Friday, July 8, 2011

A Tale of a Tail

On Christmas Eve 2002 I went shopping at the Millcreek Mall in Erie. I would always go by the pet shop because for so many years I had wanted a dog and my mom wouldn’t let me because she said I was not ready for the amount of work they are. I never agreed with her decision, I always thought I would be a great pet owner. At the time, I had a hamster but it was far trivial to what I would find that day.

My boyfriend (at the time was with me and was annoyed when I went into the store once again because he said “you’ll never buy one”). Sort of like that song How much is that doggie in the window was how it started, the sales girl got out the little black and white dog who was in the front window that weighed no more than two pounds and led us to a visiting room. (At the time, I was ignorant to the concept of puppy mills or any of the health problems that pure breed animals have, all I knew was a Shih Tzu was a lap dog and would be there no matter what.) After over a half hour and peeing on my shoe, I couldn’t let go of the dog. I’m not sure why, I had been in that store dozens of times and been able to walk out but that day, I couldn’t. I asked how much she was and the sales girl said $1000 plus tax. That sure was a lot of money for a girl who was working through college full-time, but I had just moved into a new apartment with my best friend Denise and my boyfriend and like I said… I couldn’t let that dog go. I maxed out both the credit cards I had and the little dog came home with us. I remember the drive home; she snuggled up to me and then tried to climb on the dashboard. We both laughed because she was so determined to enjoy that ride.

My roommate Denise was thrilled; it never occurred to us that we would have any problems with the landlord because the lady upstairs had a dog. So we put a training pad in the hallway for accidents and the fun began. We couldn’t figure out a name for her the first day and we knew it was important to name her something good - so we decided to wait and see what she was like. Christmas day, I had got what I always wanted… I woke up with a little 2lb puppy curled up on the pillow next to my head. My family did not like my boyfriend (they had good reason, but I’ll get to that momentarily). As I drove home for Christmas I really didn’t want to stay long because I couldn’t wait to return so see my baby. My parents were annoyed that I had purchased a dog, but it didn’t affect them – I lived in an apartment. Christmas night I returned to find my boyfriend and the little pup on the couch watching Lara Croft Tomb Raider. That little dog loved that movie; she kept hopping down off the couch and putting her paws on the screen. So it was - she had picked her name Lara.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to try to potty train her but having no experience and a constantly changing schedule – it made it very difficult. (Having 3 jobs and a full college schedule will do that.) But every moment I could I would spend with that little pup. I would come home to find her lying on the top of a chair around my boyfriend’s neck because she was cold. About a month later, it happened.... I received a call from my landlord who was livid saying I had snuck a dog into my apartment and the dog had to go, now. I didn’t know what to do, I debated with her and mentioned the lady upstairs and she replied, "that woman is old and lives by herself." Your letting the dog pee in my hallway, I explained it was a training pad for accidents – but it was no matter, she didn’t care. She told me to return the dog to the store, completely distraught I told her I would rather move out than do that to an animal.

As soon as I got off the phone, my boyfriend threw a fit, (he did that a lot) he hit me and said "You are stupid to think you could have a dog and not ask." Then he picked her up and threw her across the room. At that moment, I realized I didn’t deserve his abuse and neither did she. I grabbed her and a bag of clothes, her food and got in my car and drove away. I didn’t get very far because I had nowhere to go, I only had my best friend Denise and she was going to be upset I had left her with an apartment bill. My parents had said as long as my boyfriend and I were together I was not welcome to live with them. I thought, well, we weren’t together anymore maybe I could persuade them.

I called my mom. I remember the conversation, she knew something was wrong and didn’t ask what. I said, “Can I come spend the night?”

She said, “of course.”

I said, “I need to bring Lara.”

She said, “Absolutely not.”

I burst into tears; I cried “you’ll love her... just if you give her a chance.”

My mom sighed, “ok bring the dog… she better not pee in my house.”

