At four-thirty this afternoon a lady from The Az Border Collie Rescue is coming to our house to do a home inspection. I have my eye on a frisbee rascal named Lou. He’s cremesicle colored–a ginger, he’s orange and white— and he is a very handsome boy.
But I’m terrified. What if I can’t take care of him? What if I want to go out of town and I can’t find anyone to watch him? What if his hair gets matted because I forget to brush him and it gets so bad that it starts to grow into his skin instead of out of his skin, and the circulation to his vital organs gets cut off and he gets ischemic bowel and dies? What if we are hiking and I let him off the leash, and he runs into a cactus and pokes his eyes out? Or what if he comes across a herd of hungry coyotes and they tear him to shreds? What if he jumps our block fence one day while I’m at work cause he’s bored and wants to go to work? What if he runs out on 7th street and gets hit by a car? What if he gets cancer!#?$#!
Why am I freaking out? What’s the big deal, right? People get dogs everyday. Dogs and their owners are everywhere, they look quite relaxed and happy walking down the bridal path by our house. I watch them with a smile on my face, and a tug in my heart because I really, really, really want a pooch, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to make a commitment cause I have more scary thoughts rustling around my head than I have logic. People with less money, lower IQ’s, and smaller hearts seem to do an a-ok job of dog rearing. They don’t worry like this, they don’t think so much about all of the terrible things that can happen to their best friend, do they?
I’m an awesome dog mom. I’ve had dogs. I’ve jumped into the role without much thought. The first time was when I was 18 and pregnant. My friend Robin dragged me to The Humane Society to “look” at dogs because she said that she really wanted one. So, off we go, me about 6 months pregnant with a baby I was giving up for adoption, to do some window shopping at the animal shelter, and about an hour later out I come holding an 8 week old female border collie that we named Shonti, a word that means peace in Sanskrit.
And it was fine. It was better than fine. I obsessed over her care. My boyfriend David and I poured all of our parental love and care into this black and beige creature. She was mostly black with little beige eyebrows, beige paws and neck and a tuft of white on her chest. Right from the start she would fetch just about anything: sticks, balls, shoes, rocks, whatever. I taught her how to roll over! She would catch a few feet of air catching frisbees and balls. When she got to be about 6 months old, David taught her how to jump seven foot block walls. My life was centered around Shonti and her needs. I always had to go straight home after work, because Shonti needed to walk and to play fetch. About a year after Katie was born, David and I broke up after he started behaving like a felon again. I kicked him out and kept Shonti. I would say, “Shonti, do you want to go to Petsmart? Her ears would perk up, and off she’d run to fetch her leash. Our neighbors had a grey and white cat that Shonti loved to play with. The little girl who owned the cat would come knock on my door and ask if Shonti could come put and play. I’d let her out to wrestle with the cat in the grassy courtyard. It was clear that Shonti and kitty were having some kind of cross-species love affair, non-sexual of course.
In my twenties I didn’t stay single for long, and as soon as David was gone, his spot was soon filled by Brent. Brent took me skiing one winter, and I left Shonti with my friend Maria. We had been friends since we were thirteen, and she knew that this dog was my world. I had a terrible time in the snow with Brent, falling down and tossing my ski poles uphill and then having to retrieve them. I hated the snow and even though it was only for a weekend, I hated being away from my dog.
I called Maria as soon as I got home. I said, “I know you want to keep her, but I’m coming to get Shonti!” She didn’t say anything, I heard an exhale escaping from deep in her belly. “I’m so sorry, but Shonti jumped the fence while we were at dinner……” I couldn’t hear the rest, I started screaming, and I threw the phone on the floor. Brent picked it up and got the rest of the story while I rolled around on the floor screaming, almost unable to breathe. Shonti had jumped the block fence in Maria’s back yard. They looked everywhere for her, and then they called animal control. Shonti’s body had been picked up off the road, and her tags had identified her as my dog. The vision of my sweet girl running down the road and looking for me was like a knife twisting in my heart. Shonti was gone. Just like that. She was about 2 years old.
A few days later, the little girl with the cat knocked on my door and asked me if Shonti could come out and play. I told her that I was so sorry, but Shonti had to go to heaven. I can’t remember her reaction because I was crying and I shut the door in a hurry.
Brent and I stayed together for almost ten years. I talked him into adopting a puppy when we were on about year 9. My friend Kristin’s Samoyed, Sadie, had puppies. She bred with a yellow lab, and the puppies looked sweet enough to eat. Fat, white and fluffy, they were sugary clouds with puppy breath. We named our cloud Liberty, “Libby” for short. Brent set down some rules. No puppy on the furniture, and absolutely no puppy in the bed. After experiencing one night of not being able to sleep because the puppy was crying, Libby found her sleeping spot on our bed, right in-between Brent and I. She also found her way onto Brent’s belly while he rested on the sofa. Libby ruled the roost! I got up early every morning and drove twenty minutes each way to take her to a dog park in Awatukee, where she loved to play fetch and play with the other dogs.
