Today I found out that my old dog Mabel died. I say “old” though she wasn’t, not really. And though I haven’t seen her in a few years, the word “former” feels utterly wrong. Once you have loved and lived with a dog, but moved away from them for whatever reasons, complicated or otherwise, they enter a sort of indefinable zone. They remain the dog of your heart still, a friend you fervently miss and love and wish all the gopher-chasing and cold-water lapping in the world, even if they are no longer the physical, soft-eared companion of your daily life. There isn’t a proper title for that. Sometimes semantics fail us, and maybe it is best to simply say that today I, we, lost someone we loved.

Daniel and I picked up Mabel from an odd little rock shop dog shelter in Big Fork, Montana almost exactly ten years ago today. She was only six weeks old, with a fat belly and a nose speckled brown and pink. She rode on my lap the whole six hours back to Yellowstone.

As the weeks passed her nose turned black, her legs got long, and one day one ear popped up from floppy to straight. The other never did, and these goofy ears became her defining feature, a funny juxtaposition to her otherwise statuesque body.

Her fur was magically self-cleaning, and she never smelled like the dog she was. We once bought her a fancy leather collar inlaid with turquoise and silver because no pet-store-nylon could do her justice.

She had many nicknames: Beezy, Goose, Maybes, and Wolfie, to name a few. She once ate virtually an entire organic Hutterite Thanksgiving turkey and buried the carcass in the side garden.

She’s the only dog I’ve ever known that could remain seated while a mule deer, elk, or freakin’ buffalo grazed within five feet of her nose, though she despised the magpies that picked at her multitude of bones. She liked to stand in rivers and lakes and watch for fish, sometimes for hours. She was an excellent camper. She got us through the best and worst of days.

Mabel had many dog friends: Reba, Molly, Yukon, Kuma, Klina, Rigby, Copper, Pete, and of course Finn, her brother in later life. She could be found snuggling with cats too, Sweet Pea and others, I am sure.

She hiked many, many back and front country miles, never on a leash, could run through the prickly pear without getting shived, and I cannot think of a single dog on this planet who has had a better life.

I know Daniel and Erin will lay her to rest next to her old friend Sweet Pea, and several generations of Chapman family dogs. I know the spot well. It is on a rocky hill that overlooks the Yellowstone River and the adjacent flats where her wolf cousins and coyote kin still run wild.

I wish her many blessings on her journey from sage brush shadows to what a friend calls the sniffalicious places beyond.

She will be greatly missed.

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