Noun 1: a person skilled in ninjutsu 2: a class of 14th century Japanese who were trained in martial arts and were hired for espionage and assassinations.
I've known Ninja since she was about two years old. I was there the day her original owners gave her to my friends. When she was beautiful, jet black, athletic and could chase a ball into the surf all afternoon.
Ninja was the kind of dog who could read your expression and seemed to understand what you said.
I watched her prepare to take a nap once, picking up her toys and moving them carefully into a pile away from her blanket so she could lie down. I'd never seen a dog do that.
She was also a formidable guard dog, sounding the alarm whenever anyone other than family -- including coyotes and mountain lions -- came too close to the house, where she had staked out the perimeter like a sentry.
So I was flattered early on when I realized she didn't bark at me when I came up the path, even though I only visited a few times a year.
Now she's fifteen years old, a teenager by some measures, but ancient for a lab mix her size. 105 people years, but who's counting.
Her muzzle is almost white. She has lost her hearing. Always intelligent, she responds to hand signals now. She moves with the slow, aching stiffness of arthritis.
In fact each time I see her old age is no longer creeping up on her, it has climbed aboard and is weighing her down.
But her heart is healthy and her body remains trim and muscular still, although her beautiful black coat has turned a ruddy brown and Dalmatian like spots have appeared on her chest.
She still wags her tail in recognition and gets up to greet me from her vantage point on the porch, walking slower and slower each time.
Hey, Ninja girl, how're you doing?
Old age has its perks. She gets pampered a lot, with homemade doggy meatloaf made fresh each day. And when she doesn't want to eat someone will hand feed her. Or carry her upstairs if she's not in the mood to climb.
One of these days I'm going to get a phone call that says she's gone. And I will sorely miss this wonderful dog.