View from Glen Hill: Tanzi’s place in our hearts

Tanzi was not her full name. It’s short for Mampatanzika which — in the native language of Madagascar where our son (who named her for us) served in the Peace Corps almost two decades ago — means “gives strength.” And over the course of her almost 15 years of life, she did exactly that.

She was a rescue puppy whose mixed breeding was determined by a young friend from church about a year after her birth to be composed largely of flat-coated retriever. Already at five years old, he was an avid reader and, as it turns out, also a careful researcher who determined her breed from a thorough review of the photographs he found in a weighty book on dog breeds in his family’s library — an authoritative tome he brought with him to confirm how he had made his determination. Flipping to the page in question, he said excitedly, “Doesn’t this look just like her!” And he was right. With an elegant, solid black coat and a beautifully fluffy, feathered tail, she looked exactly like the model for the breed which that book displayed.

Tanzi loved her home here for sure, but she also loved Maine where she got to run free in a bigger area by far than her Invisible-fenced yard in Wilton but almost always chose to stay close to her family members. And she loved them all, from us parents to our children and young grandkids and cousins. She was glad to see them all and enjoy their enthusiastic play until, even for her, it became too much and she would wander off to take a break. Thus, when a month ago she died of complications from old age just three months short of her 15th birthday, it was fitting that she died in Maine surrounded by her family and had her ashes sprinkled in a favorite spot of hers by a bench near a huge pumpkin pine on our farm there.

There is nothing in our feelings for Tanzi any different from what many dog (and cat and other animal) lovers share with their own pets. She was a deeply valued member of our family, a transmitter of peace and joy wherever she went who was a model for making the most out of life. Never a chow hound, we would put down her food early, but she would always wait to begin eating until her family sat down to eat dinner. She loved to walk up and down the steep trails in Wilton Woods and to meet other dogs along the way, until hip and hind leg issues became such that she could no longer handle the rigors of those walks. In fact, in her last 18 months, she became more sedentary and would sleep for long periods in her sanctuary under the kitchen table or sprawled on the small nearby sofa dedicated to her use.

A look into her deep eyes revealed a knowing intelligence that also expressed unconditional love, or so it always seemed to us, so that if circumstances required comfort, she would respond accordingly. Correspondingly, if on our walks the more aggressive conduct of another dog required it — and her large size and ignoring of the other dog’s actions failed to address the situation adequately — she would move behind me and expect me to deal with the situation, as her pack leader is expected to do. Mostly she simply seemed puzzled by the dog’s unruly behavior as if to say in best psychoanalyst fashion, “Now why do you feel the need to act that way?”

Mostly though, what draws us to a loving and devoted dog like Tanzi and leaves such a huge void in her death is that bond thousands of years in the making that binds our two species in close interdependence. Some would argue convincingly that dogs need us more than we need them, but the reality is that when you have a dog like Tanzi, the needs are mutual. Will we get another dog this late in life for us, too? That’s a big question. Each time we’ve lost a dog — in two cases beautiful Bernese Mountain dogs, each at 7-8 years old, which seemed tragically young — we’ve felt we could never find another dog as good for us, and yet each time we’ve succeeded. If we tried again, could we do it? I hope so, but finding another Tanzi for us seems absolutely impossible, at least in our grief that is so pressing now.