The phone call from the Middle East at six in the morning came as sort of a surprise. “Your puppy was just born, come and get her” prefaced the details of an invitation to leave the United States and reunite with a boyfriend who had left me behind months earlier in search of further adventures. And so, many years ago, before life’s obligations and entanglements interceded and I became An Adult, I cast my fate to the wind and traveled to the Golan Heights – what is the northern part of Israel, on the border of Lebanon and with a view of the snow-capped mountains of Syria – to collect my Saluki puppy, take a chance on a relationship and see what was to be seen.
For those unfamiliar, the Saluki, also known as the Persian Greyhound, is one of the oldest breeds of dog known. Salukis have been buried with pharaohs in the tombs of Egypt. They can be found in Persian art and medieval paintings, in ancient Indian and Chinese renderings, traces from Sumeria and Mesopotamia that are thousands of years old. They are sight hounds and are still used by Bedouins in conjunction with falcons to hunt gazelle in the desert. They are fast as the wind, poetry in motion.
A gangly, pale yellow Saluki pup of sweet disposition, with a white-tipped tail, faint white “eye-glasses” and a star upon her head, I named her “Duba” (or Dubah….I waffled on the spelling her entire life) – a bear . From the very beginning we belonged to each other. We left the north and moved to east Jerusalem, where she accompanied me on a number of strange adventures. She met Gregory Peck while filming the movie “The Omen”. She threw up on every bus we rode. She provided great solace to me when the relationship with the boyfriend inevitably blew up. And so, I eventually returned to the states with a Bedouin dress, a pierced nose, and my Duba. After a rather longish puppy-hood filled with the usual accidents and minor destruction, she grew into an obedient, sleek, long-legged beauty with intelligent eyes and a quiet, affectionate personality.
Some outstanding traits of note – she rarely barked. When something seriously disturbed her, the ruff along her back would raise straight up and in the very deepest of voices she would once or possibly twice say the word “Bouef”, as in “Boeuf Bourguignon “. When she wanted to go out, she would walk over to you, look right into your eyes and say very distinctly and quite loudly the word “Out“. She loved cantaloupe and ate salad. Duba meditated. Lying like a Sphinx, with her front legs demurely crossed, Mona Lisa smile and eyes closed, eventually she would begin to sway like a cobra. Sometimes her trance became so deep that she would literally startle as she began to fall over sideways. Her biggest fear was the sound of fireworks. July 4th sent her into a trembling, panicked scramble for cover beneath a bed. I often wondered if the artillery she experienced living on the border in her youth had anything to do with her reaction.
Duba made a few cross-country trips across the U.S. by car, one of them while packed into a Volkswagen Beetle, along with guitars and boxes, curled up with just about enough room for her head to stick out. She remained calm and resigned throughout our journeys.
She was a companion on many a camping trip and was able to accompany me to work daily during the time I was a veterinary technician. Whenever she rode in the car, she preferred to curl up on the floor on the front passenger side under the dashboard. Surprisingly, she had no desire to look out the window. However, Sight Hound that she was, Duba enjoyed perching in high positions like rock outcrops and picnic tables where she could see all that was going on. Her favorite spot was a large cable spool turned on its side, which served as the perfect perch for her to peacefully gaze out across the river we once lived near. She enjoyed wallowing in water like a hippo and would often lie down in the shallows of lakes and streams with the water up to her neck.
Duba was not into conventional dog games. She refused to engage in tug-of-war, catch or fetch. If you threw a ball towards her in an act of play, she would let it land at her feet without touching it and then shoot back a look of pure insult. But if her feet touched the sand, it was as if something ignited inside her. Spinning, whirling and kicking up the earth, she would joyfully head out across a beach or open space at high-speed, and then you could pretend to block and chase her as she dodged around you.
A gentle soul, she was congenial with cats, patient with children, respectful and amicable with most other dogs. However, her hunting instincts came alive when she was out in the woods. Much like a cat, it was not unusual for her to leave “gifts” outside the door in the form of a deer head or haunch, which took some getting used to. She was once “busted” and brought home by the police for chasing geese in a local public park in Oregon. She actually dipped her head in shame.
