Without a doubt, I am a Dog People. You know the kind. We always have our dogs with us. We talk about them like they are human babies. We can’t go anywhere without first figuring out who will dogsit our precious K9s, because it most definitely has to be someone who will treat them like family. We buy them cute little outfits are chew toys. We let them sleep in the bed with us, even though that is a huge no-no. They will get their shots and grooming, while I might skip a doctor’s appointment or cut out pedicures to save a few pennies. Dog People. I am, and will always be a Dog People and I’m proud of it. I’ve had dogs my entire life. I can remember being as young as five and having a dog in the family. My family wasn’t a Cat People, though. Sometimes, we’d take in a stray cat and that snooty cat would have to learn to get along with the dog because the dog wasn’t going anywhere. The dog could chew up shoes and furniture, relieve itself on the carpet, bite the mailman, whatever…all would be forgiven.
I guess I’m reflecting on this, because as I write this I am sitting here holding back tears from having left my dog with my family in Texas while I go on a temporary assignment. I have had some empty days before, but none like this in quite a while. I feel like I have left my 6-month old at a daycare center for the very first time. I know I’ll see her again, but the look in her eyes says, “Moma please don’t leave me here with these crazy people.” Her name is CeCe. And when I tell you she follows my every step, I mean EVERY step. She sometimes anticipates where I’m going and tries to jump ahead of me as if she’s my escort. I’ve learned to hang back and let her walk ahead of me after almost breaking my ankle a couple of times trying to avoid stepping on her. She senses when I’m stressed or down. CeCe isn’t much of a touchy-feely lap dog, but sometimes it feels like she tries to behave like one just for me when she knows I need a doggy hug. I swear it’s like she can look in my eyes and tell what’s wrong. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe she’s just waiting for me to feed her again.
You hear people talk about dogs giving unconditional love. Welllll….I sorta believe that, but the love they give is not always 100% unconditional. It starts when you feed them. Dogs love to eat and dogs love the people that make it possible for them to eat. So as long as you feed them, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get unconditional love from them. I haven’t tried to see what happens if I stop feeding her. One time after a male friend and I returned from dinner, CeCe was drawn to his hand like a magnet. It appears that he had the smell of his dinner on his hand and she jumped on his lap like she was greeting her long lost puppy friend. It wasn’t until we noticed that she was attempting to lick his hand, that we understood why she had become so friendly all of a sudden. From that point on, CeCe would get so excited when this person would visit me, she would literally pee in her tracks whenever he entered the room. So was she glad to see him? Or was she remembering the delicious smell on his hand when they first met? You be the judge.
The very first dog that I was responsible for was a terrier of some sort that looked like an old man. Her name was FiFi and she was Ug-Ly. But she was so ugly she was cute! She had grey hair around the top of her nose which made it look like she had a mustache. I loved that dog. We had our ups and downs, though. Everyone in my family constantly reminds me of the now famous story of “Fifi and the Ham Sandwich”. You see, it was a ritual of mine to come home from school and fix a ham sandwich as a snack. I had become quite skilled at preparing THE best ham sandwich in Louisiana. It would have just the right amount of ham, mayo and tomato. Not too meaty, not too gooey. Juussst right. One day in particular, I came home and made my sandwich as I always did. I took a bite, and I’ll tell ya it was the best sandwich I had ever constructed! I couldn’t believe that I could make it any better. The phone rang. I placed my sandwich on the dining room table so I could go and answer the phone. I even pushed it back into the center of the table because I didn’t want to tempt Fifi. I had not been away for 2 minutes, when I came back to find my beloved Fifi with all four feet planted squarely in the middle of the dining room table finishing off the last of the best ham sandwich I had ever made. I screamed like someone was cutting off my foot! And then everything moved in slow motion. I ran towards Fifi. She didn’t even run from me. She just looked at me and licked the crumbs out of her grey mustache. It was almost like that Christmas Day dinner scene from my favorite movie “A Christmas Story”. I swatted her off the table but it was too late. She had devoured the best ham sandwich in Louisiana in a matter of seconds. There was nothing left but the Styrofoam plate and a bunch of crumbs. My family members crack up over this story because they know how much I loved eating ham sandwiches after school and they know how much I loved that dog. For those of you that still don’t quite get it…imagine having your lips set for something sooooo good, and having it taken away…by a dog. I was devastated. I was so devastated that to this day, I cannot eat ham sandwiches. I could not go into the kitchen and make another sandwich, and after that fateful day, the ritual of the after-school ham sandwich ceased. I just couldn’t put that much heart into a something and have it taken away again. I’d always be reminded of how Fifi deprived me of my one pleasure in life. Call me crazy. Fifi and I eventually made up, and not long after that she was hit by a car. This kid was obviously lost in my neighborhood. He was speeding down our street and hit my dog. The worst part was that I made her go outside to “use the grass”. She didn’t even want to go. She never came back. That was the first time I realized the connection I had with dogs.
