I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I’m crossing our bedroom at the old house. Dom is sitting up in the bed when he firmly announces to me, “I’ve made a decision.”
I stop in my tracks. “You have, eh?”
“It’s time for us to get another puppy.”
I almost drop whatever it is that I’m holding. “Seriously? You’re serious?? You want two dogs at once? When? What kind? How is this going to work?”
He shrugs and shoots me a crooked smile. “Start looking. Didn’t you say you wanted a black Lab next?”
Yeah, I had said that alright. We already had our beautiful yellow Lab, Mason, and I had determined that my next dog would be a black Lab named Mabel – so named for the express purpose of allowing me to hang out the back door and yell, “Hey, Mabel! Black Label!!” I don’t know why that image enticed me so, but there it is. I also knew that I would call her Mabelline and sing the catchy question, “Why cantcha be true?”
The search was on. Phone calls, classifieds (those were the days!), breeders and litters and small towns so remote I thought we might not make it back from them. But there in the heart of Castor, Louisiana, were three 10-week old lab pups. One was a black female. Stacey went with me and Dom to pick her up. Mabel wrapped her little paws around Stacey’s arm as she held her, and we all fell in love. The breeder said we needed to name her right then and there so she could tidy up her AKC records, and that she would appreciate it if we included Rose in the name, on account of the numerous Roses in the bloodline. Fine. Whatev. I had no intention of ever calling this pup Rose, much less registering her myself, so what could it hurt? Mabel Lena Rose Mainiero, it was. A few signatures and $300 later (the first and last time I paid for a dog!) and we were headed back to Shreveport with an adorable surprise for the kiddos.
Mabel was sweet and docile that first night, as one could only be with Mason slobbering his welcome all over her. Mabel enjoyed being kenneled when we weren’t home, and thankfully so, given the amount of damage she did when we were present. I’ve written numerous posts about the things Mabel has eaten, the embarrassment she has caused, and the times she has worn my patience to its last tiny thread. I have said countless times that she was our wild-child dog. In her early and middle years Mabel cared only for her own entertainment, and let me tell you… if life was a car, then Mabel drove it like she stole it!
Mabel was known for eating and/or destroying absolutely everything that caught her attention. Her favorite things to “love on” until they were obliterated were Webkinz stuffed animals. She started with only the birds, which always cracked me up. Once the kids were out of bird Webkinz, she moved on to the other Webkinz toys and finally to any stuffed animal she could find until the entire line was extinct. With all of her antics throughout puppyhood and beyond, Aaron disowned her at least twice. Once, for chewing up one of his Lego Bionicle masks. I still remember the renouncement. “Vic!!!!” he yelled to his sister as he balled his fists up at his sides, “You can HAVE her!” I looked from my red-faced little boy to Mabel. Despite having just been declared dead to him, Mabel showed not even an ounce of remorse for having destroyed Aaron’s toy. In fact, I was pretty sure she was sitting on go to do it again. Remorse, regret, repentance…these three R’s were forever absent from Mabel’s vocabulary.
Mabel was the quintessential pesky little sister to Mason. She used to bite and tug on his neck to the point that I would feel sores under his fur when I’d snuggle with him. Her favorite thing to do was be the first to run outside when the door opened, and immediately spin around to attack Mason as he stepped over the threshold. I honestly don’t know how he tolerated her. At one point when Mason was getting on in years, Mabel decided she would hide behind the wall at the top of the stairs and attack him each night as he came up for bed. What a brat she was!
I spent many years of Mabel’s life calling her “Dom’s Decision,” as in, “Hey, honey, your Decision ran off down the street again,” or “your Decision brought a locust into the house tonight,” and my favorite, “your Decision stole a pound of candy corn from the kitchen and puked it up in the living room.”
Life with Mabel was never dull. Fiercely independent and rocking her need for no one, Mabel tried to live on her own terms. Several years ago we nicknamed a large field near our home “Mabel Acres” in memory of the day during Sunday lunch when she took off out the side door and down the street to cut circles in the grassy field while the entire family tried to catch her. But Mabel had her sweet side, and though she preferred to act like she didn’t need our attention, she never seemed to mind when we lavished love on her.