We arrived at my home and I brought Lara in, my mom looked at her and Lara proceeded to circle her feet lovingly… then about 3 minutes later she peed on the floor. My mom was mad, cleaned it right away and so I said I would hold her all night and it wouldn’t happen again. So I went into the Florida room (a second living room that had a winter heater in it) with Lara and sat with my parents. They didn’t really say much for a while, but exchanged glances across the room several times. Lara snuggled with me on the couch, curled up in a ball right by my face.

Finally, my mom spoke, “Is it over?”

I said, “Yes, but I don’t have anywhere to go.”

She looked at me in confusion and said, “You are always welcome here.”

I smiled, “And Lara?...”

She replied with a small sigh, “and Lara too…”

My dad said, “Let me see the little hairball.”

I handed her to my dad (and of course) she peed on him too. He laughed and said "well I guess she’s a Butler now." I had about another year and a half of college left, my mom was always at home - so she trained Lara to pee outside (not that there weren’t accidents, there were) but for as much as she didn’t want to love that little pup… she did. Lara ate well, every night my parents and I would have dinner - she would sit and beg with those big eyes and someone would hand down food.

The day I graduated, I took pictures with my parents and pictures with Lara. That little dog loved ice cream and she got it regularly. Everywhere I would go, she would go too. At least once a week we would visit the pet shop and get her favorite treats, she was so happy.

After graduating, I got a job as a reporter for the weekly newspaper in my town. It didn’t pay well but the managing editor would let me bring Lara to work to sit on my desk. Lara loved going to work with me and I loved having her at work. So did anyone else who would come into the office, she was the little yippy dog that told you hello. After about a year of working there, the managing editor got another job and left the paper… knowing this was an opportunity, I applied for her job and was interim editor for three months, then finally managing editor. (I, of course, said all pets were welcome at work anytime.)

My mom was thrilled I had done so well - only a year after graduating. I decided I should go to graduate school for communications; it seemed like the next best step. I began graduate school in the summer evenings of 2004. My daily routine consisted of going to work, opening the office, having lunch with my mom and Lara, working until five and then heading to school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Lara became very much a part of my mom’s daily routine, she would follow her everywhere.

After finishing my first graduate course, I came home happily to announce I had received an A and my parents were sitting in the living room. I excitedly told them "I got an A" and waited for a thrilled reaction, but only received it from my mom. My dad burst into tears, Lara sat on the couch next to my mom. My mom asked me to sit next to her, so I picked Lara up and began petting her and asked what was wrong. My mom said three days prior, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only about three months to live. My mom was reserved and dignified, my dad and I were crushed and lost.

She said “I understand if you want to put graduate school on hold but I think you should continue because it makes you so happy.” I was so confused, Lara could sense it. I went to my room with Lara and curled up and cried. Lara cuddled closer, she knew. I think she knew my mom was sick long before we did and that’s why she pushed her way into my mom’s life. The months to follow are clear but a blur to me (if that makes any sense at all). I went through the processes but I was not mentally there. I continued grad school because that was what I knew my mom wanted for me. But there was never a moment that Lara left my mom’s side, even when hospice came in – Lara would sit on the end of the bed to guard my mom from the nurses. My dad would have to hold her, to calm her, because she thought the nurses were hurting my mom.

When my mom passed, Lara was devastated. (We all were.) Lara didn’t eat for a week, so my dad would hand feed her because we were afraid she too wanted to just be with my mom. My dad, who was retired, decided not to return to his part-time job and spent most of his time with Lara. Then at night, I would sleep with her and snuggle. We had all shared in a huge loss; Lara was there for both me and my dad – that remained the constant variable between us if there was nothing else.

Shortly after my mom’s passing, I got mixed up in a mess of things between crashing my car, losing my job (which wasn't my fault) but it hurt just the same, and fighting with my best friend Gina. My life had become a cluster of bad decisions. The only one - that remained right - was Lara by my side. For as much as I was lonely, she was always there. We shared pizza rolls, TV, and every moment I wasn’t working, at school or doing something I wasn't supposed to.

