I had the opportunity to wolf-sit for a few months a few years ago. It was an eye- (and heart-) opening experience. Saskia was unlike any other animal I have worked or lived with, and my life is richer for the experience. She was remarkably sensitive and intelligent, and retained a puppy's playfulness throughout her life, although she was already quite old and struggling with occasional incontinence when she entered my life.
She had been living a rather restricted townhouse life for quite a while when she got to me, and I thought it would be good for her--and me--to take evening walks. We started slowly with her keeping up with me on a short three-foot lead. After a few days of this, her transformation was rapid and extraordinary. She looked forward to each evening's trip, and before long with an apparently effortless lope that barely seemed different than a slightly extended walk, she had me running to keep up.
I have wood floors and a fairly steep staircase, so as her depth perception diminished, going upstairs became a problem. The problem was not getting up, but negotiating the downward journey safely. So I developed an evening routine of sitting in the living room after dinner with a book or two, and setting out a liner mat on which she could curl at my feet, with both of us free of the fears of canine incontinence. There she would slumber peacefully, until it was bedtime, and I would set out her nighttime meal by her bed and go off to my own bed for the night.
The dogs in the neighborhood were all quite vocal, particularly when Saskia went by. When she was not in evidence, they would talk back and forth, telling dog lies and posturing like forum posters about who was the more dominant voice in the chorus. A young hound next door (one of three in that menagerie) was particularly invested in being top dog. When the community got particularly vocal or agitated, he was prone to howl.
One winter evening, as Saskia slumbered at my feet, the neighborhood coyotes killed a rabbit. If you've ever heard a rabbit being killed, you know that they scream like a little baby. There is no other words to describe it--it's sounds very much like an infant in an airliner when the pressure gets severe on his eardrums. Only the cries in this case simply drive the coyote pack into a frenzy, and their excited yipping layers of the death cries in a frenzy of blood lust. The neighborhood dogs outside were always on edge when they could smell the coyotes; and the noise of this kill only a few dozen feet away drove them into excited commentary. One after another, they joined the din, each seeking to control the situation with their voice, and the whole cacophony crowned by the determined baying of the young hound. Through it all, Saskia barely flickered an ear, until the hound let loose a full-throated howl.
At that, she was up and crossed the room to the window, as the voices outside responded to the howl. She turned and looked back at me as the hound howled again, as though asking permission.
"It's okay, Saski. Do you want to howl?"
Looking at me, she raised her nose slightly, then lowered it again without a sound.
Licensing her further as the din continued outside, I offered a very low howl in my own throat, almost a whisper: "oooww."
It was all she needed. Outside the frenzy was at its peak and the hound howled again. Saski tilted back her head and opened her throat.
Inside my living room, the sound was otherworldly--a pure musical bell that you felt more than heard, or heard with your whole body, the hairs instantly springing to attention everywhere. And I had not been taken by surprise.
Outside, it was as though God had thrown a switch and turned the power off. Not only the dogs, but the coyotes and the rabbit were still. It just ended, right there. Cleanly and clearly.
Saskia turned and walked back through the silence, her claws clicking slightly on the hardwood floors. At my feet, she curled up again on her pad, put her head between her paws and settled into the rightfully restored order of things.
As I was driving to visit her one final time last year the day before Thanksgiving, I got the call that she had passed away. She was, and she will always remain, an important part of my life.