Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hey, You're My Best Friend

There's something inherently sweet and innocent to me about pets.  I've had a variety throughout my life and each one has had a unique personality, just as people do.  When I was born, my parents had a cat named Frisky.  I have a few memories of Frisky, all of which are linked to some kind of intense emotion--the night Frisky got hit by a car, the day Frisky, in his old age, scratched me.  Finally Frisky being put down.  

As a young child I had a hamster.  I was always afraid to handle him.  Brownie bit, but he was MY hamster.  Until he ran away, that is.  Buh-bye, Brownie.  Gerbils were next, then a guinea pig named Gin (don't ask).  The gerbils cannibalized each other and Gin died of pneumonia.

Wow.  This is not going well.

Our first dog was a puppy that was literally disposed of in our babysitter's front yard along with five of her littermates.  Lady was half Irish Setter, half Golden Retriever.  If you know anything about dogs, you know that's a combination for a pretty big animal.  We loved Lady but puppyhood is a short time in a dog's life.  My parents never really had Lady trained, so she barked, jumped fences, and ran away.  She finally ended up being given to a family on some farm land.

Our next dog was a Wheaten Terrier that some genius in the family named Curly (apologies to my mom--I think it was her).  Curly and I never really got along well.  He was definitely my mom's dog.  In the meantime, I made friends with the neighbor's outside cat.  One day I opened my walk-in closet to find Tigger the cat and her new baby kittens.  She had definitely found a safe place for her babies.

When I was sixteen, I was leaving the mall with a friend and we heard a cat crying in the parking lot.  It was a rainy, windy day and the cat was so pitiful, I picked up the animal and brought her home.  After trying diligently to find its owner, we gave up and kept her.  I named her Puss (apparently bad names run in the family).  Thus began my real attachment and love for animals.  

Somebody had forgotten to inform that cat that she was an animal.  She became my best friend, following me everywhere.  She even met me halfway on my walk home from school each day.  She surprised us a year later by giving birth to a single kitten in our dryer.  I named him Pops.  Pops did know he was a cat, and never was bonded with me like his mother.  One day he just disappeared.

When I came home on a visit from college, I found out that Puss had died.  She had been outside a few days before in the rain, and we guessed she contracted pneumonia and died.  I was devastated at her passing.  For several months after I pondered getting another cat, and finally gave in.  A tiny black kitten who looked a lot like Puss, Peru was typical independent cat (the names start to get better now!).  I was in college and did a lot of moving all around.  Eventually I landed back in my parents' home, and so did Peru.  Around me, Peru wasn't interested in playing or snuggling or anything else, but around my mother, she was a completely different cat.  My mom and Peru had such a tight relationship that we jokingly referred to Peru as "the princess" and my mother's "second daughter".  She had found her forever home--with my mother--and there she stayed for ten more years before she passed away.

Enter Amanda.  My brother had adopted a dog from the shelter, but decided he couldn't keep her, so she ended up with me.  Amanda had lived a difficult life before us; whenever she heard a man's voice she would shake and hang her head.  Several times she urinated on the floor due to fear.  She needed love and attention to heal, and that's what I gave her.  She never left my side and I loved her unconditionally, as she did me.  Eventually Amanda grew more comfortable around all people.  She was a huge part of my life for seventeen years.  She saw me through two degrees, a marriage, a cross country move, and two children.  She was kind and patient and loving.  When it became clear that she was in too much pain to continue on, I sat with her, petting her head and telling her how much I loved her as the vet administered the shots to end her life.  I remember thinking how quickly those medications stopped her heart, the heart that I loved so strongly.  And when the vet left me alone with her to say goodbye, telling me to take my time, he was hardly out of the room before I began sobbing, burying my face in her soft coat for the last time.

Amanda's death was incredibly hard on me.  I cried for three weeks straight, it seemed, mourning her loss and feeling the loneliness her death left.  After three weeks I couldn't stand myself anymore, and I made the decision to get another dog. My husband and I had agreed on the qualities we wanted in a pet and so I went to the local no-kill shelter.  I told the volunteer at the desk what i was looking for and she brought out two dogs and encouraged me to spend time with each one.  It felt funny to me, almost like trying out a new shoe or something.  Neither dog felt right to me, and the thought that I may never find another dog as special as Amanda was weighing on me heavily.  

One of the volunteers followed me outside as I was getting ready to leave.  She was holding a curly fluff ball barely bigger than her hand.  The dog had just been brought to the shelter the day before, she said, and before they could adopt her out she had to be on a medical hold for ten days to ensure her health.

I called the shelter every day for a week, checking on the puppy's progress.  The more time went on, the more I grew attached to the idea of this puppy.  I had never even held her, never spent any kind of quality time with her, but somehow I knew she was the one.  I was convinced.  And after a week, when the volunteer placed the tiny puppy in my daughter's hands, I knew I had been right.

The kids actually chose her name.  I had narrowed it down to Sophie or Gabriela, and both kids unanimously chose Gabriela.  It took only a few hours for us to begin to call her Gabi.  She went everywhere with me, including work.  She was a complete delight and was housebroken within six weeks.  One of her favorite things to do was to chase squirrels in the backyard.  She had a hilarious run where she would leap and cover large amounts of ground.  During that early puppy time, her leaping run was one of the things that kept us in stitches over her.

Gabi came to us with a whole host of health problems, including worms and kennel cough as well as a broken tail and ongoing allergies.  After several months, we had a happy, healthy puppy whose only reminder of her life as a stray was the broken tip of her tail.  It gives her character.

One of the things I love so much about Gabi is how smart she is.  This dog learns training commands extremely fast.  She understands several words as well.  She still is impulsive and we have to watch her around doors to make sure she doesn't get out.  

She's entirely different from Amanda.  Where Amanda was a quiet, obedient dog, this one runs in circles and loves her toys.  If we play with her and she has an urge to rough house back, she runs to get one of her "babies".  We call her toys her babies, and she loves to get in playtime every day.

Recently, she has become more able to control her impulses, but not without letting us know how she feels.  If we tell her no, she will stop but talks to herself.  She makes funny noises in her throat and looks at us as if to let us know she's none too pleased herself.  

If she knows she's going "bye bye", she'll run over and jump in her carrier and sit.  I've never before seen a dog so excited to travel!  Yesterday, she saw me putting on my shoes.  She followed me to the door and I told her goodbye.  As I entered the hallway, my mother was approaching.  When my mother opened the door, Gabi flew out and ran down the condo hall with the speed of lightning before jumping on me.

Whereas Amanda was my sweet girl, Gabi is my buddy.  It never ceases to amaze me how affectionate some animals can be.  Some of my favorite times include those when Gabi is resting in my arms, sleeping lightly as I hold her..

Gabi is a blessing, for sure.  She will never take the place of Amanda, but I wouldn't want her to.  She's her own unique animal, and I love her for that.

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