Ellie shows off her classic spread eagle pose on the floor of the kitchen of our house in 2013. It became her most common sleeping position late in life when getting up became more of a challenge as she could push off with her front legs to compensate for her weakening back legs, but it was always in her repertoire from when we first adopted her in 2009. On this particular morning we had adopted Boo the day before, he was staying with my wife in her office while Ellie and Sam and Emma were with me.
Emma was not happy about the arrival of little Boo in the summer of 2013. On his first foray into the house at large he had to climb the stairs first past Ellie, then Sam, and finally Emma at the top. I spent most of Boo’s first month with Emma, letting her know this was still, and always would be, her home. She was a sweetheart and in time not only came to accept the little fellow but let him snuggle up with her. It’s still hard for me at times to edit pictures of her, knowing that in a year and a half we’d be going through another introduction, this time getting Boo to accept young Trixie after Emma died far too young.
Both Sam and Emma followed Boo around as he explored but Sam watched Emma as much as he watched Boo, here looking up at Emma atop the stairs as she growls at the intrusion of the young kitten. Sam loved his life with his two older sisters and never wanted it to change, but when they both died young he accepted his new siblings pretty quickly.
Boo in 2013 on the day we gave him his first free reign of the house. He’d flop over in the kitchen when he got a little overwhelmed, close to the basement where he could retreat to a more comfortable place. He rose to half-alert with his eyes fully focused on Emma, our oldest cat who was not happy about his arrival. At this stage we only gave him limited time in the full house as he still needed to work on his confidence.
Even though I’ve seen Ellie sleep like this thousands of times, at her advanced age there’s something about this pose that stops my heart for a moment every time I see it. Sometimes she runs in her sleep but other times she’s so still I’m afraid she’s passed away in her sleep. Especially in low light it’s hard to see the subtle rise and fall of her chest as she breathes, I’ll watch her until I see an ear wiggle or a tail wag or notice her breathing and then I, too, can breathe.
Age has rendered Ellie mostly deaf so she can no longer hear me when I walk up to her. While she’s always slept on the kitchen tile or the hardwood floors, especially when it’s warm, she now often sleeps where I’ll have to step over her so she can more easily keep track of where I am in the house. The cats have adjusted by hopping over her when she inadvertently blocks them in a room.
At the dog park this morning the two other old black labs in the neighborhood were both there, one of their owners asked me if there was ever a time Ellie wasn’t smiling. I thought of all the solemn looks the pup has given me over the years when she’s been bored as I’ve photographed her, but I knew what she meant. That smile is contagious, I’ve seen it spread onto the faces of so many people who have met her. And countless times, to my own.