Good-bye, Sweet Iniesta

Iniesta wasn’t the cutest dog in the whole wide world, though I never would have said that to her face. The title belonged to her sister and littermate, Sophie, who died two years ago after being hit by the UPS truck. Iniesta joined Sophie last Sunday in that great squirrel hunting ground in the sky, just a few days after her tenth birthday.

I miss her something fierce.

My son James named his black-and-white puppy Iniesta (pronounced In-ee-ES-ta) after his favorite professional soccer player. Had she been mine, I would have chosen a better name, one I didn’t have to explain and pronounce. When James and his family moved to Knoxville several years ago, I volunteered to adopt Iniesta. She and Sophie were both ecstatic.

Iniesta mourned with me when Sophie was killed, but we had each other for comfort. I took the coupler off the leash the two dogs had shared and Iniesta became my solo walking buddy. Lately, though, she’d struggled to keep up, so I often left her home. The summer sun is extra hot when your fur is black and the hills a good deal steeper when you become a senior dog. Though Iniesta’s steps had slowed and her face was turning gray, she never lost her enthusiasm for life. She assumed Sophie’s important role of chasing the accursed squirrels from the yard and tirelessly retrieved the tennis balls I threw for her into City Lake.

Late in May, Iniesta began having digestive issues. She sometimes fouled her sleeping quarters. But once her stomach was cleaned out, she always bounced back. Until last weekend.

I was in Kentucky visiting my grandkids. My friend and neighbor Jerry, who has been a wonderful dad to my dogs since I moved to my new neighborhood five years ago, called me late Saturday morning to tell me Iniesta was sick again. Did I want him to take her to the vet? I said no. “She’ll probably just poop and puke it out like usual,” I told him. But that’s not what happened. Iniesta didn’t hang out in his yard like she usually does when I’m gone. She wandered off. Didn’t come when he whistled and called. Jerry headed for the nearby woods to look for her. Friends Julie and Leon, who’ve also served as wonderful surrogate dog parents, joined in the search.

No luck.

When I checked in by phone Saturday evening, the news wasn’t good. “She’s nowhere to be found,” Julie told me. I knew in my heart what that meant. Iniesta had gone off to die. I got no texts or phone calls Sunday morning, which I took to mean she likely wasn’t alive and well. Either she’d been found dead or was still missing. I blew the grandkids a kiss from six feet away and headed back to Cookeville.

As I stepped from my garage onto my back porch, a pot of white impatiens caught my eye because it wasn’t in its usual place under the oak tree. It was in the dog pen on top of a flat rock that rested on a bare patch of ground. Iniesta’s grave. Jerry had found her lifeless body under my deck Sunday morning, in a spot he’d checked several times on Saturday. “She went into hiding because she didn’t want to burden us,” he said. “Then she came home to die.”

And so we mourn again. Big time. But we’re comforted that Iniesta doesn’t have to suffer through any more thunderstorms or the terror of July 4 fireworks. That she was happy and chipper all the way to the end of her good, long life. Most of all, we rejoice that she and Sophie are together again, playing chase-and-wrestle in heaven.

(June 28, 2020)