I’m a dog person. Perhaps I could have been a cat person, but cats make my eyes burn like Vesuvius and my nose pour like Niagara Falls. So dog person it is. I’ve known a lot of dogs in my life, and I’ve been incredibly blessed to have shared my home and my family with three very special dogs.
IMO, dogs are powerful healing machines. I’ve felt a love from each one of my three that is unlike any other. It’s a love that inspires me to spread gratitude and compassion to everyone around me.
June holds some meaningful memories for me and my dogs, and this blog is for them.
When I was in ninth grade, my family got the runt of a Lab/Shephard litter. My parents named him Sam. He was considered a family dog; he loved everyone in the family, but I became his person.
Those high school years were tough for me. I am the youngest of three siblings, and my brother and sister were out of the house, living their own lives by then. I was left without any allies to deal with our alcoholic dad who — every day — played fetch with my emotions and self-esteem. At the same time, my mom was strict like a Catholic school nun. As such, I didn’t have a lot of friends.
Sam and I spent a lot of time hiding in my bedroom. Our house was filled with tension and fear, and I was lost and lonely. He was there for me to pet when I was sad or anxious, or he’d just stay by my side and rest his chin on me when I was too distracted to see him. Just so I wouldn’t feel alone. Sam became my emotional life preserver.
When I left for college, Sam relied on my mom (and she on him), but on weekends when I came home to visit, he greeted me like no one else in the family could. I began spending more and more time at school; Sam and I spent less and less time together, but he was always there to give me the best greeting whenever I came home.
When I was 24, I moved back home again; Sam was around nine or ten years old. He and I picked right back up as best friends like we had never been apart. Then the following year, my mom decided to divorce my dad. The plan was that my dad would get his own condo; my mom and I would move in with my sister, her husband and my two-year-old niece, and Sam would go live with my brother, his fiancé, and their two dogs.
I was heartbroken over being separated from Sam again. Probably more so than when I went to college. My brother and his fiancé were dog lovers, obviously, but their two dogs were bigger and rougher than Sam. I was sleeping one night in my bedroom in my sister’s house and suddenly it seemed like Sam was on the bed with me, the way he’d always been anytime we were sleeping in the same house together.
I was sobbing a little, and I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m so sorry that you couldn’t come with me and that you got shipped to that house with those two big dogs, and I bet you never get any peace and, they’re probably messing with your food and water and toys all the time. I’m so worried about you, and I just want you to know that I love you and I hope you’re OK. Are you OK?”
Sam’s warm, dark eyes consoled me, and in a deep but kind voice he said to me, “Yea…”
Sam lived there with my brother for a few years, but one day my brother called and said he didn’t think Sam was doing so well. The vet determined that Sam had lung issues (no doubt from my parents’ chain-smoking). He told my brother and me what to watch for and that when it gets to the point when Sam is struggling too much with everyday stuff, we should bring him back.
My brother and I gave Sam all the love we had those last few days, and the rest of the family stopped by to say farewell. When we took Sam back to the vet’s office, as we sat in the waiting room, despite his suffering, Sam did everything he could to look strong and happy and to make us smile. Then when Sam was on the vet’s table, my brother and I hugged him and pet him and cried until the vet let us know that Sam had taken his last difficult breath. Then we cried some more.
Sam loved pork chop bones and playing hide-and-seek. His love for me had given me security and taught me courage on some of my scariest days and nights, and I will never forget that.
I bought a condo when I was 27. I lived there by myself less than six months when I decided I needed a companion, so I completed a greyhound adoption form. I asked for the smallest one they had. That was Gabbie. She was 50 pounds, which is as small as a full-grown greyhound should be.
I got her the month that she turned two years old. That was the minimum time an owner would hold a greyhound. If the dog hadn’t earned the owner enough money by then, they were out. So Gabbie’s size was likely her greatest gift. She didn’t have a single racing scar on her, so perhaps she either never raced because of her size, or if she did race, she was so far behind the pack that she missed all the action.
