i never really considered myself an “animal person” because i felt it was in vast contradiction to my “neat and clean person”.
growing up we had a total of 4 dogs: the first was a rather large dachshund named taffy that i only “remember” from pictures. i think i was about 3 years old when, as the story goes, my mother walked into the dining room one day and found taffy on top of the dining room table peeing, and that was the end of taffy. (not literally! just as a part of our family) i don’t really think my mother was an animal person either, which is probably where i got it from. it wasn’t until probably 4 years later we acquired dog #2 when our next door neighbors’ dog had puppies. i brought one home, warm and squirming in my arms with that sweet puppy breath, and begged mama to let me keep him! she surprisingly relented. within a few days i broke out in a mysterious rash which the dr confirmed was mange and dog #2 went promptly back to the neighbors. throughout my remaining years at home we had 2 more dogs, cookie and angel (both outdoor dogs), so i didn’t really grow up with the “family dog curled in front of the fireplace sleeping at the end of my bed” kind of scenario. i guess it isn’t really surprising that my idea of having a dog was mostly concentrated on how unclean they were, but as they say: “things change”.
i remember the day, it was july 16, 2011 i had something i needed to pick up at a local shop and the pet store right next door was having one of their adoption days out front. now just because i wasn’t a dog person doesn’t mean i didn’t think they were cute (i’m not heartless). i strolled through the cages and smiled at all the jumping, barking, drooling, wagging crew of canines and one small cage caught my attention. inside sitting scrunched in the back corner, not moving or making a sound was the cutest little black and white puppy. as i kneeled down to look at him, he began to shiver, but his eyes never left mine. before i knew it one of the volunteers rushed over and began reciting the puppy’s very sad, albeit short, history of being abandoned with his litter who were found beside a river. he was one of only 2 that survived and he had parvo (i wasn’t really sure what that was, although i found out later it can be deadly if left untreated). i assured her i was just passing by on my way to another store and had no intention of adopting a puppy today.
“do you want to hold him?”
“what? no, i have to go. i…”
“just for a minute? he seems to like you”.
well, someone certainly trained her well.
“ok, sure. why not? but just for a minute, then i have to go”.
she opened the crate and handed me this scrawny, trembling creature who promptly laid his head on my shoulder and nuzzled into my neck. oh geez! i pulled my cell phone from my pocket, snapped a selfie with the pup and sent it to my husband who was out-of-town. he promptly texted back, “wth?”
i laughed and replied, “no worries, just walked by a pet adoption thingy. but isn’t he cute?”
“well, sure he is, but…”
“ya know, it’s weird, but i feel some connection to him. i can’t explain it! anyway, just thought he was cute and wanted to send you a pic.”
i handed the puppy back to the girl and she said, “so…?”
“thanks, he is adorable and i hope he finds a good home soon! good luck!”
“yeah, so do i cause he is pretty sick and i don’t know what is gonna happen to him.”
she was really good!
“well, i really gotta go; errands to run.”
“ok, but if you change your mind…”
i hurried away to the shop next door and roamed aimlessly around. i pulled up the selfie on my phone and smiled. i texted my husband and said, “so, i know this is crazy, but what would you think about a puppy?”
“what about it?”
“getting one…i can’t explain it, but i feel this connection; like he picked me. i know that sounds stupid!’
“it’s up to you”…this is a classic response from him and while some may envy me for that, it can be quite annoying.
“but what do you think?”
“i think it’s up to you.”
ugh!! i left without what i had come for, and walked back to the pet store. the volunteer saw me coming and smiled and waved. “you’re back! you changed your mind!”
“no, i’m just thinking! we were not planning to get a dog and i just don’t know; this is a big decision!”
“do you want to hold him again?”
“NO!…sorry, no. i just need to think about it.” i squatted down to look at him. he was back in his corner, sitting, staring at me as if he could see into my soul. i shuddered.
“so, let’s say i was interested. what’s the process? is there some sort of waiting period, an application approval, what’s the deal?”
“you just fill out a few papers agreeing to have him neutered, pay the adoption fee (which includes the neutering) and he’s yours!”
“like, today? i would take him home today?”
“but i don’t have any stuff! food, a food bowl, a leash, nothing! i’m not ready!”
“well, you can fill out the papers, pay the fee, adopt him and we will hold him for you while you go get all your ‘stuff’.”
“whoa! i don’t know, let me think about it and if i decide to adopt him i’ll come back.”
i glanced back down to see him staring at me as i walked away.
ten minutes later i was walking into target and i couldn’t get that face out of my mind. the next thing i knew i was loading my car with a crate, food and water bowls, a collar, a leash, puppy food and a panicking feeling that my “soul-mate puppy” would be gone! i rushed back to the pet store and my heart dropped when i saw the empty cage only to feel a rush of relief when i saw him in the arms of the volunteer! she handed him to me as soon as i approached and he once again nestled his head into my neck.
