Sorry. I couldn’t focus on any football-related storylines this morning. That’s because today I had to say goodbye to Mills.
Millie was our Gordon Setter. Her 13th birthday would have been Dec. 11.
And she wasn’t just a dog. She was a part of our family.
My youngest daughter, who had just turned 10, chose her out of a litter of pups because Mills was the one who tried to trot away. She clearly had spunk and an independent streak. Little did we know.
She slept most of the way home in a laundry basket filled with soft towels. Eventually she let us know in no uncertain terms that she was ready to be let loose.
We had a nice doggie crate for her first night, but Mills would have none of it. I even tried sleeping on the floor beside her, to no avail. She wound up spending that night on our bed, curled up around my wife’s head.
Bright and early the next morning, I took her for a walk. From then on, we began each day together with our "morning walkies." We’d tour the neighborhood, with Mills always taking the lead. We’d sprint a while, walk a while, stop and check the smells. Rain or shine, hot or cold, it didn’t matter. That was our time.
Mills was never a snuggler and barely tolerated being petted. She hated being groomed, which, with her long hair, led to a perpetually scruffy appearance. But she always had to be in the same room with you. Not next to you, but nearby.
Except when she was out on the front porch on the second story of the house. From there she could survey the whole neighborhood. She had sunlight on cool days, a breeze on hot days. Often she’d spend the entire night out there, looking at me as if I were crazy for asking her to come inside.
She had the instincts of a hunting dog. She’d tear out after squirrels and birds at all times. As a puppy, an early trip to the basement brought her face-to-face with her own image on the glass in the basement door. My daughter drew a rousing round of laughter by pointing out that "Mills has her hackles up!"
My wife’s five sisters visited on the occasion of a landmark birthday, and Mills discovered a rabbit’s nest in the yard. After each trip outside, she’d deposit a new bunny on the bed of a different sister. Most have not visited since.
I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mills was quite the gourmand. Our morning walkies wasn’t complete until she had her post-walkies "treats." On any occasion she deemed appropriate, she’d stand in front of the pantry door, gateway to biscuit haven, and howl. Likewise, she let you know each day when dinner time rolled around. No watch necessary.
She also loved pancakes. We’d often find a pancake strategically placed under our bed pillows for safekeeping. Mills once got an entire pancake stuck in her mouth. Her only notice of distress was a periodic soft whimper. She didn’t want to risk us taking the pancake away from her.
Mills would work a countertop relentlessly, maneuvering a dish or bowl into range with her paws and snout until she could savor the contents. One evening she managed to sidle a colander of pasta to the counter’s edge. Then she came sauntering out into the den very innocently, but with a single strand of vermicelli stuck to one ear.
Unfamiliar with Mills’ wiles, on vacation two years ago, my Dad left a loaf of bread too close to the edge. Mills devoured the entire loaf. Undaunted, the episode repeated the next day, when dad was certain that the bread was out of her reach.
Mills also helped me devise a new formula for cooking ribs. She managed to get at a platter of ribs before I got them on the smoker, and enjoyed the sauce immensely. I had no choice but to boil the ribs, and then be amazed to have my guests marvel at how moist and tender my ribs were. Of course, I had to share a sample with Mills.
Two years ago my daughter brought a puppy home for the holidays. At one point, she noticed Mills scurrying away from Titan’s food bowl, cheeks filled to chipmunk resemblance. Only after a subsequent trip to the vet, where I was scolded for allowing Mills’ weight to balloon from 75 to 90 pounds, did we realize how much puppy chow she had eaten.
We realized on Thanksgiving that Mills’ time with us was nearing its end. So we gave thanks for the time we had, and the memories. Mills gave thanks that I was feeding her turkey.
By Sunday she couldn’t get up by herself anymore. I spent the night with her in the den, in case she needed anything. Monday morning we had our last walkies. Not much of one, just into the backyard. But she was able to get some fresh air and make sure the neighborhood was under control.
Then she came back inside, we made her comfortable, and she had a nice turkey breakfast. And now she rests.
A good dog?
No. A wonderful family member.
We love you, Mills.
And we’ll miss you.