Much like a cat, she was quiet and mysterious and enjoyed curling up in a patch of sunlight on a winter’s day. She was social in as much as she liked to be present in the same room with everybody else. In the winter she would follow the heat source. If it was a portable electric heater, she would move with it from room to room. When we heated with wood, she would lie on the hearth as close to the stove as she could without singeing herself. In temperament, Duba could be described as being extremely polite. She did not nip or grab and would gently take a treat from your fingers if offered. She was calm and laid back. Her nickname was “Mellow Yellow”.
Duba had one litter of five yellow Saluki puppies. I think motherhood for her was something merely to be tolerated. She did her duty well, but I would have to say that she never really seemed especially thrilled about it and appeared glad when it was all over.
In the days of country living on acres of woods and fields, Duba aways ran free. Aside from a very intense skunk encounter, an occasional injured paw and a few times where she wandered farther than usual, she remained luckily unharmed and always came home when I called her. In her last years we ended up living in the woods but very close to a major road. Inevitably, instead of going off into the woods, her curiosity would take her down to the road instead, at which point she was consigned to a dog run when she had to be let out. This restriction to her habits was no doubt a depressing change for her.
Despite the confinement, Duba aged well and gracefully. Healthy all her life, her annual checkups were a celebration for what great shape she was in and she never quite “looked her age”. But at age fourteen she suddenly became frosty-faced, a bit less animated and began to get that doggie odor. And one winter day she suddenly had difficulty walking, loudly crying out in pain with an eerie Saluki wail.
It was a gray, frozen January morning. I was home with a five-month old baby. My older child was in school. I careful got the dog into the car and ran her down into the valley to the vet, who suspected she had a blockage or infected uterus (she had never been spayed). I left Duba there to be spayed and took the baby home, then waited for a call when surgery was over. A few hours later the vet called back to tell me they opened her abdominal cavity to find it filled with a tarry black substance all around the pancreas that he was sure was cancer. He asked me what I wanted to do. He could just close her back up and I could take her home, or he could put her down now.
I had been a vet tech. I knew there was no humane recovery for a fourteen year old dog that had just been cut wide open and was filled with cancer. She had been in pain before surgery and this would only compound her suffering. I knew the right thing to do was to just not wake her up. So I told him to let her go. Then I bundled up the baby and drove back into the valley to bring my dog home.
When I walked into his office, he motioned to a not very large cardboard box on the floor. I thought, How could she possibly be in that box? It was so small. But my Duba was inside it, curled up like a little donut, the rudimentary black stitches used to quickly close her back up stark against her pale yellow fur. It was so obvious that her light had gone out and she was gone. It was at that point that the enormity of it all hit. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I had left her there to be healed and never got to see her again. All she knew was that I left her there. And I hadn’t had the chance to properly say goodbye.
I drove home and suddenly realized my first grader would be getting off the school bus in a couple of hours. I did not want her to see her dog dead, with those large black stitches. By this time, hysterically crying, I called my Then Husband at work and told him what happened, and that we needed to bury the dog. He came home from work then. He brought pale yellow roses.
Among the trees beyond the front door, on the side of the mountain where we lived, with pick axe and shovel we worked hard to try and make a hole into icy covered ground frozen solid, and beneath that, hard rock and shale. Only able to carve out a shallow bowl into the ground, there we gently placed Duba, and then carried large stones in order to build a cairn over her so that the coyotes or anything else could not get at her. And then, when it was all over, I wailed.
When the bus delivered my oldest child home, I explained to her what had happened. That year they made little story books in class and hers was about experiencing the loss of Duba that day. The simplicity of her drawings and narrative embodied a wealth of emotions that I myself felt, and on reflection, still feel.
A number of years later, divorced, the kids and I moved out of that house on the hill. I was in the process of removing a dresser that had been against a wall, and there in the floor beneath the furniture I discovered a dark knot in the wood that I had never noticed before. It looked incredibly like a Saluki in the floor. I knelt down to look closely, and indeed, it was the face of Duba. I took a picture of it before we left.
It is the end of January again and I am remembering that sweet, gentle dog. She didn’t didn’t perform heroics or amazing tricks. She didn’t rescue people from burning buildings, win ribbons or jump through any hoops. She was just a friend, and an old soul. I still have the petals from the yellow roses on that day. Perhaps someday, but I have not brought another dog into my life and heart since.