My family almost always had a big dog (Lab, Rottweiler … many, so many, stories discussed ad nauseum with my therapist so I'll digress) and a small dog for inside (Poodle, another Poodle, Pomeranian, another Pomeranian) going back some four-plus decades since eight-pound interior dogs tend to live longer than outdoor large dogs.
Anyhow, the second poodle was named Amber and we got her when I was nine, late in 1980. Somehow, she developed a habit of sleeping on my bed – first during the day and then overnight – and good luck breaking a dog of that habit! Well, by September 1989, I was off to college and a day or two after I left, my mom could not find her anywhere. Calling her, upstairs and down, the front yard and back. Nothing. Finally, after many frantic minutes, the anxiety quickly disappeared when she happened to look more closely at my bed – because there was Amber lying sound asleep between my pillows.
The old girl missed me. She nearly lived to sixteen years but by the summer of 1996, she was essentially blind and deaf and it was time – which brings to a thought I have had over the years, particularly when someone mentions that their pet passed away at home.
My family has never had a dog, during my lifetime anyways, that passed at home, in her own bed, or mine. The result has always been a painful good-bye, one more “let me hold her” hug, ending with watching my dad carry her out the door for the last time.
I was living with my two best friends, college friends from the very beginning of our freshman year at MSU, Crawford Hall, Building D, 1st floor, and when I returned home to our apartment, although I do not specifically recall, I know they understood as I got completely shit-faced. Given that all three of us were 25-26 – and I believe all single – I am certain they joined me.
The following summer my parents – well, my mom – were ready for a new small dog and were recommended to a woman outside of the city I grew up in who bred Pomeranians. “Lucy” was born in May 1997, according to my mom and brought to their home in August. She was so little and mostly an orange-reddish color supplemented by some tan, blonde almost, fur.
By then, one of my buddies had moved in with a girlfriend so the other friend and I moved to a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment (from our huge three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment which was still extremely affordable in 1996). I was also five months into the first long-term relationship that I had been in since my college girlfriend in the spring of 1993. Lucy did not grow on me but then I was in love, had my first real-job, and lived thirty miles into the Twin Cities from my southwest metro hometown. And, she was not Amber.
Many years passed before my lukewarm attitude towards her changed, for whatever reason, and by 2006, I was living alone, working full-time plus, and beginning to spend more time at my parents' house. And Lucy grew on me. Somehow, the Easter Sunday tradition became for me to make the ham and everything at my place and my mom and dad would come over, bringing Lucy with. But by October 2011, she was showing signs of serious illness. The local veterinarian ran the usual tests, etc. and concluded that her renal functions were beginning to fail her.
And then our Christmas “miracle” happened. By mid-December, my mom had overcome the selfishness we all experience with our pets because we do not want to lose them. The last thing we want is for them to suffer but it is just so hard to let go. Lucy was not really eating or drinking water and was completely lethargic, the hour or two a day she was apparently awake. They had an afternoon appointment scheduled to take her in for the vet to give her the injection so she would quickly and peacefully fall asleep forever. But the doorbell rang an hour or so before and while she had always barked like crazy whenever it had happened the over fourteen years previously, she had been ignoring that basic stuff for a month or two now.
But that day was different. Somehow, someway, she was her old self and walked to her food and water dishes, ate and drank and seemed perfectly fine. My mom quickly called the vet to put her appointment on hold. The holiday season passed into 2012 and other than not having an appetite for dog food – my mom had discovered that she would only eat cooked, shredded chicken and pan-browned hamburger – she was doing very well, considering. But we all knew the time was coming, sooner than later. But, for probably the seventh or eighth Easter, they drove to my place and I made dinner and she jumped up on the couch with the energy of a puppy. It was a very good day, meant for the four of us.
Two days later, Lucy was once again so sick and I left work early to drive out when my dad called and told me they were taking her in that afternoon. She was just shy of her fifteenth birthday and for a dog that I ignored and only begrudgingly accepted halfway through her life, that day was so difficult. I drove home as my dad was once again the one who took a dog in for its final moments – there was no way my mom or I could do it. I drove home with my eyes filled with tears, stopped and bought a bottle of something (probably Jack Daniels) and proceeded to drink my sorrows away.
One month later, my mom was not ready to open herself up to a new dog, she was still grieving. But my dad found a Pomeranian breeder a couple of hours north – and which turned out to be a despicable puppy mill – and they drove up to just “visit” the dogs. All of these tiny little Poms were running around in the May air but one immediately ran straight to my mom. She bent over and picked her up, the puppy licked and licked her cheek and neck and that was it. They were back two days later to bring “Rosie” home – and my mom hated leaving her there for those two days. Rosie, our rescue dog, my mom and I joke.
Due to health issues, I had to eventually move in with my parents, and am still here ugh, but I have never been so connected to a pet. My mom is number one to her, without doubt, but I am second and she is the most loving dog I have ever known. Well, besides Jack perhaps. He was a black lab my dad mostly ignored for a few years, a dog I dearly loved but still kick myself for not playing more with him. Or stopping his car ride to the vet – there was a new model already in the garage, a female Rottweiler puppy. And I came to love her but Jack, it was like he was mine.
I would sneak him into the basement when it was too hot out and he would allow little tiny Amber the Poodle to steal dog treats from between his front paws. Rosie is now over seven years-old and such a special little girl. I have already long-ago determined that no matter what, if Rosie becomes so ill that she needs to go in, if she does not pass at home, I am taking her to the vet and will be holding her until she gently closes her eyes for the last time. I owe her that, I owe Jack that. And for being too self-absorbed at times to truly appreciate Lucy and Amber before them. And when I think of any of this, I tear-up a bit, my eyes misting as though I were once again ten years-old reading Where the Red Fern Grows or Old Yeller. I am likely to never have kids, even marriage at this point seems unlikely, but I have four dogs that take up significant space in my heart and soul and always will.
Tony Welch is a writer living in Minnesota.