Thursday, January 19, 2012
Our first baby
In 1997 Sean and I lived in Berkeley with our two middle-aged mutts. On the weekends we liked to wander around 4th Street--we would stop into the Vivarium, grab some coffee at Peet's, poke around a bookstore or two and end the morning with a bowl of udon. It was paradise. One Saturday morning we were drawn in by a little girl who was helping out at a mobile adoption center staged by the Milo Foundation. The little lass held a tiny, blue merle puppy in her arms. She sweetly asked if I wanted to hold the puppy. (As an aside: YES. I ALWAYS WANT TO HOLD THE PUPPY.) I scooped the little bundle of grey and black fur into my arms, peered down at its amber eyes and knew we were leaving with that puppy.
We found out that the puppy was part of a litter born to an Australian Shepherd up in Willits--a town that played an important role in the epic "Story of Nora and Sean" (perhaps I will write that story some day...) I took it as an immediate sign that this pooch was meant to be ours. The puppy was a girl, about 3 months old. She had a delicate snout, lovely puppy breath and gleaming white "socks" on all four paws. Her belly was pink and round as a drum. I loved her.
We filled out the paperwork and took her home that day. We named her Sheila Rose as an homage to her Australian Shepherd-Blue Heeler heritage. Our elderly puggle was not thrilled with the new creature that leaped and swatted at her velvety puggle-ears. Our middle-aged bright red mutt took a liking to the puppy and began to give Sheila's ears a thorough cleaning. Wildfire soon progressed from ear licks to nibbles up and down Sheila's back, like a canine shiatsu massage.
Sweet Sheila was the first dog we'd raised form puppyhood. She howled at night until we let her into the bed. She puffed hot little doggy breath onto my pillow as her paws twitched in complicated tempo against my back. The first time we left her alone and uncrated for a few hours she destroyed an entire futon mattress, gleefully flinging the stuffing over an entire floor. She peed with abandon in the kitchen.
She loved to run and be chased by other dogs. Her best friend was Dude--a black lab mix owned by two women who were students at the Pacific School of Religion. We would walk Sheila (also known as Lee Lee or LouLou or Sheila-lou) up the street to the PSR campus and let her and Dude chase each other at top speeds around bushes and religious scholars alike. They were oblivious to the view of the bay just peeking over the stone steps, and to the hushed theological conversations at play around them. All that mattered was running HARD and running FAST and collapsing in a panting heap on the cool grass.
When we moved to Vermont Sheila learned to love the snow. She leaped through drifts in playful bounds. When our first human baby came home she hung back, letting Wildfire (the big mutt) take the role of protector. When our second human baby came home, and the old dogs slipped quietly away from this world, Sheila assumed protector of the herd status. She patiently allowed Sweet Bubs to toddle after her, and pull on her fur. She let gummy little fists pet her a little too hard, and gladly cleaned the floor of any snacks that fell from the highchair.
My favorite moment with Sheila happened in Texas, before we had human babies. Sean and I took all three of the dogs to Barton Creek to splash and play in the run-off from Barton Springs. Wildfire was a swimmer, and Molly (the puggle) hated to get her paws wet. Sheila paced nervously on the bank of the creek, wanting to join us and Wildfire but afraid to swim out to where we were. We ambled across some rocks and watched Wildfire splash into the water with great gusto. Sean jumped in to the cool waters as well. Suddenly we heard another splash and when we turned to look back at shore there was sweet LeeLee's head and paws chugging furiously through the deep waters towards us. She looked terrified. She reached us and kept on going, as if her body couldn't believe what it was doing and had no idea how to stop. From that day on she was an avid swimmer.
In recent years our Sheila slowed down. Thunderstorms terrified her and her anxiety grew. We got a kitten two years ago and the kitten fell in love with Sheila. Kitty loved to leap and grab Sheila's tail or to vigorously headbutt her snout for attention. Sometimes Sheila forgot we had a cat and would look startled when the kitty ran through the room. Sheila's passion for running and being chased gave way to hours spent snoozing on the carpet, waking to the sound of the kids coming home from school.
Last week she stopped eating. We took her to the vet and they determined that she was in kidney failure (both acute and chronic). We consented to give fluid therapy a try, but at the end of two days of treatment it became clear she wasn't going to recover. The vet graciously offered to come to our home in order to end her suffering. We prepared the kids the night before her passing and they wept angry tears at losing their faithful friend.
On her last day on earth she stumbled on spindly legs from the water bowl to the dog bed and back again. I stroked her ears with the lightest touch I could manage so as not to disturb her rest. Her hip bones stuck out and her eyes were cloudy. I told myself I would not cry, I would hold my shit together for Sean and the kids. I told myself this again louder as the tears burned their way across my face.
She was my first baby. I can still feel her weight in my arms, the gentle rise and fall of her sleek puppy sides pressed against my forearms.