You see, I had always assumed I would grow up to be a mom. I had plans, too. I was going to get married at 25 (practically ancient and extremely mature when you're a teenager) and have one (yes, count 'em, one) baby at age thirty, after which my happy little family would be complete.
I met my husband at age 27. I was running late on the timeline, but that was okay, because I still had time to have children--we could just speed everything else up, right? We married three weeks after my 30th birthday and became "parents" fifteen months later when our sweet baby boy arrived--at age three and a half. Two months after that, we were parents again, this time of a beautiful 22 month old girl. Did I mention the move halfway across the country right before the children? And the new jobs? Needless to say, it was a stressful time.
During that time, I clung to the one constant in my life, the one who had been there for fourteen years--my mixed-breed dog, Amanda. Ten years before, my brother had brought Amanda home from the shelter on the day before she was to be put to sleep. After about a year, he decided he no longer wanted her, but it was too late; I was in love. Amanda was my companion from that time until the day she died.
Amanda saw me through a lot of changes when I moved. New jobs, new family, new houses. She would wag her tail and lick my hand and curl up with me on the bed. She was gentle with the kids and a great companion. She instinctively knew when I needed her and could sense my emotions. Without that dog, I don't know if I could have adjusted to all the changes going on in my life. She was, in the truest and most honest form, a loving friend, and I adored her.
When her kidneys began to fail at the age of sixteen, I was devastated but not surprised. I let a vet who worked for a large company convince me to keep her alive on all sorts of medication, even though in my heart I knew she was suffering. It's my one regret, that I let that sweet animal suffer longer than need be. As her kidneys worsened, I finally took her to a small, local vet who was honest with me. My companion of seventeen years was dying. She was in pain. It hurt her to be touched and some days she could barely stand. The vet compassionately explained to me that he had owned a dog in the same condition and his biggest regret was letting his dog suffer too long. And I knew the time had come. I was there when he put her to sleep, and I know her last moments were peaceful and comforting as I held her body until she was no longer breathing.
Losing a loved one is a process that can't be explained. Trying to explain the loss of a pet to a person who has never felt a connection to an animal is next to impossible. The emptiness inside was overwhelming. I cried for days, randomly calling friends and family for comfort. I knew I couldn't replace Amanda, nor did I want to. But after a month, it became clear we needed a dog.
First, it was the mice. Never in our entire time in this house have we had a problem with mice. Never, that is, until Amanda died. Then the little critters seemed to invade from every angle. As much as I hate mice, my husband despises them even more. Traps were set all over the house; everyone wore shoes day and night; and one morning I heard one of the little devils run through the hallway, under my door, and under my bed. The very thought made my skin crawl.
But of course, the final straw in getting a new dog was I needed one. I missed having a pet. I missed the companionship of an animal. So my husband and I discussed it and decided upon the following criteria: the dog would be small; it would be housetrained; it would be female; and it would be short haired.
So off I went to the local pound. As I scouted around, my heart ached for every animal, and none fit our criteria. In addition, I began to have additional concerns--how would I have a guarantee this dog wouldn't hurt one of my children?
My second visit took me to a no-kill rescue shelter in our town. I described the kind of dog I was looking for to the volunteer at the desk, and she quickly paired me with a small female poodle who looked kind of like a big attack rat. I sat and played with her (or attempted to) for several minutes as my heart sank. What was I doing here? My connection to Amanda had been so easy, so natural. This dog looked at me like I was a speck of dust in her world, and it was time for a swiffer. I decided it was time to go. My disappointment hung heavily in my heart. I had really thought I would be coming home with a dog that day. I thanked the volunteer at the desk and turned to leave. That's when another volunteer stepped out of the back.
In her hands--I can't even say arms, because the creature was so tiny--was a curly, black-haired puppy that had just been transferred to the shelter from a local pound. She had arrived that day, a mop-haired mess, with eyes so black they blended right into her coat. Her chin sported a white goatee. She was quite likely poodle, although it was hard to say under all of the shaggy hair that covered her body. She hardly met our criteria--furry fuzzy and in no way housebroken--but suddenly that didn't seem to matter. It didn't matter at all.
She was, in fact, perfect. And at that moment I fell in love. Again.
The volunteer explained to me that the puppy hadn't been medically evaluated yet so I couldn't take her home. I said that was okay, I could wait. She stated that it may take a few days for her to be cleared, to be spayed and receive her shots and that the shelter didn't put holds on dogs. I said that was fine too. I had a phone and I could call each day to check on her. However long it took. Because that puppy was supposed to be with me.
So that's what I did. I called that shelter every day for a week until they knew me by voice and knew the time I was coming to get her and called me when another young lady expressed an interest in the dog so I could get there before her. My daughter and I arrived five minutes before the other woman and were ushered into a back room to complete paperwork. It was somewhat like a spy mission! As I completed the paperwork, the volunteer handed the puppy over to my daughter, who got the first kiss. Then there were three of us in love.
When I had told the kids about this puppy, I hadn't made up my mind about a name. I was torn between two that I really loved--Sophie and Gabriella. Since I have never had a biological child of my own, I had never had the opportunity to name a child. I hadn't even gotten to name my last dog--my brother had named her after a girl he had liked in high school. In the end, I left the decision to my children, and they decided on Gabriela. It only took a day for us to begin to call her Gabi.
She was five months old, had kennel cough, worms, and weighed four pounds. She had been found on the street, a stray, and picked up by the pound in a neighboring town. The volunteers at the no-kill shelter had then taken her and brought her to their shelter. And now she was ours.
It took several months to get Gabi healthy. In the meantime she came to work with me every day. She went to the dog park to learn to play with other dogs and spent a lot of time interacting with our family. We found out she is smart, outgoing, loves other animals, and all people. She loves to play and squeaky toys are her absolute favorite. She's in so many ways the complete antithesis of Amanda, who never liked to play--when given a squeaky toy, she would politely shake it once in her mouth, then put it down and go back to sleep.
I still miss Amanda at times. My son mentioned her the other day and we reminisced on her sweetness and loyalty. But I have faith in God that Amanda's sweet and loyal nature has not gone unrewarded. And our blessing in the meantime has been a tiny, eight pound feisty girl who lightens up each day in our house. The story of Gabi is, to me, one about life and love, about faith and healing. Gabi is a living, breathing reminder of the fact that we are all inextricably linked to one another, and that somehow what we need will find us when we need it, if we are open to it, if we believe. That no door is ever shut without the opening of a window. That if we let ourselves, our hands will be held even in the darkest of moments.
Or our face will be licked by a tiny toy poodle mix, answering to the name of Gabi.