When I brought her home for the first time, she didn’t know how to go up stairs; she had never seen herself in a mirror. She didn’t know what it meant to be a pet. She didn’t come near me for two weeks. I sat on the couch one day crying because I had gotten a dog to keep me company, but all she did was lay by herself in the bedroom.
Then once she came out, she became one of the best friends I ever had. She was an incredibly graceful, poised and polite creature. Gabbie brought a lot of class to our relationship.
She saw me through a couple of break-ups. She met my future husband and loved him as much as I do. She moved with us into our first house. I had been telling her for years that one day I’d get her a yard to run in, and I was so overjoyed to see her do just that for the first time.
She was with me through two pregnancies, and she was by my side as I took care of my young sons.
Then one day I was standing on the edge of the kitchen, getting water from the fridge dispenser, and I caught sight of Gabbie as she paused on the stairway landing before coming all the way down. Immediately I knew. How could I have missed it? I was so occupied all the time with my sons that I wasn’t noticing her health failing until that moment — when I knew it was too late.
It was almost the same story with the vet as had been the case with Sam. They told me her bloodwork indicated a severe battle with cancer; if they had to guess, they’d say it was in her stomach. For two straight weeks, anytime I was anywhere that was not in front of my sons or coworkers, I was crying. How could I have let her down like that?
Finally on a Saturday morning in June (it was the summer solstice, in fact), I woke up and knew it was time. Gabbie was 15 years old. She had become a great friend to our seven-year-old son (our four-year-old son was still too young), so I had to tell him how very sick she was before I left with her. I’ll never forgot returning from the vet and coming in the door. My son met me half-way up the stairs and saw that I had Gabbie’s collar in my hand.
I didn’t have to say a word. I can still hear him say to me, “But I wasn’t ready for this to be the last day!”
Gabbie loved running, big soft dog beds, and all of her toys. Her love for me gave me purpose when I needed to feel relevant, and I will never forget that.
Gabbie had been gone a few years when my family and I moved into our forever home. We all could feel that our family needed another dog to be complete.
While my husband looked online at every dog listed by every animal rescue in a 50-mile radius, I was seeing redheads everywhere. I’d be doing ordinary, everyday stuff when suddenly I’d see Seth Green in my head. Or I’d turn on the TV and Sean White was being interviewed.
I said to my friends, “I have no idea who’s about to come into my life, but I know they are going to have red hair.”
On Father’s Day, my husband got us all in the car, and we headed to a local shelter. We were going to meet a puppy named Tammy that had been rescued with two brothers from the side of a road. When we arrived, the shelter staff took us to a visitation room and they came walking in with the most pitiful dog I ever saw.
She was small and scrawny and shivering. None of us wanted to pet her because her head was all wet and gross. We all looked at each other with a universal look of “uh-uh” and asked if we could see a few other dogs. They said sure; first they’d put Tammy back and then come get us to walk through the kennel.
When we entered the kennel, the first stall on the left had three puppies. In the middle was skinny little Tammy with her two big, plump brothers on either side of her. Each brother had one of Tammy’s ears in their mouths.
Now I could see it. This sweet girl wasn’t pathetic at all. She was stuck living with two brothers who were torturing her and eating her share of the dog food. I couldn’t let her endure that bullying for one more second. I didn’t check with my family for agreement or reinforcement. I simply turned to the staff person and said, “She’s coming home with us right now!”
The name Tammy didn’t suit this smart, resilient, soft auburn girl. We considered all the names for redheads: Ginger, Scarlett, Apple, Copper… We finally settled on Rosie.
She is unlike any dog I’ve ever known. The first few weeks she was with us, I used to look her in the eyes and ask, “Who’s in there?” It felt like there were things about me that she just knew.
Rosie is eight now, and she loves ear and belly rubs, playing fetch and family dance parties.
I’m grateful for every day I have to share with her. She’s Zen in a fur coat. She entices me to be calm and mindful. She makes it possible for anyone to love as much as she loves.
So those are the stories of my dogs. I hope you have someone in your life who loves you and inspires you to love others as much as these three have done for me.
Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…