In the car, on the way to the animal shelter, about 12 years ago. First week of school.
My three kids and I, ready to go find our next dog to love, which this time, I have decided will be a SMALL dog. How small? This small: as I drive, I tell the kids to tuck their elbows at their sides, extend their arms in front of them, and contemplate the length between their two hands. That small. For Costa, then six years old, we may be looking at a chihuahua. For the other two, maybe a small corgi could fit the bill.
We get to N.O.A.H. and start walking past the super nice kennels. N.O.A.H.’s set up is beautiful, with each dog having its own large space, glass fronted and with a comfy doggy bed. We see a few dogs, walk into a few “kennels,” and are on our way to more when at the corner of my right eye, I see a pretty darn large, black, curly long haired dog looking at us, with her tail doing a unique, super joyful helicopter blade type of rotation. I tell the kids to hold on a minute while I go say hi - the tail thing being irresistible. I open the door to the kennel and unlike the other dogs we had visited who had seen an open door as an invitation to boogie out of there, this one shows no sign of wanting to go anywhere (which, we will find out later, was not a bit like her) Thinking I would hang out for a minute, I take a seat on the chair that’s been placed there for that very purpose. Instantly, the dog sits right across from me and ... bores her eyes into mine. FAR into my eyes - as in deep into my soul. There was no way for me not to respond to the invitation to do the same, and so I did. And she and I sat there for a good long time, not moving at all, just looking at each other, in a silent, deep and timeless way. I think that some words were spoken by our hearts at that time, I think that an agreement was made, I think that in some way, in a way that sounds kind of crazy even to me, she and I exchanged vows, right there, in that kennel.
Coming back to the outside world, her tail started to do the helicopter thing again, just as I got up to leave. She didn’t try to get out of the door, she just watched me leave. The kids were waiting for me and suddenly, I felt weird, out of integrity. I remembered the whole thing about the elbows-to-your-side set of instructions, and all I could say to them was: “Hey, you know what? That dog was not really all that big!” As if somehow, from the inside she was really much much smaller. To which my oldest son Marco replied: “Mom, that dog is HUGE!”
We saw one other dog, and I could not stand it. I asked the kids what they would think of taking her on a little walk on the trail the shelter had set up just for that purpose. “Just to see.” Within minutes we were handed a leash and off we went into the woody area, the 4 of us, and this very big, super happy girl. It was great. It was so right. It was so like being home. And yes, Marco was right, she was huge.
On the way back from our walk, we met one of the volunteers who asked us how it went, and before we could answer, our new friend went crazy, just as we walked past the cat’s shelters. I mean... ballistic. Barking, pulling on her leash, she was strong and she was triggered. We were crestfallen. We had a sweet cat at home, and my goodness, now what? The volunteer saw our faces and asked us if we had a cat. Then let us know that this dog was not available to a home with cats. Period.
We handed her leash and went home in silence. We had dinner. The kids went to bed. I tried to go to bed, and I couldn’t sleep. So in the sacred silence of a home full of sleeping children, in my bare feet, I walked upstairs to the computer. I went on N.O.A.H’s website. And I found her there. “Mary” was her name, and there was her sweet face, with a few words to describe her. She was 3 or 4 years old, had had two owners and was described as “barking a lot.” Again, her eyes caught mine as I stared as the screen. A “knowing” moved inside of me, the kind that I have grown wiser than to argue with.
As soon as the shelter opened early the next morning, I called, and with an assured tone of voice, I let the person who answered the phone know that I wanted to give her my credit card number and reserve “Mary.” That we had seen her the day before, and would be picking her up that very afternoon. And that yes, we would fill out the application form, but would she please please take my credit card number and hold her for us? For some reason, she said she would.
I got the kids from school and was besides myself with excitement. Once we were all in the car, including my son’s best friend, I asked them, casually, as though I had thought about anything else but her all day long: “Hey, you guys remember that big black dog we took on a walk, yesterday?” They did. “Well, someone adopted her today.” I loved how sad their little faces looked at that moment (I know, I know, it wasn’t nice of me). And then, like a mad woman possessed by some sort of extra dose of life juice transfusion, I yelled: “BY US!!!! SHE WAS ADOPTED BY US! WE ARE GOING TO GET HER, RIGHT NOW.” I was crazed. Bless their hearts, they held no grudge for my slightly cruel trick, and with their heart’s purity, cheered wildly. And they were kind enough to not even mention a thing about her non-regulation size.
Off we went. I held my head high, I made sure my voice was strong, and I filled out the questionnaire. I would like to believe that there was no question about whether we had a cat at home. I would like to believe that I did not lie. I am going to believe I didn’t.
As the transaction was done, and as they handed her to us (a girlfriend had joined us by then, wanting to be there for the big moment), I saw a little pamphlet about “how to introduce your new dog to your cat,” and off handedly stuck it in my purse. We took an iconic photo next to a tree, and our family headed home.
Just. Like. That.
