A Love Letter To My Dog

 

Bernese Mountain Dog, puppy, 7 weeks old

Image via Wikipedia

 

Dear Callie,

I adopted you from the Briarcliff ASPCA  animal shelter 8 years ago. When I arrived,” just to look”, the manager of the shelter was cuddling two tiny puppies, one on each side of her cheeks. She told me that they never got puppies but you and your sister had just been returned by a man who adopted you at 5 weeks old. He returned after a week to drop you and your sister off because “you were too much trouble.” What did he expect from two 5 week old puppies? You and your sisters and brothers were rejected by your mother who was very tired after having given birth a few years in a row and she would not nurse you. I’m sure in my own psychological, baby heart I related to you, having been born 6 weeks prematurely and in the Neonatal department of the hospital for 5 weeks, away from my own mother. I wanted to save you, to save myself.

You and your sister,  tiny,  black with white and tan spots were handed to me as I sat myself down on the cold, gray concrete floor. You fit into the palm of one hand. One of you ran around, eating electrical wires and trying to escape; the other one walked more tentatively and curled up in  the center of my lap. It was love at first sight. I admit, the other dog was more confident and feisty and she probably would have had fun riding in the car, unlike you.  But, we all know that I’m a softie and when the tiny fluff ball that was you crawled in my lap and sighed with contentment, I did too. We were made for each other, Cal.

When the kids came home from school, in 3rd and 4th grade, you were so tiny that they first thought you were a hamster. For the first week or two I slept downstairs with you on the sofa bed and I treated you as if you were a newborn baby. When you cried I held you, when you whimpered I soothed you and I put a stuffed animal in your crate and the sound of a ticking clock to simulate a heartbeat. You were never a dog that needed to be walked continously you preferred to be at home, safe in our tiny house that was always filled with warmth and lots of love.

You are a natural-born charmer.When we eat dinner you stay near me and you rest your soft, silky neck right on my knee. Oh, you’re a spoiled dog, but you don’t whine or beg, you just look at me tenderly, licking your lips, knowing I will surrender eventually. Who can resist your warm brown dog eyes, the way your fur is outlined  so it looks like you are wearing permanent eye liner. I covet your really long eye lashes that dip and curl.  You eat everything, and you especially love Lorna Doone‘s, spaghetti sauce and blueberries. You’re not a fan of broccoli or pretty much any vegetable that’s not covered in cheese sauce. But, I admit, you eat more things than my two teenage children combined.

I love you, Callie. You are so important to our family; you always have been. The kids used to lie on their stomachs with one arm around you and talk. My son would confide in you when he was furious, my daughter still whispers her secrets in your silky ears. I never knew the meaning of unconditional love before you joined our family. Your fur has white and gray in it now, and you jump more tentatively but that’s alright. We will love you as long as you are with us and long afterwards too.

Snow Dog (Repost)

The Wolf Dog playing with a ball in the snow

Image via Wikipedia

Callie, my beautiful 9-year-old dog lies curled up at the end of my bed; her black, white and tan fur as soft as down feathers.  Her paws are white with tan freckles, her stomach is pure white. Her long tail is like a sweeping paintbrush, like a peacock’s plume, black and tan, its softness tickles my nose.   Sometimes she shudders and shakes when she is sleeping and I reach out to stroke her fur and wake her up; she looks around and stretches one paw directly up into the air and audibly sighs.

Callie knows, instinctively, how I feel;  she is sensitive to my moods and especially to my sorrow.  She jumps up on my bed  and looks at me with her liquid brown eyes, knowingly.   After my father died, Callie spent a lot of time with me, she could comfort me as no one else could. She licked the tears away from my face and would not leave my side until I felt better.  I didn’t need to explain, I didn’t need to talk, she understood my pain at the most primitive level. Her fur was often damp from my tears, my arms curled around her body. Wherever I went, she went; she still follows me everywhere; I still call her “my little shadow.”

Nine years ago I drove to a few shelters, “just looking.” One day I arrived at a shelter to see a woman who worked there cradling two, tiny, adorable puppies in her hands, one to her left cheek, the other to her right. Apparently the pup’s mom had abandoned them and wouldn’t nurse them.  I arrived five minutes after a man who had adopted them for a week came back and brought   the puppies back to the shelter, because “they were too much trouble.”

