Ilona Klemm lives outside of Kalamazoo, Mich. Most of her life, she's had two to five animal companions around, not counting parakeets or chickens. A career in international trade behind her, she continues to work on her writing and checking her options to move and still take along two 11-year old chickens. Fannie, a four-year-old Border Terrier-mix sporting a Mohawk, recently joined the household.
You know how you have that one dog—the one you are closer to than all the others you lived with over the years. Not the most obedient, nor the most talented, but the one to whom you are bound more tightly than any others. You hate to say it, but you do love that one more.
And that was Molly. She was willful, difficult, made me crazy. I’d yell in frustration at her and at myself. Over the years I’m not sure if she got better or I just adjusted to her.
At 45 pounds, she was a big Aussie Shepherd-mix with the most beautiful blue merle coat. She was so unique it became annoying to walk her anywhere because people constantly stopped to admire her and ask her breed. A rescue, I couldn’t be sure. But she knew she looked good and ate up the attention. Maybe a Catahoula, someone said. A what?
After the total failure of obedience class, our new personal trainer told me Molly needed mental stimulation. “What do you mean, like a magazine subscription?” No, try a herd of ducks. She also said Molly had no respect for me. That wasn’t really new information.
I tried a long lead of clothesline, really long, to work with her. She wrapped it around me and pulled. The rope burns on my ankles got me dubious looks at work. When not leashed, she would take the opportunity to run down the driveway, dash across the road to visit the neighbor’s horses. And, of course, check out the manure piles. After a horse kicked her, I hoped that would end her fascination. It didn’t. Next time she ran over to see the horses, she just stayed on our side of the fence and barked. What fun! For her, maybe.
For fourteen years, less two after her heart condition slowed us down, we traveled the country. We explored national parks first in the Celica and then in the little red truck full of our camping gear. She was ever-alert, barking at cows and horses grazing in fields. And she loved staring out the front window, checking the road ahead. The roar of the big trucks and motorcycles woke her; she would stand cramped against the car roof watching them pass. And when she sat in the passenger seat next to me, and needed attention, I’d get a quick paw on my arm until I pet her. She wasn’t really a camper though, preferring hotel rooms where she could jump on the beds and slurp from a toilet full of nice cold water.
She tried to push me off a cliff in the Porcupine Mountains. We listened to coyotes in New Mexico. Explored the Kansas tall-grass prairie, where I watched the grass part above her as she ran through the fields. And Sleeping Bear Dunes was great for a swim in Lake Michigan. We left Molly-holes under the picnic tables at each of our campsites—evidence of frustration at being tied to the table.
Although she successfully learned really reliable recall, she still had her moments. I’d see that backward glance at me, the glint in her eye, then, off she’d race on her adventure. I had to learn not to move away from where she last saw me; I had to learn to wait.
The last two years were hard. I hoped she might die quickly, make it easier on me. It could have happened when she would collapse and go unconscious. But it didn’t. And then it came time to make that ever-so-hard decision, and take her to the vet, for the last time. Her eyes looked tired and sad.