When we find that little four-legged friend, we know that we will most likely outlive them, but we give them our hearts and treat them like family. And if we’re lucky, we get years of love and devotion back from them.
After Jan and I got together, we decided to find a little dog to keep me company while she commuted to and from work. We found an ad in the paper for AKC Chihuahua puppies, for only $175. Although we knew it was probably a scam, we hopped in the car and traveled for almost an hour to a home northwest of Dallas. We sat outside on the porch while the woman brought a small, trembling pup to us. She was overly skinny, cowering and covered with scabs and bites. She was the “runt” of the litter, and according to the woman, was picked on by the other puppies. She had the little doe head of a Chihuahua, but we had a bad feeling this dog was no more a registered pup than I was. But the moment she was placed in my hands, I fell in love with that stinky, shaky little thing. Jan and I had a silent conversation, and we “rescued” the pup from what was obviously a puppy mill.
When we got home, we found that the little thing was so scared of everything and everyone that she wouldn’t come out of her carrier. Jan had to feed her by hand, and she’d only drink water from the tips of Jan’s fingers. It took weeks and weeks of patience, but soon Princess ButtNugget learned to trust us, at least enough to eat and drink on her own. After a few months, she became a rambunctious puppy, demanding attention and play.
Nuggie, as she became to be called, was a year old when we decided she needed company. We joked that we needed to get a dog for our dog. I started checking the local animal shelter sites for a suitable companion.
Have you ever just seen a picture and felt an immediate connection? That’s what happened when I stumbled across the photo of a two-year old Rat Terrier, at a nearby city shelter. Jan and I hopped into the car and drove the four to five miles. The city shelter was busy, loud and the smell wasn’t the most pleasant in the world. They told us to go back and look around. The small cages were stacked three high and four across. Most of the inhabitants were either barking, sleeping or trembling in their boxes. The card on the outside of the cage read, “Vivian, Female, Rat Terrier.” Nothing prepared us for the sad eyes that looked back at us through the narrow bars. “Vivian” was so skinny you could almost see through her. The animal control officer explained how she had been found roaming the streets after having a litter of puppies. She placed a leash over Vivian’s head. The moment the cage was opened, Vivian jumped into my arms. I had been claimed. We weren’t allowed to take her home until after she had been spayed, but as soon as Jan returned, Vivian happily accepted her leash and followed Jan out to the car and hopped into the front seat for the ride home.
Our newest family member didn’t look or act like a “Vivian.” Our daughter, a fan of the movie, “Clueless,” named her Cher. While not my first choice, it worked okay for me. The moment Cher met Nuggie, she “adopted” her. Nuggie became the puppy that Cher no longer had, while Cher became the friend and companion that Nuggie needed. For the next ten years, they were inseparable.
As Cher aged, she fought through several health problems. Because of her previous life on the streets, she had bad teeth, brittle hair, and poor eyesight. Her hearing slowly left her until she could only hear a loud snap of the fingers or a clap. Her balance became shaky, and she’d undergone two surgeries to remove cancerous lumps. She’d walk along the concrete edging around the swimming pool, losing her balance a couple of times and falling in. We pulled her out the first time, and my brother spent quite a while teaching her how to find the steps to get out. The next time, she raced into the house, soaking wet. We were glad to know the lessons worked, but worried any time she was outside for very long.
Cher also had some hilarious habits. She loved to “shop” in the kitchen. She’d stand on her hind legs and walk around the counters, sniffing and seeing what was close enough to steal. Once, she grabbed a fried chicken leg, which scared Jan to death. Cher raced to our bedroom and dove beneath the bed. Before we could stop her, she devoured the leg, bones and all. Jan just knew she’d choke, but she was fine. It took us a lot longer to get over it than it did her, that’s for sure!
Another crazy thing was her hoarding. When she and Nuggie were younger, we gave them rawhide chews or pig ears to chew on. The moment one would hit the floor, Cher would grab it. The more we tossed in the floor, the faster she moved. Poor Nuggie stood by and watched as Cher gathered each “chewie” and put them in a pile. Before Nuggie could get one, Cher would lay down on top of them. Sometimes we’d toss half a dozen of the chewies around the room, just to watch the show.
The older Cher got, the more attached to me she became. I was home all the time, and she’d look to me for comfort or security. Her mind began to go, and she’d get even more clngy. She hated for me to get out of her sight, and she would panic and chase me down if she noticed me missing. I can’t even count the times she’d race between our feet, usually causing either Jan or me to trip or fall. Thoughout it all, she was still our sweet Cher. I could sit beside her and start giving her a good head scratch, and she’d give me a gap-toothed smile that would almost make me cry. She never met a stranger, and was always happy to see anyone that came to the house.
The past year was rough on Cher, and us. Her hearing worsened, and her eyesight and balance deteriorated as well. She followed me every step of every day, which at times would frustrate me. She started losing her bladder control, so we took her to the vet. After several hundred dollars worth of tests, he came to the conclusion that she was in the beginning stages of renal failure. He also put her on monthly shots for arthritis pain, which he thought was the cause for her sitting in bed and moaning or groaning. Not only was Cher terrified when we put her in the car for the trip to the vet, but she would yell out for any shots she was given. It broke our hearts. When I asked our vet if she was in pain, he said yes, but he thought we could keep it managable for the time being. While we didn’t want her to suffer, we were glad we’d have more time with her.
The week of Christmas through New Year’s was rough on Cher. It was almost time for her next shot, and she seemed more lost than usual. She wouldn’t let me out of her sight, and she was often confused.
The day before New Year’s Eve, Cher developed a hoarse cough that I was going to mention to the vet on her next visit. She slept more and wasn’t her usual frisky self. We spent extra time with her, and when our nephew came over on New Year’s Eve day to go geocaching, he gave her lots of love, too. After he left, I fed the dogs and then joined Jan in the office for our evening of surfing. Later, I went to the kitchen to clean up. When I was finished, I did my usual headcount of dogs, only to find Cher missing. In a panic, I raced to the backyard. With the light from the sunroom, I could see her in the pool. I screamed for Jan and pulled Cher from the ice-cold water. We removed her sweater and I began to carefully press on her body in the hopes of getting her to breathe. No water escaped, only air. I raised her head and blew into her nose and mouth, and realized she was gone. Since I had lost a dog to congestive heart failure before, I knew the signs. Poor Cher had died and fallen into the pool. Our only consolation was that we know she didn’t suffer, and had passed away before she hit the water.
Jan and I were both in shock. We had prepared ourselves to say goodbye to Cher, but not this quickly. I was a mess. It was close to ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve, and we were at a loss as to what to do. Finally, Jan realized we had a 24-hour pet hospital less than five miles away, and we called them. They were wonderful, and treated us kindly when we showed up, shaken and teary. Thanks to their help, Cher’s remains will join others and be spread at a local pet cemetery, where she’ll never be alone. I can’t think of a better way for her.
I’m going to miss my little shadow, who we lovingly referred to as crazy dog, or psycho dog. She was fun, she was loving, and she gave us the best years of her life. Over time the pain will lessen, but she’ll always be in our hearts. Rest well, Cher. And thank you for rescuing us