The Magazine

The Hunter Home from the Hill

Katherine Messenger on Daisy's old dominion.

Aug 12, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 45 • By KATHERINE MESSENGER
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One August afternoon in 1999, my parents and I drove to a farm in Leesburg, Virginia, to look at a litter of Jack Russell Terrier puppies we’d seen advertised. As soon as we arrived at the breeder’s house, we were confronted by Bunny, the long-legged mother of the pups. She was jumping in place, and for the entire time we visited, she never stopped jumping, up to three feet in the air. We should have known what we were in for.


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The puppy we chose held her white-tipped tail high and posed as if on camera, while her brothers and sisters lolled about. As the breeder noted, she favored her glamorous show-dog grandmother. And when she looked at me, she turned her head intelligently, pricking up her ears so that they formed perfect triangles. We named her Daisy, because she was delicate and cheerful like the flower. It didn’t last. 

As soon as coordination set in, she proved so energetic as to be aggressive. Running in loops in the backyard was a common activity when nobody would play. Head-butting beach balls also amused her, and she relished getting wet—in the wading pool outside, and in her water bowl inside. We strove to confine her to the kitchen, but she defeated our ever-sturdier gates—shimmying under them, leaping over them, or, in her preferred method, simply bashing them to the ground with a whole-body slam—then zipped upstairs to stomp on our bed pillows in victory.

Hoping to tame Daisy Do-Wrong, we enrolled her in obedience school. She easily learned to “sit,” “roll over,” and “dance” but refused to perform a trick without a treat—or to do more than one trick at a time. Once, when the owners’ attention was on the instructor after we’d supposedly gotten our dogs to “heel,” Daisy slipped out of her collar, charged across the room, and tackled a Bichon. No diploma from Old Dominion University for Dogs ever adorned the Eastland family manse. 

The vet told us Daisy acted out because she needed more “entertainment.” More was never enough. If she got four walks a day, she wanted five. When she got a new toy, she liked it for a minute and looked for the next. And when she got a brother, it was the same. He slept; she trotted about the house investigating every possible line of mischief. What she enjoyed most was the backyard, her kingdom. To give her full access, and infinite opportunity to tire herself, we installed a doggy door. She reverted to her true calling: huntress. Our merciless Diana brought in sparrows, rabbits, chipmunks, and the occasional raccoon. Not even bees escaped her pleasure in the chase—though swallowing them did land her in the animal hospital with a face like a football more than once.

At age 10, Daisy developed a liver condition. With the help of a pill, she pressed on with ardor undiminished, still swiping hosiery from the hamper and scratching the pantry door for marshmallows. A few years later, she began to lose her hearing. And then two months ago, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. When I came down from New York to say goodbye, not even an ice cube cascading down the hallway could interest her.

And then she rallied. As a family beach vacation approached, the question was what to do with Daisy. Was she well enough to travel? The vet said sure, so she came. Her bark was back, and so was her appetite. She was having no part of the salt-free diet the vet had ordered. This was, after all, a dog I once dressed as a French fry for Halloween. Daisy protested every piece of plain chicken or unbuttered biscuit offered and waited until no one was around but my grandmother. Then she would sit and bark sharply until Grandma Ed gave in and microwaved Daisy her favorite snack: a hotdog.

On the night of my grandmother’s birthday, Daisy jumped onto the dining room table and got a hunk of pineapple upside-down cake. When we caught her mid-bite, she looked at us with delight, her face dotted with golden crumbs and her ears pointing to the ceiling like exclamation marks. The next night, she struck again, gleefully stealing flounder skins and playing tug-of-war once caught. She slept soundly and without remorse.

We left the beach joking that Daisy had already made her reservation for next year. (She’d surely hidden a pancake in one of the closets for future snacking.) But it turned out it really was the end. Two days later, at the vet’s for a routine procedure, her tired heart gave out. The vet was surprised. We were shocked. But then that queenly, brazen, beautiful girl never would do the expected.


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