Edward Udel: Reflections on Pippin

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DALTON — In the midst of a deadly pandemic made much worse by Trump's incompetence, and on the heels of the George Floyd murder and the overdue national awakening that racism is still with us, the health of our 16-year-old Cairn terrier, Pippin, rapidly declined. I reluctantly came to terms with his condition.

My wife Lisa and I made the difficult drive with Pippin to our vet's office where we stroked his fur for the last time. It was among the most difficult moments of my life. Almost a week later, I have not found any relief in my usually reliable Rolodex of comforting rationalizations.

Pippin was a Bat Mitzvah gift for my then 13-year-old daughter Ariel, a gift that coincided with my retirement from the Pittsfield Public Schools. I suddenly had hours to fill and Pippin was only too happy to accommodate me. I became his primary caregiver while my daughter attended high school, played sports and prepared for college. Her academic life at Miss Hall's was fulfilling and demanding, but she always made some time each day to interact lovingly with Pippin until the day she left for Wheaton College. After college, Ariel moved to Minneapolis and Pippin remained with us.

Much of my schedule revolved around Pippin. Every vacation I spent away from him was an uncomfortable separation. Fortunately my son Aaron would often stay with him. Pippin adored him and was perfectly content.

Pippin never adjusted to a leash but he loved to romp freely in our enclosed backyard where he interacted with critters who intruded into his territory. During winter, I carved looping pathways with my snowblower so that he could move comfortably around the yard without sinking into the deep snow.

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Over the years, several rabbits underestimated Pippin's speed and tenacity. I was able to save all but two of them. Pippin would bark at birds that flew near him. They seemed to provoke him intentionally. Some would "dive bomb" him. On one occasion, a bird flew too low and Pippin knocked it from the sky with his outstretched right front paw. I was only a few feet away so I was able to save the stunned bird by using a flat shovel to lift him to safety over the fence. The bird regained his composure and flew off into the sunset, shaken but wiser. I suspect that Pippin set a new standard for canine cleverness. It upset me when any animal fell into his clutches, but I couldn't erase his nature. Instead, I used my loud study hall voice to stop him.

Pippin had a warm friendship with Lexie, the graceful and much younger German shepherd next to us and the beautiful, energetic white lab behind us. He enthusiastically wagged his tail whenever he approached them. He was also a stalwart neighborhood protector, preventing any UPS truck, fox or skunk from invading the neighborhood undetected. At 18 lbs., Pippin was both a formidable foe, unafraid of any four-legged challenger, and a dependable source of warmth and affection for any two-legged visitor.I regret that Pippin could no longer hear my voice for the last few weeks of his life but hand clapping and gestures seemed to suffice as I ushered him in and out of our home through the open slider and side garage door.

I know from past experience that my sadness and emptiness will eventually ease up. Pippin led a long life and his death was inevitable. Perhaps this is the rationalization to which I should cling. But George Floyd's violent death was not. The video of his execution plays out in my mind and I can't erase it. Black lives matter! So too do the thousands of lives erased by the virus that we continue to mismanage.

Perhaps it is unwise for me to conflate these three events. By doing so, I do not suggest or imply equivalency. The Floyd murder, our tepid national response to the virus and Pippin's death are all part of the heavy blanket of sadness that envelops me. I am hoping that time will help me to adjust to Pippin's absence but I also hope that time will have the opposite effect when it comes to racism and this horrid pandemic.

Edward Udel is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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