What do you call an old dog? I googled it: ‘senior’ the search engine says, or ‘precious’.
For me it’s ‘Highlander’ and that’s what I called her. My dog. One of them. The one who lived, at least 19 years. I actually don’t know how old she was, but she lived with us for 18 years and it was supposed to be 1 ½ years old when we adopted her.
I didn’t call her that because of her age, though I started doing so when she reached 13 years old. She actually -like the main character of the franchise, Connor MacLead- was an immortal, kind of.
Her real name was ‘Negrita’ spanish for ‘Blackie’ a quite common name for stray dogs. She was all brown-ish with a pitch dark muzzle and the body structure of a ‘mouser dog’, as we call them in my country, like the Andalusian Winery Buzzard.
It was 1998, we were walking with my mum down the main avenue and we suddenly noticed a round hairy ball curled up sleeping. We had to stop, it was a bundle of fluff, a stray dog. In a silly – super silly, I must admit – voice we exclaimed in unison “What a beauty”, and she raised her head, stretched, and stood in her back paws touching us with her front ones.
We petted her and we thought she was with the peddler established on the sidewalk so we left. We entered to a café around the block and stayed there for a while enjoying some tea. When we exited the store she was there, curled up again blocking the store entrance (from inside!). We gave her something to eat, left her there and walked back home.
A few blocks later, I looked back and she was slowly chasing after us. We stopped on a corner, she stopped next to us and sat waiting for us to continue. All the road the same. When we reached home, she sat at our doorstep and waited for us. We already had a dog, ‘Romi’, and she was like another person in our family. We weren’t prepared for another one, though we had the space.
My dad didn’t want another one. So, the then unnamed dog stayed for three days by our doorstep and barked whoever dared to ring our bell. Finally, one cold winter night my dad said ‘let her in, but for just one day’ and you know how it ended.
Like I said, Romi was like another person, another owner of the house, and she didn’t want Negrita there. Call me crazy but she always gave me the vibe that she considered her inferior, like she was thinking ‘this is my kingdom and I am just allowing you to be here, be grateful you commoner’. But Negrita had a lot of love to give, and Romi gave in. When she left us at 12 years old, it was heartbreaking. Negrita used to lay on top of her to give her heat on her final days. She moved her with her snout like begging her to get up. She grieved, like us, for days but still gave us lots of love and tried to make us feel better.
like she was thinking ‘this is my kingdom and I am just allowing you to be here, be grateful you commoner’
Some years later, we got a cat. Negrita, as a good mouser dog, almost ate the kitten. We had to lock her in the bathroom and we thought they would never get along… until the next day when we found the cat sleeping soundly on top of her. They became buddies without us noticing.
We moved in with my mum, the cat and the dog to another city in 2006. Negrita enjoyed the drive. She always loved getting on the car, and it’s because of that I started calling her Highlander…
One day dad was visiting in the city and they all – mum, dad and dog- had just left me at work. They went to the gas station and got out of the car, loaded gas, and then got in and left. Some blocks away mum saw a poodle on the neighbor car and said ‘Negrita, look at that dog! Negrita? OMG Anabella is going to kill me’. The dog wasn’t there! They went all the way back to the gas station and one of the workers told them they had her on a leash… but she wasn’t there either! That’s when my dad saw her walking down an avenue, and finally, after risking his own life, caught her. When they came looking for me after work, I entered in the back of the car and there she was, Negrita safe and sound. My mum told me the story and I said ‘OMG you’re Highlander’, just for fun. She eventually proved me right.
Two years later, she was 13, and my mum accidentally caught the tip of her tail with the car door, she had to be operated and fortunately it all went well. At 15 she had pyometra and had to be operated again: a hysterectomy with full anesthesia, the vet said she might not survive. Four hours later she was up with her cone, walking, a bit drugged. The vet couldn’t believe it.
At 15 she had pyometra and had to be operated again: a hysterectomy with full anesthesia, the vet said she might not survive.
At 17 she had her first seizure. She had these episodes where she passed out after convulsing. It took her a while and then she abruptly woke up like she had something unplugged on her brain that suddenly connected. The same vet gave her some anti seizure meds and warned us that she might not be well for some weeks. It was like she had had a stroke; she couldn’t use her back legs. My dad even created her a dog cart with PVC plumbing. At this time, I wasn’t living with my mum anymore but I visited periodically. I remembered staying overnight with my now husband thinking Negrita wouldn’t make it.
One day I was having lunch with my mum and asked her about the dog -who used to stay all day in bed, and barked when she needed something- and she was just telling me ‘She’s still the same…’ when Negrita appeared walking awkwardly in full four legs, bumping everything because she was going blind, but walking!
And so, two years went by. She eventually stopped walking, she was blind and deaf, mum had her using diapers and took care of her like a baby. Negrita passed away peacefully in her arms in 2017. We were at one friend’s birthday; it was 1 a.m in the morning when my mum text me that message that we were waiting but didn’t want to receive. We went to her home and stayed there for a while, not mourning, but remembering all these stories I told you -and the ones I didn’t!
I always thought that Negrita stayed with us those post-stroke Highlander years because she felt my mum needed her. And she was so full of love that she couldn’t let go. She fought until her aching bones said ‘that’s our cue’, but still won some time for her, for us.
Dogs are like that, selfless creatures that will stay with you without any judgment and will love you and protect you as part of their pack. And Negrita ended up being a real immortal, because you just read about her and kept her living though your eyes. All dogs are.
Argentinian Dog Lover