Saturday, August 15, 2009
Girl's Best Friend
Lately my mind has wandered into fervent thoughts of our dog that we had to put to sleep in February of this year. A friend recently had to commit the same heart-wrenching act. And just yesterday my mom and dad were telling me that they watched "Marley and Me." I have not seen this movie but I already know what happens. And let me tell you, I'm not sure that I can handle another "Old Yeller" type moment. When my husband and I saw "I Am Legend" in the theater we were a complete and utter mess! If you haven't seen it, I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just leave it at that. Both difficult movies for dog-lovers . . . or anyone with a soul.
I've always been a dog person. I am the last child of three (two older brothers) and my family already had a dog when I was born. Her name was Fluffy, a peekapoo (such a stinkin' cute name for a mixed breed), who was about three years old at the time of my birth. So my attachment to dogs began quite early.
Fluffy was my best friend (they're not just a man's best friend) and really, a soulmate. I spent most of my time with her growing up, whether we were snuggling in the soft, yellow armchair in the living room, or whether I was proudly parading her around in my old stroller. That dog would let me do anything to her. Seriously, I mean ANYthing! I used to put my old barrette bows in her fur and put my disturbingly ugly glasses on her. It was a tad creepy, but highly amusing, especially as an eleven year old. My personally favorite look, however, was when I'd adorn her with an orange and blue striped Nike cap, with sunglasses that had the diet pepsi logo on each lens. Talk about heavy product placement . . .
She had such a wonderful disposition -- loving, affectionate, playful, mellow. She sort of reminded me of my mom -- quiet, ever-present, just happy to be around those she loves. Fluffy was incredibly easy to depend upon. And easy to love. Some of my most cozy memories are of taking her and her one puppy, Tubs, outside in the crispness of Autumn, sitting against our impressively enormous tulip tree and holding them against my chest, wrapping my thin, navy blue jacket around us all, like three lost and weary wanderers, clinging to each other for survival. I craved that feeling of protecting them, of keeping them safe, of nurturing them.
I remember that same feeling when Fluffy began to age . . . when the black parts of her fur gradually softened to gray, and the deeply reddish-brown eyes turned milky. I would hold her in my lap in the evenings and stroke her aching muscles. I had never lost a family pet yet, other than some fish, and so I don't think I really grasped what that would mean for me soon. I found out one March night in 1994 when I let her outside to do her business. I didn't stay at the back door to keep an eye on her, which I often didn't. About a half hour later I awoke out of the tv coma that I had put myself in and realized that I'd forgotten about her. I ran outside to find her and found nothing but the quietness of a late winter evening. She was gone.
She had tried running away several times in those last few months. We were lucky enough to find her each time, until this one. Mom and I drove around our small town, in the dark, and came home empty-handed. Every day after school, for about a week, I walked around town, looking in every nook and crevice I could think of. I was afraid this time, unlike the other times when she had run away. The other times I felt confident that we would find her or that she'd come back home on her own. But this time I had another stirring in my gut. I think I knew deep down that I would never see her again. And I didn't. We still don't know what happened to her. We assume that she ran away to die -- to prevent us from having to deal with it. How do dogs know to do that? What makes them have that sort of forethought and compassion? Fluffy was seventeen years old.
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It was about a year and a half before we got a new dog. Miko came to us right after Thanksgiving of 1995, just under a month before we moved to a new small town. Miko was a pure-bred lhasa apso and certainly had a personality and mind of her own. Where Fluffy was complacent, Miko was strong-willed. She was also very loving and affectionate and playful, but needed her space. She would NOT let you do just whatever you wanted to her. She was spunky. She was a lot like my dad. She may have been more stubborn, but when she loved, she loved fiercely. And she was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. I was fifteen, moving to a new town, starting a new school, getting used to a new church full of strangers. It was a very difficult time of my life, one that I wouldn't have gotten through without her.
When I felt most alone I always had her. She was also my best friend and soulmate (I have this pattern with my dogs). She was a quiet comfort for me in some of the darkest moments. She was there to sit beside me as I sighed and cried. She was there to bring laughter as she ran around the house in circles, practically dragging her butt as she ran. We called this The Psycho. And it never failed to make me forget about whatever troubled my spirit at the time.
I spent a lot of time as a teenager, sitting in my room listening to music and writing poetry. Miko stayed beside me as I did this, looking at me almost as if she knew, as if she understood what I felt. Miko was with me through all of the biggest transitions of my life: first boyfriend, first break-up, graduating high school, starting college, becoming an aunt for the first time, first job, getting married, moving. She was really a part of everything. And she became just as important to my husband, Kevin. He had lived with animal allergies his whole life and somehow was able to overcome that (at least with dogs) by being with Miko. He never thought that he'd be able to have a dog, so Miko was incredibly significant to him.
She came with us when we got married in October of 2005. She was our only "child." I remember how she would sleep under our chairs as we played video games in our office, and how she showed that dogs can have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by rubbing her head countless times on the floor by her food dish, right before she began eating. She was a permanent fixture of our home, and our relationship. Except . . . nothing is permanent.
The last couple of years she started showing the signs of old age, which I remembered all too well. Her beige, wavy fur became speckled with a few random strands of gray, and her deeply black eyes clouded over. She, like Fluffy, was a fighter. She hung on as long as she could. When her back legs began to limp and cave in, she kept walking, dragging them, as if she were lugging two logs behind her. Even though it would take her nearly four times as long to reach her destinations, and she would have to take frequent pauses, she kept going. She was determined to not let it stop her. Kevin and I would often pick her up and take her from one point to another. We would lay on the couch with her resting her weary body on our chests, covering us both with a quilt.
It was not long after that she began yelping in the night with bouts of diarrhea. It only took us a couple days after that to know what had to be done. One Wednesday in February of this year we were both getting ready for work as she began yelping again into the empty air. I looked at her and no longer saw anything behind her eyes. They were as empty as the air. We knew. That morning we brought her to the vet, me cupping her body into mine in the backseat. I whispered to her, "It's almost over." And in another hour, it was.
We took her to be buried at my oldest brother's home, right beneath a tree. It rained that day, and I was glad. It comforted me that it was cold, wet, dark, and solemn. And the next day it snowed. She was covered beneath a peaceful blanket of white. Miko was fourteen.
I miss them both still. I miss them both every day. I'm sure I always will. Without them everything seemed empty and lonely. Something always felt like it was missing. Did either of them ever know how much I loved them? Did I show them enough attention and affection? I hope they were both happy. I have had much guilt over each of them. With Fluffy, I was the one who had let her outside and forgotten about her. It was my fault. Did she feel abandoned? With Miko, I was busy and stressed with work and didn't spend as much time with her in her last few months. Did she feel neglected? I still have a hard time wondering if I failed either of them in any way. They meant and mean more to me than I can ever express, but did they know that?
* * * * * * * * * * *
In May of this year Kevin and I adopted a new dog -- a Maltese Shih Tzu mix, white. We named him Desmond, after one of our favorite characters on "Lost." He is much like the other two, in his loving and playful disposition. But he is a lot more excitable. He also doesn't have an angry or crabby bone in his body. He has been very healing for us both. Although I spent his first week with us feeling tremendously guilty and depressed. The reality of the loss of Miko finally came to full fruition. There was another dog around, and it wasn't her.
I am thankful for the time I have had with each of our dogs. I would not be the same without any of them. I would not more fully understand the unconditional and limitless love that God has for us all. And God has shown and is showing me a lot of love through these three dogs. I'm not convinced that I deserve it, but still . . . I am so very grateful.