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Twirley Jane: Heartfelt farewell to a faithful companion

Twirley Jane was never supposed to be my dog. I just got lucky.

In 1994, friends asked me to rescue a lost and frightened dog lurking in the shrubs above the baseball diamond. She'd been there for days, defying all efforts to approach her, they said.

Shooing everyone away, I sank down on the infield grass and began to play with a tennis ball — and sing. The shadowy salt and pepper figure began moving slowly toward me. I kept my attention on the fuzzy yellow sphere. She did, too. And within minutes her wet black nose was nuzzling my neck. She offered a soft whine.

"What is a pretty girl like you doing all alone way out here?" I said, giving her the ball and slipping a lead rope around her neck.

The border collie was young but fully grown and already spayed. She was housebroken and well-mannered, albeit leery of men in general and overtly hostile toward any fellow wearing a uniform or sporting a baseball cap. I thought perhaps she lived with a nice little old lady and the meter reader had left the gate open.

"I'm sure your mom will be looking for you," I assured her.

But no one answered my "Found" ads. I struck out at the shelters and vets' offices, too.

And so she came to stay.

My canine pack already consisted of two strays. Buster, a lab/chow mix, and Jack, a shepherd/husky mix. Both amazing and wonderful dogs in their own right. But not exactly live-to-please-kinda guys. In short, they were twin holy terrors.

Just days before her arrival, I had directed a prayer to the Heavens asking that the next dog that blessed my life be genetically inclined to be steadfast, loyal and obedient.

"But I didn't mean now!" I cried.

The new girl on the block earned her unusual name because in moments of high delight, she'd grab her tail in her teeth and spin like a whirling dervish. You've gotta love a dog that will exercise herself. At least you do when you're as lazy as me.

When I moved to my cottage on the river in 1999, the pack came, too, of course. Twirley Jane became the last dog standing after age and illness brought down the boys. We grieved together, she and I.

I was afraid Twirley would be lonely without canine companionship. But she gained confidence as a solo act, enjoying her new post as my constant shadow and loyal protector.

Even after she grew deaf as a post and cataracts turned her glossy eyes milky, she shadowed me from room to room. She couldn't hear me holler her name. But she'd wake from the soundest sleep to provide comfort at the drop of a tear.

In spite of her age-related ills, Twirley was a joyful soul. She loved to romp and play. But her weak hind quarters increasingly betrayed her youthful spirit. Tumbles were more frequent. Watching her navigate up and down stairs was frightening.

My head knew the end was coming. But my heart refused to accept the pending loss.

"She's good. All this exercise is keeping her young," I told myself.

Thursday afternoon I got the call I'd been dreading. My neighbor told me Twirley was down, unable to rise.

I flew home.

Twirley tried to get up and greet me, but her legs were stiff and ungainly. I knelt by her side, holding her head. She licked my wrist, looking up with worried eyes.

"You're good, Girl," I said. "It's OK."

My neighbor helped me ease her into the car. The vet said Twirley had suffered a traumatic injury to her back and was partially paralyzed. Massive injections of steroids might help. But it wasn't looking good, he said.

Twirley had followed me out to my car that morning, watching from the driveway as I waved goodbye. But she must have fallen — again. Even if the injections worked, they couldn't protect her from another tumble. And what if no one saw her the next time?

The decision to let Twirley go was the only way to protect her. At least she'd die peacefully. I stroked her silky ears, and told her she was the best girl ever. Her heart stopped beating before the needle finished spilling the anesthetic into her vein.

A friend offered his condolences, and asked Twirley's age. I confessed I'd been lying to myself — moving the date I'd found her forward in a feeble attempt to deny reality. In truth she had to be at least 16 years old.

"That's a long time to have a good friend," he said. "But not nearly long enough."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.