Thursday, December 8, 2011

The doggie loves of your life.

I started this post forever ago and just had the time to finish it up this afternoon:

Juliet posted on facebook that the Capulet/Montague family is considering getting a dog. I wrote an inordinately long response for facebook standards, and was inspired to write more on the topic. I shared the story of Chloe the Beagle a while ago, but I can't shut up about how much a dog can add to your life.

Chloe and Mitsy, the two family dogs.
When my parents had left for China in January of 2009, they left Mitsy, our 15 year old family dog with us for her last few months. A few weeks into her stay with us, I brought her to my Vet that I loved, and she did some x-rays and figured out that Mitsy had been misdiagnosed by my parents' Vet and was getting progressively worse. They thought she had arthritis in her hips, but it turned out that she had a degenerative spinal condition. She had arthritis all right, but it was in her spine, which was damaging the nerves and basically making her slowly lose control of her back half. B and I had spent the past few months carting Mitsy to her doggie physical therapy appointments, buying all sorts of rehab equipment, etc. We were happy to do it, so long as it seemed to be making her better. She was still a happy dog, despite having trouble moving her back legs. In the apartment, it wasn't a problem. She could walk short distances on her own, and she was content spending most of the day on her bed, keeping watch over her beloved tennis ball.

Mitsy seriously was the love of my family's life. My parents "bribed" my brother and I into being excited to leave Bangkok by promising that we would get a dog. I was 12, and he was 9. We adopted her no less than a week after we touched down in Quebec. We had initially planned on buying a Beagle puppy, but my Dad suggested we stop by the shelter to check out whether there were any dogs there we'd like. Mitsy was already a year old, and unlike the rest of the dogs, was just hanging out in the SPCA office. My brother and I were reluctant, we wanted a puppy! But, the administrator there told us to just take her home for a few days, that she was a great dog for a family with active children, and if we still wanted that puppy, that we could bring her back after a week. RIGHT. Mitsy instantly became part of the family. She got us all of us out into the mounds of snow for hours a day, which was no easy feat for a couple of kids from the tropics. I wish I had some pictures of us in the snow to share with you guys, but alas, this was in pre-digital camera days. Mitsy moved from Quebec with us to Chicago, and then went back again when my parents moved to Montreal, while Chloe stayed with me.

B's family was also very much a dog family. They had two golden retrievers who passed away within months of each other, the first just before we started dating, and the second just after. Mitsy's last few months were really hard on us. On me because this was my beloved family dog, who amazingly was 15 years old. On B because this was the 3rd dog in a row he had to watch in its last days. Once the therapies stopped working, our Vet told us it was time to make a decision. I looked into one last option, a doggie wheelchair, but we lived on the second floor, in a 900 square foot condo with narrow walkways, so it just wasn't feasible. It was a hard decision to make, knowing that I was the only person in Mitsy's family of four to know that it was the right time.

The few days after were hard. I never knew that losing a pet could be so hard. Plus, B was working but I hadn't found anything yet, so the apartment seemed so empty. My days had previously been filled with caring for Mitsy, carrying her down the stairs, walking patiently next to her as we went up and down the block. On B's next day off, I insisted we "visit" a shelter. I wanted to look at the puppies, watch them wrestle with each other with so much energy and unbridled joy. There was a dedicated puppy room, where a bunch of 6-week old black lab mixes were biting each other's ears and generally having a great time. They were adorable, but none of them spoke to us. We went around to visit the rest of the dogs, and saw a scruffy looking brown dog, labelled "Sleepy" and described as a German Shepherd/Lab mix. I immediately hesitated, we didn't have room for a big dog. The volunteer who had been taking us around told us his story. He was one of seven puppies, all named after the seven dwarves. He and his siblings all came in with Parvo (which is a super contagious disease in dogs), and four out of the seven had died. Sleepy had taken longer than his two surviving siblings to recover, so he hadn't been available for adoption during the prime puppy age. Sleepy was already four months old. Once we learned his story, B and I decided to at least go into his room and check him out. We sat on the floor next to him, he climbed (sleepily) into B's lap and snuggled up. Plus, he had a beard!

At that point, there was another dog - a 10 month old female basenji mix - still in the running. We went home to pick Chloe up, because the shelther required that she meet any dog that we were going to take home that day. Chloe hates other dogs, so we were pretty nervous about this part. She met the basenji mix and was not a fan. She growled, the basenji mix growled. It was not a good fit, and the volunteer took that poor dog away. They brought Sleepy in, and Chloe neither growled nor tried to attack him. We have a winner!

So, Sleepy came home with us. We changed his name to Swarley, and he brought so much joy into our house. I realized that we needed the puppy energy back in our home to brighten it up again after the darkness of Mitsy's last few months. I never saw Swarley as a replacement, but Mitsy's passing opened up a spot in our house and in our hearts to rescue another dog in need. Swarley is a bundle of joy, happiness and energy. I spent my unemployed days taking him to puppy classes, house training him, and putting him down for naps.

Well, their German Shepherd/Lab mix turned out to be a Cairn Terrier/Lab Mix, topping out at an ideal 35 pounds.

Mia is lucky to have a built in best friend. At six months, she already appreciates him. She tries to reach out for him everytime he walks by, and her first giggles came when she was on B's lap and I was playing with Swarley on the floor. Although Swarley didn't understand her at the beginning, now that she's interactive, he loves her. He sits right next to her playmat when she's on the floor (not on the mat, of course! He knows) and watches her as she plays with her stuffed animals (longing to run off with them, but restraining himself). Sometimes, we think about how Swarley's passing will happen when Mia is between 10-13, and how difficult that is going to be for her. But, we'll explain the same thing to her as I learned with Mitsy's passing, and let her know that now, we'll have room to rescue and love another dog in need.

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