But I got the cell phone two years ago, and she’s been part of my life for fifteen– somewhere in this computer, I’ve got pictures of her from the very beginning, but not now. (There are actually more in my phone, too– but I was not in the mood to linger.)
See, the thing is, I wasn’t all that keen on having a dog.
Back in the dark days, when I was pregnant with Chicken and Big T was an extra-large, extra challenging toddler, Mate and I tried a dog. Or rather, I dragged a dog home, and Mate (who was working and going to school and who had to take care of his grandmother’s house during the rare moments he was there) and then I…
Well, I blew it. I didn’t give that dog all the attention he deserved, and he ran away.
Yup. I said it. I was twenty-six years old, in charge of a special needs toddler, and I could barely take care of a dog.
So, flash forward a couple of years and some family drama, and it’s 1998. Mate has (check it!) graduated from college, and Chicken is three and Big T is five, we have a house our own and I have a job in a challenging new school in a challenging new district–and I have less time even than I did four years earlier.
And a colleague of mine (who is a whole blog post in himself) had the door open to his schoolroom, and this dog wandered in. Yup. You heard me. Just WANDERED into his classroom. He’d already rescued a gray and white cat, and now he had this big Rott-cross dog, who was gangly and spazzy and really happy to please but not too great at taking orders.
“Okay,” he said, “but you have to take the dog too!”
“No,” I said warily. “I don’t really want a dog. I’m not good with them. I don’t want to let this one down.”
“Well, too bad. No dog, no cat–I’ll take them both to the pound!”
“Yeah, anyway, Mate already said he’d take them both.”
So, really, she was Mate’s dog.
That didn’t keep me from taking her on walks or feeding her. The walks didn’t last long– she was stubborn and untrained, and she kept dragging on the leash and giving herself kennel cough. Chicken went through a “take Chiquita on a walk” phase, and so did Big T, but for the most part, she got most of her exercise going absofuckinglutely insane in the backyard. She ran from end to end– one neighbor told us that their own Rottweiler (a pure bred, who weighed about 110 lbs. of muscle at the onset) lost twenty pounds once they moved behind us. Our dogs just spent all day tear-assing back and forth along the back fence. They were happy that way. We got a couple of complaints to animal control, but once those people stopped doing landscaping outside, she stopped barking at them (duh!) and basically, she was a good dog– if a little rough on the lawn. (Aren’t they all?)
For her first nine years, she slept in the garage.
We had a pallet in there of old blankets, and she was pretty happy for the most part. But then she started getting ear infections and we felt bad– the cold HURTS your ears, and we couldn’t let that happen. And then my parents did a hideous thing.
They bought her a dog bed.
And she got middle aged over night. Well, part of that was, that they got her a dog bed, and we started letting her sleep inside, and then she got middle-aged overnight.
Yeah. That was my fault.
Because by then, I was writing, and I stayed up late, and she was my buddy. She’d start whining and I’d start feeding her leftovers, and basically, the two of us got really fat together. I felt bad. I mean, she only leapt two inches off the ground when people came over to visit, and her divot back by the fence grew about two inches shallower. She got slower. She had to go outside and pee a lot more often. She actually wore out chasing a ball before we did. In a couple of years, she’d just look at the ball and then look at us, as if to say, “You’re kidding, right? Where the fuck were you when I had all the energy in the world and you were working nine hour days? Don’t answer that. Feed me.”
But she was still my buddy. Every night, it was her and me. I’d feed her leftovers, and she’d come and stare at me until I scratched that spot between her nose.
When we got Jonnie, it was because we were pretty sure she wasn’t going to be around much longer. We figured that she was about nine months old when she wandered into my friend’s classroom in 1998, and that made her fifteen this winter. According to every scale we saw, a dog her size, even crossed, usually topped out at twelve. She’d run her course.
The vet told us that as long as she had five things she still loved to do, she was okay. We were okay with that. She still barked at the mothers dropping her kids off across the street, she still barked at the turkeys, she still liked to eat, she still enjoyed sitting and panting and staring at us (she seemed to be smiling) and she still enjoyed eating. And she really loved the little dog. One night, when we left the house, we caged the little dog. We came home, and she was sleeping with her head next to his cage, and we were happy. It was like her blessing.
We hope so. She couldn’t make it up the one step anymore to get from the backyard to the house after she peed. She no longer barked at the turkeys. She couldn’t hold herself up to pant and smile. It was time, and yesterday, we gathered the kids (we told Chicken Friday night) and that was it. It was horrible. HIDEOUS. There are no words for that kind of family suckage.
Mate turned to me over the heads of our sobbing children in our arms (the giant one held back until he got home) and said, “Are you sure this was how we were supposed to do it?”
I said, “It beats the hell out of Dennis Quaid, when I got home and everyone said, ‘Wait– you did what to the cat?'”
I’ve been listening for the uneven click-clack of her toenails on the tile and the hardwood all day. I’m going to be listening for it in a silent house for a long time. It was the sound of my nuisance, the thing that needed to eat, to pee, to be pet. It was my buddy.
Bye, baby. The little kids don’t remember when you used to chase the ball until we were tired, when you wore grooves in the turf, and when you jumped six inches in the air when friend or family came by. They won’t remember that you used to talk to every neighborhood dog, and that you had too much energy to go for a walk without hurting yourself, and that you used to sleep in the garage so you could pace in circles and not drive us bugshit. They won’t remember that your gas didn’t used to be toxic, and that you could sleep without snoring, and walk across the house without panting, and that you didn’t used to be blind and deaf and snappish.
But Mate and I remember–you were young, and you were awesome, and we could have spent more time with you, but you proved to us that when it came down to it in the end, we deserved a second chance with a dog after all. Thank you, sweetheart. I’m so glad we could give you a home.