Someone I don’t know very well asked me recently to talk about Mina: “Tell me about her.” I listed all of Mina’s qualities that I adore and mentioned how playful she is and how much I miss her. It seemed an incomplete accounting of the one I love above all others.

The first thing to know about Mina is that she’s not fancy girl. She doesn’t like getting groomed or taking baths. She never, ever wore any sort of clothing because that was undignified for a proud canine. She hated the scarves wrapped around her neck by groomers, so I use them as napkins for my lunch box. Mina only ever wanted to wear her collar and never once had her toenails painted.

She didn’t like blankets or anything covering her body, either. The only time I remember Mina getting under some blankets was back in 2004 when the heat broke down in our Crofton, Maryland apartment. It was 20F outside that night and we had only a tiny space heater provided by our friend Joe, and we were curled up in front of the TV with every blanket and comforter we owned. Mina got under the blankets at the end of the couch and helped keep my feet warm.

And she was always warm! This was a bit of a struggle to balance Mina’s love of cool temperatures and my love of hot and humid weather. In the winter Mina wants to be outside all the time, while I grumbled and bundled up for our daily walks. In July, Mina would take a nice early morning walk but I had to coerce her to go outside the rest of the day. Still, she’d trot along ahead of me with her “Mina strut” that I so loved to watch, panting to stay cool and looking at me frequently to let me know she was done with being outside.

When Mina was a young, wild puppy her emotions were hard to place. She was happy or she was sleeping! As we grew older together it became easier for both of us to read the other. Mina knew me perfectly and was gracious enough not to hold grudges against me for some of the stupid things I did during our years together. As much as I enjoyed her youth and all our adventures together, the last few years are the sweetest in my memory. We talked a lot, or rather, I talked a lot and Mina listened patiently. She never got up and walked away during one of my diatribes, just looked at me with loving eyes and waited for the apology she knew was coming. Her forgiveness is as big as her personality and just as precious to me.

In the last couple of years Mina’s step slowed a bit because of her arthritis, but when she was in a good mood she held her tail as high as possible, strutted her stuff on the sidewalk, and walked for as long as she liked. Our walks were Mina’s favorite part of every day; she loved being outside. Mina made me into an outdoors-loving person, really. I still don’t like bugs flying all around me, but Mina taught be to enjoy being outdoors with her enthusiasm for simply being outside. In her last couple of months, Mina sometimes just wanted to sit down or lay on the walkway outside our building to smell the air and see who came by. I’d sit with her until we both decided it was time to go inside.

Sue calls Mina my “best calling card” because Mina is very social. She enjoys meeting humans and non-humans alike with equal gusto. One of the canines Mina loved best was Peanut, who used to live in our community with his mom, Janet. A year ago Thanksgiving they moved away to Arizona, but Mina looked for her pal every time we went outside for at least two weeks. When Peanut lived near us Mina was robust and healthy, if a little too old for Peanut’s more intense play invitations. Still, he seemed to know she was an older lady and would offer his toys to her when we visited his home. The best part about Mina and Peanut was watching them greet each other. They trotted toward one another, humans in tow, and chest-bumped every single time they saw each other! Mina has never, in her entire life, greeted another canine with such enthusiasm. She really loved her Peanut.

Mina loved Max, too, who moved away the weekend that Mina died. Max was quite a bit younger and Mina was sick from chemo or cancer so unable to really play with him. But she loved seeing him and walking with him.

Max and Mina

Turk, the elderly chocolate lab who lives a couple of doors from where Max lived, is Mina’s other favorite friend. Whenever we visited Turk and his mom, he’d try to offer Mina one of his toys, but Mina always headed straight for his food dish. That’s the thing about my baby girl; she made herself right at home wherever she went, but she didn’t always return the favor. Mina definitely didn’t like having even her canine pals inside her home. I have no idea why as she was raised for her first two years with her friend, Goldie.

Every time we returned from a walk we had a little ritual to complete. Mina would walk over to Turk’s door and sniff to find out if he was inside, then we walked down to Max’s door to see if he would come outside. Mina was still checking out Max’s door on our final Sunday walk together.

mina outside max's apartment

Mina, looking for Max, just a few days before he and his family moved away

I guess it’s difficult for me to give you a really clear picture of how incredibly close we are, even now. Mina loved me, accepted me, understood me, comforted me, and protected me like no one else. She has a sparkling personality that attracts everyone to her. I remember the first time she met one of my colleagues who doesn’t live with non-human animals. Mina walked into her office this past summer and Sharon put her hand on Mina’s face and kissed her nose. Last week when Mina’s Auntie Sue was wearing a holiday pin with a jingling bell, she walked into another colleague’s office who told Sue that it sounded like Mina coming to see him. The jingling bell reminded him of Mina’s jingling tags on her collar.

