Hollie had been walking around in circles for about a year. At some arbitrary moment, and for reasons that only made sense to her, she would suddenly stop the mesmerizing merry-go-round and flop heavily to the floor. She appeared to be dead. I would whisper/shout, 'Hollie! Hollie! Hollie!' She awoke lazily and looked around trying to identify the source and direction of the sound. What she couldn't see was my face 3 inches away. Then came the shallow and rapid breathing. Her tongue hung from her mouth like an old, pink flag in the dusk of a day that had no wind. Her breath was foul. When I worked at my desk upstairs she maneuvered herself underneath the open center section to the left or right of my legs with her snout almost pressed to the wall staring straight ahead into the darkness. She stayed there until I got up and left. Her eyes were whitish-gray and her gaze was distant. She smelled like death and she started peeing in the house. My dog was dying. My dog was dying.
We had avoided the subject for too long. Hollie's few remaining joys were laying on the soft bed of our front yard grass in the hot sun, eating the heaps of dry food set in front of her every evening smothered with scraps of fat and the 10:30 PM walks in the cool of the night when she would sniff other dog's urine and I would sneak a couple cigarettes. This is what remained in a life full of joy and pain.
In 1984, on a chilly and gray Saturday morning just after Thanksgiving, Sarah and I loaded our two kids into our station wagon and took a 45 minute drive to a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee. Roy, our 3 year old son, wanted to call her 'Bob' until we finally convinced him that 'Bob' wasn't really a good girl-dog name. Tallu, our 5 year old daughter, had dug in her heels for 'Princess' which made Roy mad although he couldn't really articulate his concerns; he simply said, "No! No! No! Bob! I want her to be Bob!" Sarah patiently intervened and suggested we all wait until we see her and we'll probably know then what her name should be. So, with open minds we made the last few turns through the country and arrived at our destination.
We were greeted by the friendly proprietor and his wife and their two sweet dogs. They were expecting us and walked us excitedly to the barn 50 yards away. Of the half dozen 8-week old puppies wandering in the hay all of our eyes and hearts were drawn to one. We wrote a check for $75, thanked the farmer and his wife and got back into the car arguing about who would be holding the puppy. She was placed in a cardboard box in the back which made Roy mad although he couldn't really articulate his concerns; he simply said, "I want to hold her! I want to hold Bob!"
I don't recall the details of the negotiations that led us, eventually, to the decision to give her the name we did. I think it had alot to do with the season and her breed. Christmas was approaching and she was a pure-bred, Tricolor Collie with a deep black coat, white underbelly and beige colorings. And so she became Hollie; 'Hollie the Collie.' And so she would be for 15 years.
I'd like to think that Hollie had a pleasant life. Sarah and I had both been raised in homes that owned and loved dogs so we understood pet basics. We knew that dogs had to be walked and groomed and fed and watered. They also needed to learn to control their behavior which meant no biting, no leg-humping and, by all means, no crapping in the house. In recent years animals have gained a level of respect in our society that, among other things, has tried to dictate a gentle approach to behavioral training. For instance, when I was a kid we got a new puppy and when she did what she had to do on the carpet my dad rolled up a newspaper, rubbed her nose in the nastiness, slapped the newspaper on her butt and threw her out onto the back porch. Within a day or two that little puppy would cry and whine and yelp and scratch at the kitchen door when that sensation overtook her. If someone from the Humane Society or Precious Pups saw my dad do that today he would probably have to go to prison. So, I modified my dad's approach mostly because we didn't get the local newspaper because it was an awful newspaper and we also didn't have a back porch. The result, however, was the same.
Hollie spent the first half of her life in the front yard of our home on a quiet street in south Nashville. She was treated to a very long walk early every morning with Sarah, several mandatory walks with our kids during the day and another long walk every night with me. We didn't have a fence around our one-acre lot and I wasn't about to spend the money on one of those invisible devices or tie her to a rope so, at some point we just started opening the door and allowing Hollie to roam unattended. It was common practice in our neighborhood. Hollie ended up tagging along with every person that walked by and people from blocks away whom we didn't know would call us, send us cards and knock on our door just to tell us that Hollie was the sweetest dog they'd ever met. They carried bones and leftover pieces of beef wrapped in tin foil and dropped them off in our front yard. Strangers walked along and talked to her as if she were a sibling or a high school friend. Eight years after we brought Hollie home we put our house up for sale and men and women from the neighborhood stopped by with tears in their eyes wondering if we were taking Hollie with us. Of course we were. They all loved her...
