Stephanie was a black labrador retriever belonging to my father and stepmother. Well, I say she "belonged" to them, although it’s a moot point who actually belonged to whom. Steffi was family. She originally "belonged" to my stepsister, but somehow, she ended up with Dad and Ilana. And there she grew up – and grew and grew and grew. In her later years, she was somewhat overweight and had to be put on a diet. But who could resist those pleading brown eyes, whenever she came round to beg a tasty morsel. Cake, chocolate, chicken, bread dipped in gravy – you name it, Steffi would eat it. About the only thing she wouldn’t eat, as Dad and Ilana used to say, was lettuce. "Do I look like a rabbit?" she might have been saying, indignantly.
They called her Stephanie because she was bold and she was beautiful. And maybe also, because she was a princess. She looked fierce – but she was gentle as a lamb. Did she chase cats? Of course she did! That’s what dogs are meant to do. It was expected of her and she knew it. But she would never have actually harmed one, even had she been able to catch it. It was just a game to Steffi. If a cat stopped running and just looked back at her, as if daring her to come closer, she would stop, bewildered. I have even known her to step gingerly around an ant crawling on the floor so as not to crush it.
In her last years, she was plagued by a mysterious paralysis of one of her hind legs, which made it difficult for her to negotiate the stairs and even to rise on all fours from a sitting or lying position, and so she was afraid to go out, as she was haunted by the fear of falling. Getting up the stairs was also a nightmare for her. The vet never discovered what had caused the paralysis. True, once she made it down into the garden, she enjoyed herself as ever, but I wonder what was going through her head every time they called her home and she knew she would have to face those stairs again.
When my twin nieces were born, two and a half years ago, Steffi had to face fierce competition for the attention of her family. There were times when my stepsister would arrive and Steffi would run to her in joyous welcome, only to be ignored for the sake of the twins. Poor baby! My heart went out to her then. Whenever I went round to visit Dad and Ilana, even if the twins were there, I always made it point to greet Stephanie first. The relief she must have felt when the twins and their parents left and the house was her own again!
Last week, it all became to much for her. She had developed edema around the heart and although she was receiving injections, she was still in a bad way. By last weekend, they were already talking about ending it all. Although my father was more or less desperately trying to convince himself that there was some improvement, because she had eaten some of her food, having been off it for several days, last Sunday, the decision was made and Steffi was taken to the vet to be put to sleep. Her body was cremated.
I write this now, knowing that she’s looking down on me from some canine heaven, where she is (finally) allowed to climb up on the bed or the sofa, where there are large gardens to play in, with cooperative cats, where there are no stairs and where, even if there are, her leg is miraculously healed and she can run around as she used to when she was a puppy.
Rest in Peace, Stephanie. We love you.