My husband and I were more afraid to get a dog than we were to have a child. And we were mighty afraid of being parents.
But our son goaded, pleaded, reasoned and chipped away at our resistance until finally, when he was 14 years old, we agreed to get a puppy.
Of course, we wanted to be persuaded. We had serious dog envy. We would hold out our hands to cold noses, offer up our faces to big wet tongues and get down on a sidewalk to bask in dog love. We barely looked at the owners.
Each winter when we took a trip to see my in laws in Florida we would go to DelRay where there was a pet store (I know, EVIL). This pet shop stayed open late and had a topless wood structure in the center divided with partitions. Each cubicle contained four or five puppies. Unlike other pet shops where puppies played or slept behind glass walls, out of reach unless you were SERIOUS buyers, this Florida pet store let you play with these pups to your hearts’ content. My husband and I were safe because no way could we buy one and bring it back to RI.
One night though, we came close. We found a puppy we loved. We thought about the air plane ride, the logistics and the timing, imagined explaining to our friends that we bought a puppy from a puppy mill even though this place had PROOF that their puppies were not puppy mill puppies. (They were.)
We did not buy a puppy that night. We went to our favorite hotel bar, ordered cosmopolitans for us and a coke for our son, and I wrote a contract on my trusty note pad. We were ready for a dog of our own. I would have naming rights (this was most important). We would try to get a pound puppy. Our son would walk her before and after school. I promised I would be cool and aloof so the dog would love my son more than me.
We tried to get a rescue puppy. We failed.
We got a King Charles Cavalier puppy, a breed we knew from my sister-in-law who had two we adored. I named her Alice.
I was cool and aloof for exactly zero seconds.
Our son trained her. She was a lovable, good dog.
In her puppy years she soon had a medical problem associated with her breed; a bad hip with a scary medical name. She whimpered each time she would jump on or off the couch. It got worse. We took her to the vet and the breeder paid for most of her surgery. She was healed but forever after not much of a jumper. We would lift her on to the couch, into the car, on the bed. It it did not bother her or us.
King Cavalier Spaniels are in-bred. They are also among the sweetest breed around. If every dog has a little wolf inside them, Cavaliers (called Cavs by owners) have the least. One drop of wolf. They have no ambition except to be on or near a lap. Alice was afraid of her own bark. She seemed to have no wolf at all.
We proudly walked her around our block like Rhett Butler taking Bonnie Blue out in her stroller. People stopped their cars to coo at her because she was impossibly cute.
She became part of our lives the way pets do. You leave lights on. You come home early from a night out because you worry that they are lonesome. You notice the sky and the leaves and the ground and all sorts of things because you walk at their pace. You get used to them being ever present. You miss them on vacations. You laugh at their antics and get frustrated by their shortcomings. But mostly you let their unconditional love for you give you comfort through life’s ups and downs.
Alice had seen my little family through some very dark days.
She was a dog we kept on a leash because as much as she loved us she paid no attention to our commands when she was able to run free. The only exception was on snowy days. The kind of snowy day where life slows down, and schools are closed. Neighbors come out to shovel and sled but the only moving vehicles are plows. On those days I would allow Alice to run free. She would suddenly be a REAL dog with two drops of wolf. She would run like the wind, ears flapping. She would race ahead of me and then turn her little head to make sure I was watching and she would run more. If I would stop she would come racing back to me, full throttle, and spin around my legs to run off again. It made us both so happy. She would have snow on her black nose.
When the vet first told me he heard a heart murmur on April 25th I did not worry much.
This breed also comes with heart issues. But when she started coughing every few hours, then every couple of hours, then more, we took her back to the vet. Sure enough her illness had progressed but there was medicine and we still had hope that we would have her at least a few years more.
It was not meant to be. Every night she paced around, looking up as if she could find something in the air that could help her breathe. We fed her sweet potato, her favorite food, and walked her more often because her medicine made it necessary, but for shorter walks because she tired easily.
Everyone I know who has a dog or had one loves them. Everyone can write a story like mine. But you have to believe me when I tell you she was not only loved by us, but by so many others too. Tom, a neighbor who has his own dog, loved Alice so much that when he was outside and saw her he would sit on the cement and wait for her to come running into his arms. He would pet her and rub her belly till she moaned with happiness, while his dog Murdoch, looked on patiently. His wife called Alice his girlfriend. Our friends across the street took her in when my husband and I went out of town. They became her god-family. They kept a jar of treats for her, they let her on their couch, they spoiled her. Every Thanksgiving when my husband and I went to Florida they kept Alice and Tom walked her Thanksgiving day when the god-family traveled to Connecticut.
Heart disease is common in Cavs but for Alice it progressed unusually fast. We began to think she would not survive the year, but I did not realize her last night was her last night. I won’t go into details except to say that I was at work and her god-mother Susan, my friend, called to tell me she was worried about Alice. Had I realized what was coming I’d have left work and gone with my husband to the vet. But I fully believed I would see her in the morning.
I did, but she died just about 30 minutes before we could get to her. Our vet called us at 7:30 am. She was in a coma. And then, she was gone. My husband and I patted her and stroked her as if we could somehow give her comfort after the fact. We spent a long time with her. And then we went home. And then to work.
For days after I kept forgetting to lock our door at bed time because my husband used to walk her late at night. I missed her company, her weight, her love. I told our son, neighbors, her groomer. Her god family. Their son cried. We cried.
We will get another dog. We are open to a rescue dog. We know it is the better thing, the more noble. I don’t know what we’ll get. I only know that Alice helped us not be afraid to have a dog in our family. In fact, she made it impossible to imagine not having one.
We are brave because of Alice, and my son.