I have no idea where my car keys are, and I sometimes mix up my kids’ birthdates. But the day Lola walked into my life – that I remember.
Things were different then. I lived in a nice normal house in a nice normal neighborhood. But the kids and grown up and moved out, or at least moved out, and it was quiet, too quiet, and I had decided to get a dog. I had been raised with dogs (which sounds vaguely Romulus & Remus) but never had one of my very own. My ex-therapist was against it, suggesting that dog ownership would be imprisoning for me at a time when I needed to appreciate and experience more life freedoms. She was so right – and simultaneously so wrong.
As my search began, I had, as I tend to have, a very specific idea of what I wanted. A female, small, likely a terrier of some sort like my first dog when I was kid. A non-barker. Housebroken. A rescue for sure. And she had to be basically free. I love spending money, but in a world where dogs die every day because there aren’t enough homes to go around, I thought it was ridiculous to pay for one.
I patiently trolled around on various petsites and eventually came across a dog that seemed to fit the bill. Her name was Stella, and she was owned by a young teacher. Stella was about a year old and had been found running around in a park. She may have been playing ultimate Frisbee, I didn’t ask. The teacher took her in and fostered her for a year while subbing. But she had just been hired fulltime and didn’t like the idea of leaving Stella home all day. Like many abandoned dogs – and people, I’m guessing – Stella had separation anxiety, and when left alone would get depressed and wouldn’t eat. (She would act out in other ways too, but I wouldn’t find out about those until later.)
So one rainy afternoon, the teacher brought Stella over for a meet-n-greet. I was recently quasi-retired (still not sure whether that is more or less than semi) and worked from home. Stella was interviewing several potential owner candidates. She arrived bright-eyed and energetic. I knew the teacher liked the fact that I let Stella jump up on the furniture. I raised kids; everyone can go wherever they want. They left, and a week later I got the call that I had won the Stella Sweepstakes.
She arrived with Stuff. A crate and a bunch of toys. I tried to give the teacher money but she wouldn’t take any. I flashed on The Ransom of Red Chief but shrugged it off. Before leaving, she vowed to check in regularly with Stella. I never heard from her again. We were on our own.
I sat Stella down for an Owner-to-Pet talk. Explained a few things. One, that she had a $1,000 vet budget and that was it. She was not allowed to become one of those dogs who need gall bladder surgeries and corneal transplants and cost their owners $250,000 over their lifetimes. $1k I told her, and after that it’s back to the park. She seemed to get it. I also hated her name so I changed it to Lola. Most people think it’s from the Kinks song, as in L-O-L-A, but really it came from the musical “Damn Yankees” as in “Whatever Lola wants… Lola gets...” And finally I told her that regardless of her past sleeping arrangements (she slept in the teacher’s bed), she was going to sleep in her doggie bed closed into my laundry room and that was non-negotiable. This lasted about, oh, an hour. An hour of her howling and throwing herself against the door. It has turned out that Lola has a bit of claustrophobia. She sleeps on the bed now. Or wherever she wants, basically.
Yes, there were moments of doubt and pain. When left alone, Lola acted out. She chewed my wooden blinds so she could see outside. When I called the blinds store to have them replaced, the clerk asked if she was a terrier, and said this happened “all the time.” I decided to roll the new blinds up when I left the house so Lola could see out. I forgot one day, and Lola chewed the new ones. At that point I switched to window shades without further incident. Who says you can’t teach an old owner new tricks?
I read somewhere that dogs know twelve words. I have no idea if there is a shred of truth to that. But I tried to figure them out anyway. She knows sit, no (though she usually ignores this one), treat, walk, naptime (this refers to MY nap, at which point she goes directly to the chair in my room – she is not invited to sleep on the bed at naptime… the quirks in my house are not limited to my pet), c’mere, bath (which sends the water-hater to motion at 180 degrees), nummy (aka dinner), and ball. She is less successful with phrases, such as “stay out of the garbage while I’m gone,” or “pick up your toys.”
Lola loves all living things. People, other dogs, probably cats but I have never seen her with one. She is a committed face-licker with the uncanny ability to get her tongue inside your mouth while you are talking even when you are defending yourself against it. Not an aggressive bone in her 13-lb. body. She has a special attraction to squirrels. She loves to chase them though I am not sure what she would do if she ever caught one. But she can’t, so that works.
Dissolve to six years later. Much has changed. My grown daughters boomeranged home and then moved out again. I downsized, selling my home and moving into a little guest house. Lola hated it here due mostly to the isolation and the squirrellessness. Girlfriends and jobs and fantasy baseball seasons came and went. My father died. Throughout the variables, Lola has remained the constant.
In May I fell ill (literally, ow) and had to call 9-1-1. As I waited for the ambulance to arrive, listening to the siren approaching, I sat at my gate, just my dog and me. I was worried about her. She was worried about me. We’re both okay now. But it’s at moments like that when you realize that sometimes the most important people in your life aren’t people at all. My greatest hope for myself is that someday I meet a woman who’s as happy to see me when I come home as Lola is.
I just moved again, with Lola’s homestead criteria added to my own. I turned down two places I liked because they were just not Lola-friendly. The place I picked is in a neighborhood not unlike where we used to live, where people walk their dogs, there are 8-year old twin girls next door who love dogs but don’t have one, and the back yard has trees with oranges which can only mean squirrels.
R.J. Colleary looks silly walking Lola with a pink leash and doesn’t care.