When Libby was about 4 months old, Brent got into an accident in his Unimog. A Unimog is a giant WWII army staff vehicle made by Mercedes. Brent dug the hell out of his toy, and drove it to happy hour one night, where he drank enough to roll the “MOG” and get taken to the Tempe police station. No one else was hurt, and Brent refused to be taken to the hospital. I picked him up at 3am. He smelled like gasoline and had gauze wrapped around his head. When I got him home, after some prodding on my part, he finally let me look at it. This was before I was a nurse, but I knew it was bad. His ear was hanging off his head, and there was so much blood, I thought for sure he was a goner. I wouldn’t let him go to sleep, afraid he wouldn’t wake up. He still refused to go to the hospital, so I called his mom, and she came over to drag him to the ED.
Brent had plastic surgery on his ear and received a triple DUI for his stupidity. But something else happened as a result of his head injury. Something tragic that I was never able to (until recently) forgive him for.
I was working as a bartender at Barmouche, a hip little joint owned by one of the valley’s celebrity chefs. We served champagne flights and European inspired comfort food. 3 nights after Brent’s accident, I was getting ready to go home, and was turning in my bar bank to my manager. I walked down the hall to his office, and one of the swinging glass doors of the restaurant slammed shut. It was late June, and we were having a monsoon. I had just hung up the phone with Brent to let him know I was coming home soon. I asked him, “What’s Libby doing?” he replied, “We’re outside watching the storm come in, and Libby is chasing a bougainvillea leaf!” I always called him before I left work so he could wait for me and open our front gate so I wouldn’t have to get out of my car. We lived in South Phoenix in a great old cottage-style house that we bought from the original owners of Changing Hands, my favorite local independent bookstore, but South Phoenix is a pretty rough part of town.
The slamming door caused me to stop in my tracks. I felt that slam from the wind all over my body, it scared me.
When I got home, I was walked up the sidewalk to our house. The wind was still blowing, but it hadn’t started raining yet. Brent was standing in the doorway by himself, “where’s Libby.” He started shaking his head and crying. “I left the gate open, and she got out…” I threw my purse on the ground and started to scream. It was happening again. She got hit by a car. We lived on a very busy street, and I was a freak about keeping the gates closed and locked. I was a nut about Libby’s safety. We fought about it all the time. Once we went camping at The Mogollon Rim, and we fought because Brent kept throwing balls for her too close to the rim’s edge, and I was terrified she would jump off trying to get the ball. He thought I was overprotective and I thought he was careless.
It started to rain. Brent had his license suspended because of his DUI’s, but I didn’t give a shit. I made him gather up Libby in a sheet and drive us to her funeral. He grabbed a shovel, I grabbed all of her toys, and we drove to the dog park in a monsoon with Libby in the bed of Brent’s truck. We climbed up a foothill and I held a flashlight while Brent dug a Libby sized hole. The ground was wet and so were our faces. He placed Libby in her grave overlooking her favorite place, and I left her favorite toys on the picnic bench where all the dogs and their people gathered.
We adopted Libby’s brother on the Fourth of July, just 4 days after her death. We weren’t supposed to keep Justice, but we did. I asked if we could just “borrow” him, cause we missed Libby so much. Justice never went back. He looked just like Miss Libby, all goofy and golden.
Brent and I broke up about a year later. He kept Justice since he kept the house. I know now that Brent most likely suffered a closed head injury, and that he would have never left that gate open under normal circumstances. I’m not going to go into the details of how odd he became after his accident, because this post is about DOGS!… Not ex-boyfriends, and all the complexities of emotions related to boy/girl relationships, but I do forgive him now, finally, all these years later.
Since Justice, I haven’t had another dog. Not one of my own. I’ve taken care of friend’s dogs and I’ve loved them. I’ve had boyfriends with mutts, and I’ve loved them too. But, until now, I haven’t ever had one of my own. Even Shonti, Libby, and Justice were shared with a boyfriend. I have friends who promise to be “auntie’s” to my new buddy, but ultimately, I’m the one responsible for taking care of the beast.
The losses add up, not just the fuzzy ones, but all of them. Somewhere inside of me I’m trying to minimize them, if I don’t love something so much, then I won’t have to suffer when they’re gone. Losing a dog you love is crushing, losing a parent is hard, and losing a child is too. I’ve lost all of these things and more. But, fuck it. What else is there besides love? And, yeah, it hurts when something or someone you love goes away, but sequestering yourself from love to stay safe is no way to live. Only dipping your toes in the waters of love is only dipping your toes. I want to get soaked, I want to splash around in the water with my dog and with you too. Why the hell not? Maybe this is a step towards a relationship with a human/man type. Maybe losing Brent was a bigger hit than I once thought. Maybe I’ve been protecting myself from that kind of love too. I’m scared, but I’m also excited!
There’s nothing like the unconditional love of god…I mean dog:)