My Little Man
I don’t do little dogs.
They aren’t real dogs. They are a measly approximation of what women’s best friends are like. They are bossy. They are territorial. They are seldom house trained. And you can pick them up for goodness sake. Dogs aren’t meant to be carried around in a pocketbook.
Seventeen years ago, when rescuing a senior big dog – Greyhound, a little dog came with him. Now Annie was supposed to be a little dog, but that term is relative because she weighed twice what her weight should have been. I called her my ‘end table’. To complete her beautiful look, she had tumors, toe nails turned under and the breath of a dragon from rotten teeth.
I worked hard to find a home who would take both dogs. They were 11, or so I thought, and had been together, so the assumption was they were bonded. The big boy, Red, was solid and hairy, from obviously living outside. He required nothing in the way of attention. He’d find a corner and just be.
Annie initially wanted to live under the futon frame, but food was her driving force in life, and soon she was eating out of my hand – literally and figuratively.
As with all small dogs, they have big personalities. She ruled the roost; choosing the softest beds, having her bowl go down first, and telling the neighbors and other dogs when they were misbehaving.
I got her spayed, a dental, tumors removed, and toenails cut, and she and Red went into a Las Vegas home. When I dropped them off, Annie disappeared under a sofa, and refused to come out to say goodbye. It was an omen. One year later, I got both Red and Annie back, again in need of tender loving care. A bad adoption. When Annie realized it was me who was holding her, she decided to not let go. So Red found a home, and Annie could have cared less because she was now living with me. I turned her from an end table into a side table. She went everywhere Greyhound Gang went, and eight years later her last days were spent eating coconut macaroons and being carried around with arms full of love.
Six months later, Queen Isabelle Marie Harvey found her way into my home. She too, was 30 lbs and should have been 15. This blue gray girl had an even more forceful personality than Annie.
Initially, she would bite you if you tried to get her to do something she didn’t want to do. Her bark would wake the dead. And in the first month, she took a header as she sailed over a loft wall to discover the floor 20 feet below. She came out of that with a ruptured disk. With two months of round the clock care, she became almost completely ambulatory with only a gimpy back leg. A miracle, my vet said. Tough old broad, I said. We built a mini ramp for the dog door, and she continued her reign of terror as the boss of all of us. Four years later lymphoma claimed her.
I swore no more Italian Greyhounds. I’d paid my penance, as a strong independent woman being run around by two stronger independent women. And then came Vito. I don’t do Italian men because they will always love their mothers best and they expect you to cook for them. Call me selfish, but I want to be adored first, and I don’t cook.
Vito was rescued by a friend, and she called me when I lost Isabelle to tell me about him. I said no – every which way from Sunday and Monday. I’m done with little dogs. I don’t want another little dog. I’m exhausted from little dogs. And then during one more phone conversation, the words – If I can find a ride for him on a plane from Vegas to Portland easily, then it’s meant to be and I’ll take him. Yep, easy peasy, I found that ride. The little history we knew of him, was he lived with an ex-con and some pit bulls, until the ex-con went back to jail and his dogs went to doggie jail. He, too, came with tumor, teeth, toe and housebreaking issues at age 10, but those were quickly and easily fixed.
Our first months together were spent at a beach house in Washington State. Off leash, with my staghound and greyhound from the get go, his zest for life, for people, for fun was obvious as he greeted every daily beach walk, and all he met with prancing feet and waggling body.
Oozing personality, his life’s mission was to stick his tongue deep down anyone’s throat, as quickly as possible. I nicknamed him “The Fastest Tongue in the West”, and spent a lot of time finding people who loved having a face bath from a little dog, as it was not on my list of favorite things in life. I like my kisses a little less wet.
One of those early days walking on the windswept Washington beach, there were guys in beach chairs with beer cans, baseball caps turned wonky on their heads and cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Vito ran right at them and jumped in one guy’s arms, and started slathering him with his tongue. He definitely had a type.
Slate gray with a white arrow-like patch on his neck, he was my first IG who wasn’t fat. What a difference 15 lbs makes. Still a solid 14 lbs, and still the voracious appetite of an Italian, he took pride in his job of cleaning the dog bowls better than the dish washer. It’s that licker you see. That same licker he likes to stick in everyone’s mouth. He just loves to lick. Anything. Though I think stainless steel bowls are by far his favorite. He starts with all the good stuff left in the inside. Then he makes his way to the sides of the bowls, often having to put his right paw into the bowl to hold it in place so it doesn’t scoot away from his licker. Then he rhythmically starts on one side and goes counter clockwise until he reaches the spot where he started. And then he starts again. I’m talking see-yourself-in-the-bowl polished when he is finished.
We traveled a lot for greyhound rescue work, and for pleasure. He was always my shotgun guy. Propped up on his zebra donut dog bed, on top of the Vera Bradley paisley luggage, surveying the asphalt as it rolled below our miles. Next to me was his coveted seat, with his big greyhound brothers in the back.
When held, though he preferred snuggling, he wanted to be cradled on his back, with his tummy being rubbed. His tongue limply protruding, his eyes softly closing, his body nestled next to mine. That childlike, trusting position transporting us to one. There is something really satisfying about being able to hold a dog. The cuddling, the rubbing of tummy, the kisses on the belly, the repeated endearments of love that flow unbidden from the heart.
He was ‘the man’ – or ‘my little man’. The little loud bark telling the big guys when they were playing too hard or going too fast. Detailing how he could keep up with them on the long stretches of beach runs. Claiming the front seat of the car – ALL THE TIME. I was able to capture a picture of the first time Heddy, a newly rescued afghan hound, climbed into the front seat and curled up in his zebra dog bed. He stood on the middle riser in the car giving her dagger looks. She never did that again.
He slept, every night, under the covers plastered next to me or in between my legs. My bed warmer – in summer or winter.
As soon as he saw me making time for bed, he’d run in and jump on my pillows, then nestle next to me for hugs and kisses, and then stick his head under the covers and bury in. All night long, totally covered, he would be my heater rock. I’ve always been an early riser, but not the greyhounds. I’d be slaving away on the computer in the early morning light, and I’d glance over to the green Rubbermaid tote Vito called his – complete with dog bed and blankets, and he’d be in there snoring. He’d quietly gotten out of bed after I’d left, and came and snuggled in the office to just be near me. There were many nights when I fell asleep to the very light chain saw noise of his breathing.
To have to make a decision when someone you love is cognizant and aware of you. Aware of the steel crates, the drip of IV, the odor of science all around them. To have to let them start their next journey without you, when you thought there was so much more time to continue the one with you. But don’t we always think that. Isn’t it the human condition to think we are immortal? To have in your hands the decision to end a life, a being, a soul is a mouth open, throat gasping, heart squeezing, tears running moment, and moment and moment that comes and goes and pushes you beyond anything you ever wanted to have to deal with and is the price you pay for love. And the loss of love. Whether you are 13 or 23 or 63. For love is love, and loss is the price we pay sometime, sooner or later, for opening our heart.
And whether your grief is stoic and inward, or loud and outward, let it shine. Give it all the room and time and want it has. Let it devour you and spit you out, wet and bedraggled, aching in every cell, baskets of Kleenex soaked in the blood of your tears. Let your heart feel like Thor slammed into your chest and squeezed it into pulp. But it won’t shake the memories. The grief won’t take the piece of your heart that throbs with every breath, and will until the day you die. Because love is all you need. And a Little Dog.