On the way home, we changed her name to Roxy, and all of a sudden, everything felt very complete.
Once at home, I studied the little cat-introducing pamphlet and went wholeheartedly into following the very specific - and very effective - process outlined. They suggested that we took 3 months to go through it, and within two weeks, we were all one big happy household. The cat loved the dog, the dog never once barked at the cat. She was easy, she was spunky, she was loving, she was joy incarnated, she was - and continued to be ... the best. We lived by the beach, and she actually “flew” over the driftwood logs... she was amazing.
The years passed, the cat died, we moved a few times. We got a new cat and Meethra and Roxy became sisters. We traveled together, we hiked in the woods, we hung out, we were family.
She never chewed anything she should not have, she never had a potty incident in the house, she was, in my eyes, perfect. Given the opportunity she would run out of the door and roam on her own, and given the opportunity, she would grab an abandoned slice of pizza from the kitchen counter - both things I can relate to, and thus respect. Judge if you need to.
She and I spent most of our time together, and rarely needed to use words. Just as the first day we met, we were connected beyond words. I could be cleaning the house, and suddenly I knew she was thirsty. One look at her water bowl, and sure enough it was empty. Or writing an article, with her asleep by me for an hour or more. The instant I typed the last word, she would look up, knowing I was done and we could go outside.
Then there was the time when fully mis-inspired, I decided to get a perm “to even out my natural curls.” Not only was the idea fully ridiculous, but I choose to get this done in a beauty school, to save a few bucks. Oh my. I walked out of there looking as though I had put my head in a giant electric socket. A couple of days later, we noticed that Roxy had somehow grown a mane. A crazy wild looking mane of extra frizzy hair, all around her head. Her mane lasted as long as mine. There were many times like this. Stuff you can’t explain but which anchors your lives and hearts together a little bit more.
Life with her was just right. She did not once make me mad, she did not once get yelled at, and she did not once not give us her love fully.
She felt like my sister, my soul mate. We looked alike, and we acted alike a whole lot, too.
Many of the people who met her fell in love with her, as well. Overnight guests left notes for her as they left the house, friends asked if they could come over and say hi to her. Treats showed up at our door step, for her. Her cat sister adored her and so did her human brothers and sisters. She attended dance classes at the Center and was a fabulous greeter. Even the police, when they picked her up during one of her “Well, the front door was opened” jaunt, told me how much joy she brought them as they took her once more to the pound. I kid you not.
In the last couple of years, as she was still puppy-like in her demeanor, it occurred to me that she was getting older in age. Her eyebrows started to turn gray. She and I both had gained a few pounds since we merged our lives, too. She would stop in the middle of the street and gyrate wildly to scratch her back on the asphalt, jiggling and smiling and looking like the ultimate incarnation of pleasure and giddiness. Cars just stopped and waited, the drivers smiling. I think that in her way, she had made them pause long enough to remember that life was good.
I fantasized that she would live to be 20. In perfect health till the last day.
A few months ago, she started to slow down a bit. Getting up stairs was getting tough, yet she managed to crawl up onto the bed with one of us who was having a really hard time, last May.
In the last few weeks, she slowed down a lot. The people she loved traveled to see her, to love her. Getting up got tough. We started hand feeding her steak and chicken breast.
A few days ago, she let me know that it was time. That her 15-16 year old body was done.
I knew that I could keep on hand-feeding her steak forever. I knew that I could take care of her any way she wanted, as long as she was happy. But that look, last Tuesday morning on our little walk ... that look when she fell and could not get up... that look I could not take. As she sat in front of our back gate, with her back legs splayed behind her, no longer supporting her weight, she bore her eyes into mine. Just like that first day, almost twelve years ago, her heart talked to mine. And it said: “No more. I love you so much - and no more.”
It was time for me to honor the vows we had given each other, and these vows now pierced my heart.
That afternoon, at home and loved to the very max by her family, her beautiful gipsy curls soaked in our tears, her sweet body released her magical soul.
Life is a little weird, now. Not quite right. Just about everything hurts. Getting up in the middle of night to pee, and not finding her there is both shocking and excruciating. The car is painful. The street corner aches. I feel as though I could stumble at any moment because my center of gravity is altered. This morning, I swept the kitchen and there were many more of my black curls than of hers, in the dustpan. Eventually, I guess my curls will be alone and that thought makes me queasy. There are all kinds of emotions and actions that have nowhere to go, too. Like I say, it’s weird.
Here’s to love. Here’s to “knowing” when someone is supposed to be in our lives, in our hearts, even if they are not the size (or color) we were planning on, or even if someone says that it will never work out because of ___________.
Here’s to being brave enough and crazy enough to enter intentionally into full heart opened relationships with beings who most likely will leave us.
Here’s to all of us who have a broken heart today, because we were wise enough to know that it is worth it.
PS: if I ever get elected Captain of the World, I will immediately pass a law that makes dogs and cats live as long as we do.