...except the garbage men and anyone else who had to drive into our driveway in a truck. There was something in and around the front, driver's side tire of a truck that made Hollie crazy. She had to kill it. I always supposed it was the pitch of the whine of the rubber on the road or some imperceptible rattling of the lug nuts. Whether a truck was slowing down or speeding up Hollie was there in perfect stride trying to rid the world of the dark spirit that lived up under that fender or inside that black rubber. She couldn't control the urge to get after it and all the rolled up newspapers in the world couldn't convince her otherwise. Four times in her fifteen years Hollie suffered life-threatening injuries because of these epic battles. The first blow was delivered by the left front fender of an S-10 Ford pick-up owned and driven by one of those neighbors who cried on our porch when we moved. Hollie walked with him everyday and he loved her and his truck hit her right in front of our house and he came hysterically to our door saying, "I'm so sorry...I'm so sorry...I think Hollie's dead...she's not moving...I'm so sorry...she ran out in front of me...oh God, she's not moving...I'm so sorry" and I got Sarah to take care of that poor, sweet guy and I walked slowly and cautiously up the front lawn and noticed a few people starting to gather and then I saw her poor body laying lifelessly on the street and I became mesmerized and my mind went blank and I started whispering, "Hollie? Sweetie? Hollie? Come on girl...come on Hollie. Sweetie? Hollie?" And there was blood on her face under a gash by her eye and one of her legs looked really bad and someone said, "She got hit pretty hard, Tom...she ran right out in front of that poor guy..." and then Hollie wiggled and shook a little and she tried to pick her head up and laid it back down and then tried again and sat up on her haunches and then got onto her feet and fell over and got up again and started walking kind of sideways like she had just had two quarts of doggie Four Roses and flopped down again, back up, sideways, straight, sideways, down, up and out to the backyard under a tree. I had some hope that she could make it and I went and got a blanket to wrap her up and get her to the vet but, frankly, I was afraid that she might go nuts on me when I tried to pick her up so I proceeded very cautiously and finally managed to get her into the car and over to Dr. Greene. She came home with her body shaved and a big collar around her neck that looked like a lamp shade that kept her from licking her wounds. She was clearly embarassed.
Two years later the same guy hit her again and a year after that, when we were on vacation and a young friend was house and dog-sitting, she disappeared. Upon arriving home our young friend was distraught. Hollie had been gone for 5 days. A veterinarian's nurse called us two days later and explained that Hollie had been brought into their office that morning by a stranger who found her nursing some cuts and broken bones in the woods behind his house. She had a broken hip and leg and a pretty bad cut on her mid-section but she was going to be all right. We should come and pick her up. When I arrived Hollie was waiting for me with a shaved body and another one of those lamp shades. She wouldn't look me in the eye. I figured she was either embarassed again or giving me the silent treatment because I was too cheap to pay the $1,200 for the invisible fence. That would have been a bargain. The vet's bill was $2,500.
So, Hollie's body was pretty roughed up but, she proved to be a tough and resilient girl and when she got hit again outside our new house and the woman weeping at our front door started her hysterical blabber about hitting our dog I got her a glass of water, sat her down in our living room and assured her that everything was okay and I walked out across our front lawn toward Hollie's body and stood over her and she got up and did her drunk walk back to the house. Another truck; another lampshade.
Despite all of this I'd like to think that Hollie had a pleasant life. We loved her. She slept on kids' beds, shag rugs and even a white couch when we were out of the house. She ate hot dogs right off the grille, Kibbles 'n Bits with gravy and even a birthday cake lovingly baked, carved and frosted to look like Kermit the Frog. She was Queen of Hemingway Drive, visiting royalty in the forest of western Pennsylvania and the good looking stranger on the marshy coast of Georgia. She was gentle with children, great with a Frisbee and a pawful for any other dog who mistakenly tried to leave something behind in our yard. She was also a great protector. One winter after a notorious Tennessee ice storm some hungover plumber was giving me a rash of shit in my basement about some broken pipes. It was about to get out of hand and I was glancing around looking for something I could use to protect myself. I called her name and she was there in 10 seconds. The plumber decided I was right. Hollie was front and center in many of our Christmas card pictures and many of our friends and family members included her name on envelopes addressed to us. And now she was dying. My sweet dog was dying.
Ten days before Christmas in 1999, 15 years after we first saw her in the hay in Lebanon, we all gathered with Hollie on the floor of our living room in front of the tree. Tallu loaded her camera and we preserved some final memories. The following morning I called Mary, our nextdoor neighbor at our first house, and asked if I could stop by and park in her driveway for 10 minutes while I walked Hollie around the old stomping grounds one last time. I started to cry and I couldn't finish any sentences when Mary said, "Sweetie, you and Hollie come by and stay as long as you want," because she could tell from my broken phrases what was happening and so I picked Hollie up and put her in the passenger's seat of my car with my tears falling on her graying coat and drove over to Hemingway Drive and parked at Mary's house because I didn't really feel like talking to the people who bought our house eight years earlier. I took Hollie out of the car, clicked her leash onto her collar and we took our walk. One more walk. She looked like a puppy, again. There was a bounce in her step. Her head was high. She peed every 5 steps and made those stubborn stops where she sniffed and sniffed and then, as if she had suddenly thought to herself, "What the hell am I doing? I've just put my nose in someone else's shit," she sneezed violently and we moved on. Although it was 10 in the morning we followed the route we had taken every night for all those years.
I waved to Mary through the window and drove the two miles to Dr. Greene's office. As always Hollie resisted entering the building. They were awaiting our arrival. "Mr. Schuyler, are you sure you want to go in there? You don't have to. It's up to you." "No, I want to be in there."
They allowed Hollie to lay in my arms on the floor until whatever was in that needle they stuck into her forearm completed its task. She went limp and it was peaceful. Then they took her from me and laid her gently on the floor. The nurse looked at me with tears rolling down her face and said, "Hollie's gone now. She was a brave girl. She's okay."