Thursday, November 15, 2012

Those Quirks You Love

In first grade, all I ever wanted was a dog. It was all I ever talked about, all I ever thought about. I was obsessed with 101 Dalmatians. Dalmatians were all over my clothes, from shirts to sweaters to nightgowns. I begged my parents relentlessly for a dog and babbled to my classmates and teachers so much that the lady who helped in my classroom all but threatened my parents: “You are going to get her a dog, aren’t you?”

I was six years old. I was thinking of the happy years ahead, of playing with a puppy and petting my dog--my dog, not someone else’s. It could sleep in my bed. I could hug it and snuggle with it and everything would be perfect.

Well, we ended up with Ashes--not a Dalmatian, but a more manageable-sized Lhasa Apso/Poodle mix. He was sort of an accident. We were dress shopping for a wedding when we walked by the pet store in the mall, and of course my sister and I had to go inside, and there he was in the back of a cage shared with another lively puppy, I can’t remember what kind anymore. I don’t know why we were immediately drawn to him--maybe because he was the smallest one there. But somehow we  ended up getting the manager to take him out and let us play with him.




The first thing he did was bite me. And so, after playing a while, we drove home pestering my mom the whole way and, as soon as we got out of the car, started in on my dad too. And later that night Ashes sat in my mom’s lap while my dad ran into Walmart for puppy supplies.

He never did sleep in my bed. More often than not when I tried to hug him he bared his teeth and growled. Forget about tug of war--reach for his toy and you’d get your hand snapped at. In fact once he drew blood when I carelessly got too close without realizing he was having his “toy time.” And after the initial puppy stages he only ever really snuggled with my mom.

He was grumpy. When he wanted food he would repeatedly unleash piercing howls until you just wanted to wire his jaw shut. He was also the cutest dog ever to walk the face of the earth, and he knew it. But above all that, despite his not-so-sunshiny personality, he was loveable, unbearably so, and we all loved him.

Sudden death is a blessing. Watching someone you love roll with ever increasing steadiness toward the end of life is one of the hardest things you can face. Ashes was always at a disadvantage, with malformed legs and a really long back. He was on joint medication for years, but over the past year his prescriptions started piling up. He lost weight, then stopped eating his regular food. He tolerated canned food for a while, then only hamburger and rice; eventually the rice had to be replaced by noodles, and finally all he would even pick at was hot dogs. He spent increasing portions of the day asleep in his bed. He couldn’t go up or down stairs anymore. His kidneys were failing. He very likely had some sort of malignancy.

His ears were failing, his memory not what it used to be. His eyes were cloudy and, the very last time I saw him, already somewhere far away as if trying to escape the pain. I don’t think he really knew I was there. It was time, but that didn’t make it easier to say goodbye.

Now Missy comes to the door alone when I get home. She’s lonely, but coping. She was always number two, and now she has to learn how to beg for treats on her own. No tag-teaming with Ashes, pretending they have to go potty at different times because they both get food each time one of them does. (Who says animals aren’t smart??) Like the rest of us, she is adjusting to a new normal.

There is a hole in our lives where Ashes used to bite, beg, and on rare and special occasions, allow a hug or snuggle. But he’s far from gone, because those special moments bring him to life in another way. There never was, and never will be, another quite like him. He was one of a kind, and I will always love him for it.



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