After I graduated from college, I moved to Austin, TX for my first job. I lived the first few months there alone without a dog. I called home crying from homesickness the first few months. I was a mess and living by myself. So I scoured the paper to find an affordable four-legged friend. I had a dog at home, so certainly it would be no problem for me to take care of a dog myself, right? How difficult could it be? I knew I wanted a small dog that could sit with me and would follow me around like a little disciple. I thought that Shih-Tzu’s were cute but they were all so expensive. I found a family that was selling Lhasa Apso pups for $75. Sounds great! When I got to the home, there were only two puppies left. I chose a black and white one. I named her Cricket. When I first got Cricket home she ran into the kitchen closet and wouldn’t come out. She wasn’t sure about her new digs and I’m sure she wasn’t sure about her new owner. She had been living the first eight weeks of her life with her mother and remaining siblings, so life was good. She stayed in that closet the entire weekend and wouldn’t come out. I would literally have to go in and get her to take her outside. Monday morning came quickly and I wasn’t sure if I should give her free reign of the house. Our dogs at home spent most of their time outside. I lived in an apartment so this was going to be a totally different experience. What the heck. She hadn’t yet come out of the closet so I thought she’d be ok. Just in case, though, I put some chairs up to block the living room from the kitchen. If she decided to come out of the closet, she’d be in the kitchen away from everything else.
I thought this might be enough so I went to work confidently. When I got home, I had quite a surprise waiting for me. Little Miss Cricket had jumped over the chairs and totally rearranged my living room. She had dragged the kitchen rugs into the living room. She had knocked her food bowl around until all the food and water was on the floor. She had even gone into the hall bathroom and dragged those rugs into the living room. It looked like someone had broken into my apartment and redecorated! It was amazing! This timid, scared little eight-week old dog had turned into a furry interior decorator. That would be the beginning of many great adventures with Cricket. She went everywhere with me. She was a great travel dog. She and I would share Skittles as we drove three hours to Dallas to visit friends. When I moved to DC, she was a champ and adjusted well to city life. We experienced our first snow together. We experienced a lot of firsts together. I’ll never forget the day I came home from vacation, picked Cricket up from her vet, and was told that she had about a month to live. They had found cancer during her annual checkup. I was totally devastated. I tried to be tough and act like most people I know. She was just a dog, right? I couldn’t afford chemotherapy treatments to extend her life for a couple months. So I tried to make her as comfortable as I could. I was being selfish. I needed her to be there for me, even though I knew she was in a lot of pain. I was in denial. Cancer? She couldn’t have cancer. People get cancer…not dogs. There must have been some mistake. Cricket’s breathing became increasingly difficult and she was losing her hair and control of her bladder. I could tell that it was time for me to do the hardest thing I’d ever have to do. The night before I took her to her vet, we played and took pictures together. I fed her table food! All the things she wasn’t allowed to eat before.
The next morning I drove Cricket to her vet. She was barely breathing. She had the look in her eyes that begged to relieve the pain she was in. The vet asked me if I wanted to stay with her while they put her down. They said it wouldn’t hurt and that she would just go to sleep. As much as my gut told me to stay with her, I couldn’t. I was very afraid of death then, even for dogs. I later regretted that decision. It bothered me that the last thing she saw of me was me leaving her alone in that room. I know and you know that she probably didn’t see it that way. But I saw it that way, and I felt so guilty for the longest time. I composed myself and went to work. But I couldn’t work. I cried the entire day. I cried when I thought of her for months afterwards. I felt like a part of me had died. That dog was my best friend. Ride or die. She had been through everything with me. I swore after she died, I’d never get another dog.
Until Nicky came along. It was maybe a year after Cricket’s death. My ridiculous relationship had ended, and I had gotten tired of coming home to an empty house. Nicky was the cutest black long-haired miniature Dachshund you’d ever want to see. I couldn’t imagine why a co-worker would want to give him away, but I soon found out. That dog was like Chucky. He was into everything and had a mind of his own. Nicky liked to ride in the back window of the car. He was a little thing with a small bladder so I had to walk him more often than Cricket. He could be giving you sweet kisses one minute, and snapping at your ankles the next. It was apparent that Nicky had been taken away from his mother too young, because he had this habit of “nursing” on his comforter. Yes…his comforter. Nicky had a comforter that his owner gave to me. He loved that comforter. He’d drag it all over the house. And when he was bored he’d lay on it, bunch a piece of it in his mouth, and suck on it while he “kneaded” it with his little paws as if it were his mommy’s stomach. It was so funny! Don’t dare try to take the comforter away because he’d chase you around until you gave it back. One day I made the mistake of allowing Nicky to lie on my comforter from my bed after I washed it. He immediately claimed it as his. One day I heard a ripping sound coming from my bedroom. Nicky was trying to remove “his” new comforter from my bed with his little teeth. He was yanking and pulling that comforter with all his might. But because it was draped over my bed, it was ripping as he pulled and pulled.
Nicky was a loving dog, but he was also very demanding. He wanted to play as soon as I walked in the door from work. He would sit in front of me with his towel that he loved to play a rough game of tug with. If I didn’t immediately join into the game, he’d whine and whimper until I gave in. If whimpering didn’t work, he’d sit up on his back legs with his tongue hanging out. I’d either have to play or endure his whimpering which drove me nuts! I was preparing to move to Atlanta, which is what eventually caused me to give him to an elderly lady in Louisiana. Nicky couldn’t withstand another move. He needed a house with kids or someone who was home all the time. I just hope that lady took good care of my dog. Even though I knew I couldn’t keep him, I was sad to see him go.
I hesitated to get another dog because it really is like having a child. You can’t just get up and go. There are expenses you must consider. CeCe will eat and go to the doctor before I do. She must get groomed at least every three months. I can’t tell you the last time I went to get my hair done. When I first got CeCe I threatened to send her back to my mother every day. I wasn’t handling being tied down well, and to be honest…I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another dog. CeCe looks just like Cricket. I wonder if that means anything. Now…I am hopelessly in love with her. I miss her terribly. But I know she’s being taken care of well. And I know it’ll be another adjustment period for the both of us when she returns. But it’ll be all good.