I will miss that long black body that was forever blocking, it seemed, my way around the house. I would lift my knee and step over him and he would acknowledge me with a brief thwack of that long tail. (I will not miss the tail, which had been known to knock small children off their feet and would clear wine glasses off the coffee table with a single sweep.)
I will miss his gravitas. He liked things to be in their place and people and animals to behave properly. I got the first hint of this when he was ten weeks old. At the end of puppy class the instructor threw half a dozen stuffed toys on the ground for the puppies to play with. Wolfie retrieved them all, piled them up in the middle of the floor, and lay down next to them--not in a guarding, aggressive way, but looking pleased that order had been restored. Once, when a boisterous puppy came to visit and was annoying Bisou, Wolfie quietly but efficiently, for the entire length of the visit, put himself between them, herding the puppy away from Bisou. As he got older he became intolerant of even the mildest marital horseplay, and would streak to my side, with high pitched warning yips that clearly said "stop that at once!"
I will miss his gentleness. He wasn't particularly big for a Shepherd, but he had a huge black head and pointy alert ears and white canines that looked like scimitars. People who didn't know dogs found him scary. Yet never once, in the eight years we were together, and no matter what I did to him, did he growl at me. Whenever one of the hens escaped from the chicken yard he would dash after her looking like death on wheels, and catch and hold her down to the ground with his jaws. Every time I felt sure that the hen would perish, but she never did, and I never saw so much as a drop of blood. From earliest infancy Bisou entertained herself by leaping at his face, growling until he opened his mouth wide and yodeled, at which point she would stick her head into that great maw....
For the last four years, an insidious malady that five vets, including two specialists, could not diagnose slowly sapped his strength and made him lame in his front foot. Our walks got shorter and shorter, and he became a silent presence around the house. Then two nights ago, in the middle of a spring snow storm, I let him out and he lay down on the white ground. When I asked him to come inside he didn't seem to know what I meant. We had a long, uneasy night together. By morning, I knew that he was dying.
The vet came and could only guess at a "neurological event" that may or may not have been related to his mysterious illness. It was clear to both of us what the right thing was to do, and he did it deftly and respectfully.
Now Wolfie is at rest, and so in a way am I. There is relief in having the constant worry about him taken away. I will not miss the endless shedding and brushing (although the birds will feel deprived in the coming nesting season). I will not miss the special diets, the pills and herbs that never helped. I will not miss the guilt I felt every time I had to cut short his walk and then continue it with Bisou.
My life just got a lot simpler. But there is a palpable absence in the house, a dog-shaped black hole that my heart keeps falling into as I go about my day.