If you’ve met my sweet angel then you know the power of her beautiful personality. If you never had the chance to meet her, I’m certain you would’ve been smitten by her, too.

Girly girl, you are in my heart in my heart in my heart

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Yesterday, our last day together was in my mind all day. I went to church, I hiked in the battlefield park, I came home and showered and even ate, and she was right there in my mind all day. I cried a lot yesterday. I’ve cried a fair amount today, too. I am not at all accustomed to living without my dear love and I don’t know that I ever will be. It seems that life without Mina will always be an imitation of life, without the love and joy and happiness she brought to it.

This morning I awoke around 1:32 a.m. I called Dr. Smith two weeks ago at 1:22 a.m. This is the fourth morning since Mina died that I’ve awakened at that time. Colleen tells me it’s because it was such a traumatic time for me; I still wonder if it’s guilt for making the decision that ended the life of my dearest love. I’ll always second guess that decision; I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

I’m still trying to organize all the digital photos of Mina that I’ve found in various places. I get started and I have to quit because I remember our life together and it hurts so much that it’s over. I’ll try to have another brief slideshow up this evening.

You have no idea how I’d like to skip the holidays, and that includes my birthday in January. Mina and I spent every Christmas together since her first Christmas in December, 1996, and every Thanksgiving together since 1997. At my 50th birthday party this past January, I swear that Mina thought it was all for her and that’s OK. She enjoys parties far more than I do; Mina knows how to socialize with every animal – human and non-human – in the room. She was healthy then and spent hours walking around visiting, taking only short breaks for snacks, water, and rest.

Mina in January, 2009 at my 50th birthday party at BOW

Taking a break at my birthday party, January 2009

We’ve spent every Thanksgiving since 2002 with Sue and Robin, so that will be sad for me this year. Everyone will understand and I hope share any Mina stories they may remember. I plan to work at the Sanctuary that morning before joining the party. Mina loved Thanksgiving with all its opportunities for illegal snacking and loads of attention.

New Year’s Eve wasn’t always a big deal for us. I left her with a babysitter once to go to a big party at a stadium that wasn’t terribly satisfying. Mostly, we stayed home together – wherever we were living – and in the past four years we’d watch all three “Terminator” movies on deluxe DVD version, I’d eat some chili and Mina would have her snacks and we were in bed shortly after midnight. Those were the best times – when it was me and Mina together enjoying each others company.

It doesn’t seem like two weeks. It’s hard to tell, time passes in a very odd manner when you’re grieving. It could’ve been just yesterday and sometimes it feels like she’s so far away from me. Now, I wear an antique glass locket around my neck that’s engraved with “Mina, My Beloved” and contains some of her hair. I chose her blondest hair because I used to love running my fingers through her incredibly shiny blonde hair. There’s a photo in a nice frame on my desk, too. All her things are around me but they give me no comfort.

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I didn’t know how badly we needed to relax outdoors in the beautiful heat and sunlight of Virginia’s piedmont until we sat down outside at Barrel Oak.

Mina was, of course, the belle of the ball. We sat outside under an umbrella near the entrance to the tasting room. Mina caught all the foot traffic – canines, visitors, and staff – and just about everyone stopped to pet her, comment on her beauty, and offer her a biscuit. Brian, who along with his wife owns the winery, came out from behind the counter to greet Mina and said she looked fantastic.

We were there for hours. Mina drank a lot of water and I doused her with it frequently to keep her cool. A couple of times she engaged in a barking fest with some dogs on the other side of the patio, which I found quite amusing. A waiter carrying a bowl of chips stumbled as he passed so Mina happily cleaned up after him. She was so perky and had such a good time that she’s pooped today and has mostly been napping.

On our way home yesterday I stopped at the IGA in Marshall and bought two containers of Lamb Chow Now for her to try. You all know how I struggle with feeding my little carnivore actual flesh of other non-human animals, but I really object to killing baby animals for any reason. It’s disgusting and cruel and senseless and I believe that when you eat the flesh of animals who lived horrible lives and died long before their natural life spans end, that you take that violence into you and it rots your body and your spirit.

I don’t think it works that way for obligate carnivores such as Mina, though. We ARE NOT obligate carnivores.

This morning I cooked up a carton of the lamb food for her and the smell brought her out to the kitchen. The smell damn near drove me to the bathroom to get sick. I thought the chicken Chow Now smelled like death, but this is stuff makes my apartment reek like a charnel house. Mina likes it, of course. She’s eaten it twice today by itself, and once with boiled chicken and enjoyed it all three times. Figures she’d like the stinkiest thing I can find for her to eat.

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