Vic and Mabel, my brown-eyed girls, 2010.
Like me, Mabel loves sunshine. She would often lay in the yard as her black fur soaked in the warmth. She enjoyed the porch swing with me on many Saturday mornings. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure the time she spent with me wasn’t all about the coffee.
Mabel changed when she became an only-dog in 2014. She mourned Mason for a couple of weeks, not wanting to be alone outside, needing to know where Dom, the kids and I were at every moment. She became gentler and more loving, and sweetly earned the famous phrase on her dog tag, “Mischief Managed.” Her nickname morphed from “Dom’s Decision” to “Daddy’s Baby Girl.” She knew who was responsible for her sweet and easy life.
Mabel was none-too-thrilled with the introduction of Maximus to our home. But she did eventually adjust to him as he grew and she realized that annoying little thing with the big ears was, in fact, the same species as her.
Max took on the role of pesky little brother, paying Mabel back in spades for all the torture she showered on Mason. Despite my best efforts to keep it sized properly, Mabel’s collar got stretched so that it ended up looking more like a red necklace draped around her shoulders. I can’t think of a time they played together that Max wasn’t gnawing on her collar.
Mabel earned herself many nicknames over the course of her life. Mabelline, Mabellini, the Vixen, the Vixenator, Mablet, Mabel-Label, the Leine, Leinie-poo, the Bottomless Pit, the Unfillable Belly, Dumpster Diver, Teeny Weeny Mabellini, Baby Girl, and finally Grandma. I especially loved calling to her in an Italian accent: “Ciao, Mabellini! Andiamo, Mabellini! Why-a do you-a bark-a so much in the house, eh?!”
Mabel became a diabetic in 2018. Diabetes for dogs is much like Type 1 childhood diabetes in people, meaning that you can’t “diet-and-exercise” it into submission. Even with the prescription dog food and the twice-a-day insulin injections, Mabel’s blood sugar levels would not normalize. We did the best we could for three years. We spent many weekends running blood glucose curves on her and charting her progress. I spent approximately two months right after her diagnosis chopping, measuring and packaging precise proportions of meats and vegetables to feed her a completely raw diet, and then cooking it for her, and then realizing I was cooking more for the dogs than for the humans before throwing in the towel and signing up for prescription dog food.
Mabel went completely blind this year, but she could still hear me come home in the afternoons and would know it’s Wine-Time – that’s when she and Max get to run in the front yard while Dom and I sit on the porch and chat. Sure, it took a little extra effort to get her in and out of the house, leading her through the forest of lilies in the flower beds because she couldn’t go up steps anymore. But who could resist how happy it made her?
I have said for the past few months that as long as she still enjoys Wine-Time, she still has life to live. There is nothing we won’t do for our fur-babies. But eventually we realized there’s nothing more we can do. And that’s where the heart breaks.
I remember seeing a poster on the wall at the vet’s office when Mason was just a puppy. It was a life expectancy poster and it showed the various breeds of dogs with their approximate life span in years. Labs were marked at 11 years. We were fortunate that both of our pups lived longer than that – Mason at 14 and Mabel, just a month shy of 13. As we realized Mabel’s age and illness were wearing her down, it was devastating to make that final decision. Ironic, that the first decision was so easy, and the last one so hard.
I hate goodbyes. I hate this part of being a pet owner. There is never a “good” time to say goodbye. We always want one more day, one more chase, one more trip around the water bowl. We took Mabel to the vet for the last time today. The goodbye was just as hard as I thought it would be.
The Book of Proverbs tells us that “a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal,” and this is the only thing getting me through this. Caring for them, even to that last day’s decision, is loving them. Mabel has so much more than our regard. She has our undying love and gratitude for the marvelous and mischievous ways in which she brightened our days and enhanced our lives.
Take now to that “far green country under a swift sunrise,” sweet Mabellini, and run like somebody left the gate open. We will miss you terribly and love you forever.
Mabel “Mabellini” Mainiero
September 17, 2008 – August 20, 2021