I love my dog. I have loved him since the moment I first held him, swearing to my mom and dad that I did not want a puppy, goddammit. We had two cats, and I was not going to get attached to the little red bugger in my hand, growling at me even as he slept.
When I was little, we had two Irish setters. My brother is a hunter, and he wanted hunting dogs. Rusty was a beautiful fool. He spooked at any loud noise and darted for any opening in his kennel. We even have pictures of him on the roof of their garage. He jumped from the top of his doghouse. Kelsey was a fierce killer. She was also gun shy, but she made up for it by killing any animal that moved. Cats. Rats. Small children getting off the bus. (My backpack saved me!)
Kelsey lived until 1990. She waited for my brother to return from Iraq, and they had one of those dog and people reunions that make people cry. Kelsey died in peace, knowing he was safe.
Around that same time, my mom’s cousin found a little tick-ridden white-yellow lab on the bank of the Iowa River, and brought her home. Sam protected my parents’ house for close to twelve years before she passed away.
On the day before Thanksgiving, 2002, my parents drove to Oskaloosa after seeing another white lab mix on the ARL’s website. Her name was Cheyenne, but we changed it to Shien.
Here’s where the story gets weird. The ARL vet said to give her two weeks, and then take her in to get her fixed. Um…why wait two weeks?
Well, that gave her enough time to show. She was pregnant. After two weeks, the seven little babies were rolling in her belly.
The firstborn puppy growled at everything that moved, opened his eyes first, and had a heart-shaped husky face. (There was another yellow lab, two Australian shepherds, a rottweiler, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and a golden retriever in the mix. Shien was a busy girl at the ARL!) He had a red coat, and as he grew, his tail curled up over his back. When we visited, we both insisted we weren’t going to take a puppy. We were only one year in our house, and I was starting a new job. We didn’t have time for a puppy.
Red melted my heart with his nasty little growls. He has growled at me since day one, and, fitting the definition of insanity, I have continued to try to make him love me. The fact that he hates me so is the only thing that might save me from completely losing my shit when he’s gone.
That’s the kicker about having pets. They don’t live as long as we do. There’s no way two healthy people in their twenties are going to orphan a dog. With each passing day, I become more and more aware of that fact. We’re in our thirties now, and Red was twelve years old in January. I’d like to think he’s going to live forever. His mommy, Shien, is still with us, after all, and she’s had a harder life, living outside on the farm with my parents.
Then, something like yesterday happens. We came home to a house full of shit, from the couch to the dog bed, through the kitchen to the side door. Somehow, he contained the damage to the first floor, but we weren’t through the rough patch. Lemur took him outside and he puked. And then three times overnight, Red didn’t wake us in time to take him outside.
Miserable. Fucking. Night. Followed by another day of shit and puke while we were gone to work.
This is why we don’t have kids. Neither of us are good at disasters on little sleep. Lemur gets angry. I get whiny. It’s not pretty. Last night, Lemur was a prince, and I lost it.
What if this is the last time he gets sick?
What if we have to say goodbye?
Why do I have such an overactive, worrying imagination?
It will happen when it happens. There’s nothing I can do to stop time. He’s a living creature, not a robot.
He’s not even my dog. He was supposed to be a surprise for me, kidnapped from my parents’ house while I was working one Saturday. However, he and Lemur bonded. The little Red puppy yip, yip, yipped all the way to Des Moines, and then he wanted NOTHING to do with me when I got home. He has been Lemur’s pup ever since.
And yet, I love him more than I love just about anything but Lemur. I can count on him for a good laugh when I lean on him and he growls. That dries my tears faster than anything else.
Get better, puppy. Mama won’t know what to do without you.