, she would hold still long enough for my best friend to snap as many shots of her in as many positions as he could before her patience finally ran out. Ever the perfectionist, I chose only the most perfect shots of my highly photogenic little love to add to my growing collection of photos. Over the years, as she changed, so did her hairstyles and her body shape, but to me, Mini, so petite and so pretty, was still very much a puppy.
In the final year of her life, however, the insidious fingers of canine dementia began ruthlessly ripping her away from me. By now, she was almost completely blind and deaf, with arthritic hips, early stage kidney disease and a Grade 5 heart murmur. The more she receded, the less remained of the Mini I knew, and I watched her decline in despair and desperation, screaming so many silent screams that I feared for my sanity. Confusion had replaced companionship. Snappishness had supplanted sweetness. No longer sharing my bed, she spent her nights on a special heating pad in her doggy bed on the floor beside me while I cried myself to sleep, missing her warmth and her comforting presence.
Clinging to every brief moment of reprieve, I watched with relief as she still ran up and down the carpeted corridor, stumbling occasionally, but swiftly recovering, her white plumed tail gaily waving like a banner in the air above her head. The single word “cookies” had her following me, after a light, warning tap on her back, into the kitchen for treats and for the wet food at dinner she still devoured with gusto. Snuggling while I watched TV at night was replaced by her settling down beside me on a soft doggy blanket, her shrinking body pressed against my left thigh while I gingerly petted her, feeling, however briefly, safe and at peace. My newest ritual: lifting her up throughout the day, holding her mere inches from my face and repeating, loudly and clearly, “Mommy loves Mini! Mommy loves Mini! Mommy loves Mini!” then gulping back grateful sobs each time her ears perked up at my still-remembered voice.
The night before she passed, she kept me awake with the pitiful sounds of her crying as she paced the floor and could neither be placated nor pacified. She had never, in all our time together, cried, and I knew that she was asking me to perform one final act that would honor the love we had shared by setting her free. And so, I did. Her own vet, Dr. Isaiah Levinson, as fate would have it, was working that Sunday, the one day a month he worked for MMVHS, guided her gently across Rainbow Bridge. But not until she had licked the tears from my face one final time before growing eerily calm.
Never having owned a pet, I never knew the excruciating agony of losing an animal’s unconditional love until I lost my adopted Maltese, Mini, on April 23, 2023. As a fragile senior, more limited now than ever, living alone and writing all day, I no longer share my small rose-hued apartment with the sweetest, silliest and most stubborn of senior canine companions. The air that she filled so long with a humming joy and a vibrating pulse, has succumbed to a silence so palpable it pierces my eardrums and a stillness so shrill it stops my heart.
As I navigate this unfamiliar terrain, mired in a grief unlike any other I have ever experienced, my sole, temporary form of solace is my newest ritual: I fold her soft doggy blanket until, in my mind’s eye, it takes on Mini’s omni-present persona. I hold her against my chest as I lie in bed blind to the TV, her head resting on my left shoulder and pet her for hours, feeling truly peaceful and safe for the first time all day. Then, I turn her over, curve her against me while I, who am colder now than ever, wrap my arms around her for warmth, and fall into a fitful sleep. In the morning, I place her on my chest, breathing in the scent of her, and as the tears stream down my cheeks, I hug her and kiss her and thank her for loving me.
Until we meet again, my Mini, my life’s one true love, at the Bridge, never to be separated again.
By Nomi Berger