We only stopped at the pet store to pick up some bird feed for our cockatiel, Oliver. When we saw a pet adoption fair going on, I asked, could we pleeease just go over and take a look? Ben said yes. When they mentioned that there were many dogs that just needed foster homes, I looked at him pleadingly. Could we pleeease just foster a dog for a week? After all, it was my spring break and a dog could keep me company on runs. Hesitantly, quite hesitantly, Ben said yes. The dog we were looking at, an older boxer, already had a foster home, it turned out. But a little black puppy, the runt of her litter, was going to be spending the first night of her life away from her mother, in a kennel. Rescued from a crack house. The rest of her siblings (puffy little things which told of their chow lineage) had been adopted that day. Would we consider fostering her for the week?
Well, you can probably guess what happened. We took her home for the week. The next week, we brought her back to the pet adoption fair, during which I spent the entire hour crying into a pillow because I just loved this little puppy so so much and couldn't bear the thought of her going to another home. When we went back at the end of the hour, I offered a million whispered thanks that she was still there. We really had no business owning a dog. We were both full time students. Neither of us had jobs, and we were about to move across the country. I don't think either of us even know whether our apartment allowed dogs. Well, we adopted her that day, and that was that.
She was really our first baby. She smiled when she saw you, would lay down spread eagle in any puddle she could find, and (we learned much, much later) loved to eat poopy baby diapers (yuck!). She seemed almost halfway between a dog and a cat. Independent and calm, not yippy or needy. We loved her so incredibly much.
In our Boston days, we would spend the afternoons, after work and school, watching her frolic and play with other dogs at the neighborhood dog park. She came with us to restaurants and many a hike. And even though it was my love that brought her into the family, it was Ben's love she sought out. Her life was based entirely on getting his approval, and she really considered herself to be his dog, and he was the sweetest owner.
She famously caught a porcupine one summer at the family cabin. She swam with the best of them. She made many canine friends along the way. She thought herself a hunter, and caught a chipmunk, a squirrel, and almost a fawn one time. Those were her proudest moments. And ran like a crazy thing when at play, which ultimately resulted in a knee surgery some years ago. Our sweet and rambunctious puppy.
She graciously welcomed a baby into the family. And then another. And another. And finally, two more. And in these last years of her life, she became, much to our surprise, a working dog. Guarding the house with a zeal and devotion that permeated the entirety of our little home. To an outsider, she seemed fierce (and, truth be told, we found ourselves apologizing for her behavior more than we would have liked!). But to our family, she was a sweet, mellow guardian. Gentle with our little ones, even when they got in her face, unassuming and calm.
Her final months, she developed stomach problems which became recurrent. She lost so much weight and could hardly eat a thing. When we found a medicine that seemed to make her feel better, we were so thankful. She was eating voraciously, had her playful puppy spirit. A wonderful few months. We walked her and played with her and gave her a daily meal of human food: a full pound of ground beef with equal parts rice. She was entirely spoiled. She accompanied us on that five mile labor inducing walk for the twins, and Ben and I took such joy in watching her chase squirrels. Just the three of us, like the old days.
In the end, the medicine couldn't save her. When she refused food, and then water, we knew that it was time. She was limp and lethargic, and looking into her eyes, she knew it, too. The last time I called her in from the backyard, that wonderful backyard where she loved to chase squirrels and birds and children, she paused. Entirely unlike herself. She paused, and pensively looked around, taking it all in. As if to offer thanks for this space, this life, this family. You cannot make this stuff up. We all had a chance to say goodbye. She knew, and we knew, and Ben held her as she took her final breaths. She was in the arms of her beloved master.
Our hearts are more than a little broken at the moment. We still year phantom footsteps in the evening. We go to let her back in from the yard, or give her her medicine, or give her dinner scraps as we are clearing the table. And then we remember and our hearts break all over again. This will take time. But more than sorrow, I am left with the most incredible sense of gratitude. For this sweet little puppy that stole our hearts, and taught us how to love so deeply, and then just left the world as quietly and unassumingly as she entered it. And we were lucky enough to love her along the way.