“i knew you’d be back! i have his file pulled out and the paperwork ready for you.”
stanly, as we named him, was an instant hit with our family. although he was 3 months old he only weighed 6.5 pounds! we treated his parvo and he slowly began to heal and to thrive. he gained 7 pounds in his first 4 weeks at his new home. timid at first, he soon adapted and was a gentle and friendly dog. he learned to go out and potty easily enough, but as is the case with most puppies he was not too fond of the rain. i remember standing with him under an umbrella in our tiny backyard saying, “go potty, go potty, please go potty!” as he stared up at me with a look that said, “you’re not serious?!”. eventually he relented and no matter the weather he would scratch at the back door when nature called. he was a quick learner and other than a few minor mishaps of chewing a pillow or stealing a shoe, he was a well-behaved gentleman.
in march of the following year we moved out of our neighborhood of tree-lined streets and closely built homes to be closer to our kids’ school. stanly now had a large yard to roam with plenty of squirrels to chase. while i was happy for his new-found freedom, i missed our old house and the close proximity to friends. i was not working at the time and i felt isolated and alone with the kids at school and me at home, but i had stanly and he became my constant companion no matter what i was doing. he would sit beside me on the couch, his head in my lap. he would follow me from room to room as i unpacked and tried to settle in. a few weeks after we moved i had to have surgery to have my gallbladder removed. once back home it seemed stanly never left my side. whether it was my physical pain of recovering from surgery or my emotional pain of attempting to adjust to my new surroundings, stanly seemed to sense my discomfort. i remember later telling my husband that i didn’t think i could have gotten through those first few months alone at home without stanly.
stanly had a girlfriend in the neighborhood, lyla, who was allowed to run free quite a bit. he would sometimes stand at the front storm door looking out onto our front yard and see lyla run by. he would of course get very excited and bark and scratch at the door hoping to be let out to join her. while we never allowed him to roam free he was a bit of an escape artist and had many adventures running the streets with her until we could either finally catch him and bring him back home or he grew tired and would show up of his own accord, wagging his tail as he sauntered up the driveway.
february 20, 2014 was one of those days when he discovered the gate latch was not completely secure and he made his way out to run the neighborhood. most of the neighbors around had seen him at one time or other and knew he belonged at one of the few houses on our street. they would see him running with lyla or going back and forth outside the fence of neighboring dogs teasing them in a sense, that he was “free” and they were not. i was at work where i was a part-time nanny for a family with 3 boys when one of my daughters called and told me stanly was out and they couldn’t get him to come back in. i told her i would be home soon. a little later she called again, crying, telling me that a lady came to the door asking if we had a black and white dog because he had been hurt and while she didn’t think it was bad, they were trying to find his owners. the next few hours were a blur as i drove home talking back and forth with my girls and then my husband. a couple who lived a street over had seen stanly get hit by a car and had taken him to the vet. they saw his tag and called my husband who was picking up our youngest from softball. we still didn’t think it was too serious until my husband got to the vet. he called to tell me to pick up our other 2 girls and to meet him there. stanly had massive internal injuries and several broken bones. they had given him medicine for his pain and were waiting for us to arrive so that we could say goodbye. i walked into the room and saw him on the table. his breathing was labored and his eyes were barely open. he looked at me and began to whimper. i walked over to him and hugged his neck. i kissed him and whispered my love for him and thanked him for loving me. i told him he was the best dog anyone could hope for and that it was ok to go. he was my companion, he was my friend, he was my soul-mate puppy.
that was our family’s first experience losing a pet and it was extremely painful. my oldest daughter had gotten a puppy just a few months before stanly died and i think that made trying to get back to normal after losing him, just a little more bearable. sadie was only 5 months old when stanly died, but they had definitely been buddies. she loved laying beside him on the couch and chewing his tail and he tolerated it. many times we would find stanly curled up (as much as he could fit) in sadie’s tiny bed and when we weren’t looking he would sneak her lamb chop stuffed toy away and lay with it under his arm. she missed him and didn’t understand where he had gone, but we knew we were not ready to open our hearts back up to another dog.
in august of that year i got a new job after being out of work since may. although sadie was now almost a year old, we hated having to leave her everyday while i was at work and the girls at school. we thought about the possibility of getting her a little brother or sister so she wouldn’t be alone, but i was still sad about losing stanly and it had only been 6 months, so we waited. the following february marked the 1 year anniversary of his death; it was sad, i still missed him so much! little did i know that the day before, on february 19th, 364 days after losing my soul-mate puppy, another puppy was born who would a short 6 weeks later become a part of our family. i remember picking him up to bring him home. he was so tiny and i as i held him on the drive home, he nestled his head right into the crook of my neck and i felt a familiarity as his warm puppy breath gently touched me. i smiled as my eyes got misty and i whispered, “hello, soul-mate puppy”.
sullivan (or “bug” as he has been affectionately nicknamed) has been with us now for 18 months. he is quite a handful and loves to chase sadie and bite her tail. she is not quite as fond of this game as she used to be when she was the one doing the biting, but she tolerates it. she loves to sneak his chewie away when we aren’t looking and hide it under her arm. a couple of weeks ago i had back surgery and ever since being home sullivan has been by my side. if i am sitting on the couch his head is on my lap. when i lay down to rest or to sleep at night he curls beside me as close as he can get. he seems to sense my discomfort.
in many ways stanly and sullivan are complete opposites. where stanly was calm, sullivan is wild. stanly seemed to love other dogs and sullivan not so much. sullivan chews up any and everything not nailed down, however, stanly could be trusted alone for hours and he would do nothing more than lay on the couch. despite their differences, i have seen a spirit in both of them that is hard to deny. a soulfulness that looked me in the eyes 5 years ago died, and yet it seemed to show up again. it laid its head on my shoulder as i brought it home, and he lays his head in my lap as i drift off to sleep. good night my soul puppies.