About a year after my mom had passed, my dad asked me if I would mind if he went out on a date, I was reluctant but I wanted my dad to be happy again. Before I knew it, he was spending time with someone significant and it was just Lara and I.

One night I was out with a friend and I met this guy. On a whim and a bet, I went back to his house, where we talked for hours… then I said I want you to meet my dog. So he rode along with me to my house late that night to meet Lara. We continued to talk for hours and hours, I never felt so comfortable talking to someone than I did with him. His name was Zach Williams. It wasn’t long before we decided to get married and I was pregnant. From the moment we met, a day didn’t go by where Zach, Lara and I weren’t together. We moved out of my dad’s basement and into an apartment of our own. My pregnancy was a rough one; I was hypertensive and placed on bed rest when I was around six and a half months pregnant. It was lonely to be at home, day in and day out, stuck in a bed, but Lara was there and never missed a beat to cuddle with me and make my day brighter despite my position.

During the winter Zach would have to shovel Lara a path in the snow because it would get so deep. It was funny to watch her in the snow, she would hop around her path like a little bunny and then come inside and demand to be snuggled until she was dry. Even in the summers, I remember being in our family pool and Lara had her own mini raft to lay on because she always hated getting her feet wet.

It wasn’t long before a baby girl named Nina joined the family. Lara adopted Nina like a little pup. She would snuggle up to her and Zach in bed to stay warm. She loved being under the blanket cuddled up. There were always four in our king size bed. As Nina got older, she would sneak food to Lara. Lara had allergies to a lot of food, but that didn’t stop either of them from being tricky to sneak each other treats. One of the fondest memories I have is seeing Nina in her walker and she would make the kissy sound (Lara would pop up out of nowhere) on only her to back paws, Nina would cheer and give her a cheerio. What a wonderful moment to share.

We moved to Arizona because I was offered a job in my field and we were together a great family. We bought a house and Zach was a stay-at-home dad who took excellent care of Nina and Lara.

Over the last year, I knew Lara was getting older and I had always wanted to let her have a puppy friend, so we bought Belle. Belle is a Siberian Husky Wolf mix, she was rambunctious and loved chasing that little dog around and Lara loved nipping her when she had a chance.

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011, particularly on Sunday I was cuddled up to Lara on the bed when Zach said to me, “You know, I get it.”

I said, “Get what?”

He said, “You and Lara, I’ve tried all day to make you happy and you remained down but as I sit here and watch you two, I see how significant she is to you… and when she’s gone, you can get another little stinky dog if you want.”

I said, “I don’t want to even think about that.”

The next evening we went to the fourth of July fireworks and when we returned home, Lara hadn’t moved from the spot she was in when we left – which was very odd because she always greeted me at the door. Moments later, she peed and I noticed it was pinkish. I began to cry, Zach checked her.... her paws, ears and mouth were pink and he said “We will take her to the vet in the morning, she still has color… it’s probably nothing serious.”

Within the next eight hours, she went from sick to dying. I wasn’t ready, not that anyone ever is ready, but the vet said he’d try to give her a boost but we would know by the next day whether or not it would work.

That night Nina and I slept on the couch next to Lara. In the early morning hours Lara tried to walk to the area she was allowed to potty and didn’t make it past our living room TV. By this point, I knew she was suffering and I couldn’t let such a devoted companion suffer, so I made the hardest phone call of my life. I scheduled the appointment to put her to sleep. From the moment she was ill until the moment we last saw her, she had someone petting and holding her. I know in my heart she felt loved, I also know that if she wasn’t in my life – it would have been vastly different. My husband became the strongest person I had ever met; we understood each other in ways prior I hadn’t believed were possible. Lara remained dignified right up until the end. I cried the rest of that day.

I spent most of the next day trying to figure out how I was supposed to feel and how I should be grieving because the best friend I had relied on through so many tough times was gone. I found this quote today: “The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that.” -Eckhart Tolle