I sat myself down on the dirty floor and the two, six-week old  puppies were placed next to me.  One was frisky and started eating telephone wires, the other crawled into my lap and stayed. It was love at first sight, for both of us.  I identified with the little ball of mush snuggling into my lap, sighing with contentment; if she had been a cat she would have purred.

I  watch Callie from the window, frolicking in the snow, barking happily, and hopping and skipping like a bunny. Snow is her favorite element and in it she acts like the same young pup we’ve always known.   Her favorite time is when we have a snowstorm and my husband shovels snow directly to her.  She can literally jump up to two feet in the air so she is just about vertical and she yelps and barks with utter joy.

I was never able to understand the bond between a human being and a dog, until we adopted Callie and then I knew what unconditional love was.   My children whisper their secrets to her, I have seen them bend down, close to her ear. She is the keeper of secrets and of sorrow, and she is constantly happy, even if we are away for five minutes, she greets us with great joy.

Now, her once black whiskers are turning white; the fur under her chin has also changed from black to white. My daughter asked me the other day “How long do dogs live?”  It’s the same thing I have thought about from time to time.  I hesitated, and  my daughter said the following:” Mom, I need to know. I need to be prepared.”   I told her what I knew and what the veterinarian had said and that I understood her completely because I needed to be prepared too.  What I did not tell her is that no matter what, you can never be prepared for death. Ever.

My daughter and I and our closest neighbors celebrate her birthday every year on March 1st. We buy her a present or two and she always gets a really good meal. The boys in our family want nothing to do with us. But, for my daughter and me, it’s a celebration of her life, year after year. I hope she is with us for a very long time but when the  day comes, I know that I will always cling to the image in my mind, of my dog, crazy happy, jumping into the air, covered with snowflakes.

newly dedicated to Rosa Michelle

Those 3AM Monsters

I am trying to picture a small, clear glass bowl filled to the top with plump blueberries sprinkled lightly with sugar.  The color, taste and texture of a red-green mango ripened to perfection. I am trying to remember the rare moments in time that life feels perfect. The moon making my bedroom alight as if someone forgot to turn off the downstairs lamp. The first smell of spring after an especially long winter.

When I cannot sleep, like last night between 3am and 6am,  I tried to remember things that make me happy. It doesn’t help me fall asleep but once in a while it fights off the anxiety that lurks in my stomach and slows down the racing of confused mind; I wish I could tell you it worked last night but it didn’t. Nothing did.

Everything seems worse at 3am, doesn’t it? The bed is lumpy and the pillows are too hot, I turn them over and around but nothing works, they are either too plump or not plump enough. Sometimes I take my hand and try to finger the softness of my pink and beige fuzzy blanket, thinking that may calm me down, but no luck.  I reach across the bed to where my husband sleeps and I take my hand and try to wrap it around his arm or lay it on his back; but even that reassurance does not help me chase the terrors away

In the past when I could not sleep I would take my flashlight and sneak down the uneven, noisy, stairs and my dog would follow me. Every time she sees me get up from bed with a flashlight she knows it’s snack time and she joins me; she is my snack buddy. It’s our own little secret and everything I taste, I give her half. A slice of hard salami, a digestive cookie, a slice of sharp orange cheddar cheese, toast with butter. I like our time together, my dog and I. We are both getting older and yet it affects me more to see her almost- white chin, than any wrinkles I may have gathered on my cheeks. I watch my best friend try and jump on my bed and I know it is not as easy as it was when she was much younger. She is turning nine on March 1st and I worry about that too.

Without the sleep I so desperately need everything is dark black and I still feel scared. Breathing exercises don’t work, counting backwards from 5,3066 does not work. I feel frightened and  confused and at 3 in the morning every thought or fear that I have are magnified one hundred percent.  I am anxious, I worry about little things that I need to do, not that they are difficult, just that I have not done them. Everything balloons up with intensity and my body flips from side to side to see if I can find comfort in a different part of the bed, deeper in or throwing off the blankets or taking my night-shirt off.

Children know all about the monsters in the dark. As parents we sweep closets and look under the bed with flashlights and leave a light on in the hall or a nightlight in the corner of a room. We will do anything and everything to make our child feel safe, comforted, cherished and loved. Grown-ups don’t have the privilege of people taking care of us. There is no one to sweep under the beds for us or shout random phrases for the monsters to flee.

We cannot be so easily reassured. We suffer through the hours, the minutes, the seconds, it takes for our brains to slow down; until we are so over- tired that we drift off to sleep without the comfort of knowing it.