I knew I shouldn’t have acquiesced. But who can deny your little girl’s begging, “Please Mom, please…just for a minute. I had always said no. I did not like compromising situations, nor the call of my heart which often led to non-analytical decisions that could impact the rest of my life.
She didn’t give in. It was if her whole world of happiness rested on me saying yes. And so, I was coerced by my love for her to enter the forbidden zone.
And then, it happened. I heard the cry. A tiny little puppy, the size of a beanie baby, looked at me with his El Zorro mask and apparent underbite continuing to whimper. I congratulated the lady holding him asking, “Oh, how cute, did you just adopt him?”.
She then told me the most heart-wrenching tale of his first few weeks on this earth, by saying, “Oh, no…he’s crying because all of his seven brothers and sisters were adopted and he is the only one left. He has no one”. As if that wasn’t distressing enough already, she continued “These puppies were left by the roadside, so we don’t know where his mother is or what breed he is, possibly beagle.”
What happened next, I don’t think I need to explain. It’s a love story.
He clearly wasn’t a beagle. He was a maniac. Most of the time a loving maniac, but he had a button that you didn’t want to ever push. He was the classic, ‘bark worse than his bite’ type of dog. We were always afraid that he might, but when he warned it was a snarl and rough kiss that you felt for a day. His apology always came with a sad, downward glance, as if to say, “I’m not sure what I did or why I did it, but I’m sure I’m sorry.”
No, he wasn’t the perfect dog. He was the classic ‘need the dog whisperer’ case. And one came along. He needed to be understood, and a dear friend took on the job. We left him for a weekend and returned to an almost civilized companion.
As days turned into years, our research turned up that he may be a rat terrier. He never chased rats, but the backyard squirrel crazed him. He would spend hours barking and chasing it along the fence line.
We remember the few field trips he accompanied us on, picturing him riding nervously but sitting up proudly like the captain of the car, pushing excitedly forward to be in the front seat peering at the window, as if he was driving.
He stayed small, but fierce as he continued to add badges of honor on his shiny black coat. He once fended off a coyote, loyally saving his master during an early morning run…that same master who yelled and screamed when he was brought home by his love-struck wife. Next, he barked an incessant warning as he stood by an enormous snake wrapped around our backyard tree. And finally, he saved his little sister (a rather unsuspecting bichon-poodle) from a hungry bobcat that had jumped our fence, by using all of his napoleon-syndrome traits to corner it by our kitchen door, until his master arrived.
And did I mention the word walk? “Oh joy”, sarcastically said, those words brought on the most intense yelps of delight and the, all too familiar, tazmanian dance. It was not easy to get the leash on at that point.
This pint-sized fur ball of furious love was in our lives for almost 14 years. He greeted us with emphatic tail wagging and learned to go with the family flow, which was pretty loud sometimes. His anxiety issues stayed at bay most of the time, but when aroused he accepted his family’s love and it was enough to calm him.
He knew we loved him. Although he was at home outside, his last days brought him inside most of the time, while he would stare out the window or door as if longing for the days of chasing the ‘dang’ squirrel.
The last run inside and up the stairs to greet his master proved to be too strenuous for his overworked heart. He went unconscious. It appeared we had lost our beloved pet. But not so, he heard my voice and lifted his head as to say, “I’m not dead yet! Are you bringing me a treat?”
He went on for a few days, tiring with each routine step. His last walk was actually a ride in the wagon. Still, he wouldn’t give in to his weakness, jumping out a couple of times before submitting to his obvious lack of strength. And yet, his fight wasn’t over. Although, he had trouble getting up, his last evening he turned on his protect mode, when the doorbell rang, jumping up to run to the door barking his warning as if he wasn’t even ill.
He was a fighter, struggling to stay strong for us, but he was willing to surrender in the end and pass as he lay down on the grass in the sun for his final nap.
Grieving on the way to the vet, my son shared that he had searched for proof that pets go to heaven. I couldn’t help but tearfully relay what I knew in my heart. Pets, especially dogs, are brought to us in love. They teach us their whole lives how to be loving by showing unconditional trust in our care and giving us empathetic, and sometimes undeserving devotion. I believe they come from love and go back to love when they leave us.
He loved us. We loved him. He was part of our family. Odie, our little guy, we will forever miss you.
In folklore, the red cardinal is believed to be a messenger from heaven. As I sat back down to write today, I looked out to the spot where he had laid motionless in the warm rays of early day. A red cardinal was walking where he had this morning.
-Erika K Rothwell