Mid-August, 2010. It’s been just about exactly five years now.
In April of 2009, my dad died suddenly and I know I’ve written about that here before. It was unexpected and difficult to absorb for a long time. After all, for so many years he had been such a big part of our family. My parents had always been a huge part of my children’s lives.
There is that strange numbness that happens after a death, when grief seems to have hold of every piece of your body and everything you do seems to become mechanical. You’re on autopilot, without even realizing it.
At some point that year, through the stupor of mourning, it clicked with me that my children had stopped laughing.
I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, other than I guess I had just been lost in my own head, my own feelings. But it struck me hard that day, when I realized I couldn’t recall the last time I had heard one of my kids burst out in laughter.
I didn’t know how to fix it. I could not even fix myself at that point.
One day, my two boys who at the time were about eight and ten came out of their room hauling filled-to-overflowing trash bags.
“Mom,” they said, “we need a pet. We want to sell our toys to get a dog. PLEASE.”
Now, the subject of getting a dog had come up before. But as a kid I had developed an allergy to most furry animals, and even as an adult, I could not even visit my sister and her min pins without a large supply of Benedryl and still having the delight of spending a couple days afterward with swollen eyes, hives, and an asthma flare. There are a lot of things I’m willing to sacrifice for my children, but I didn’t think oxygen could be one of them.
At the time, my husband was in college and had been talking to a classmate about the kids’ request. She told him she had a litter of puppies that were hypoallergenic, and he could have the pick of the litter. He came home and told me this, and I had a hard time believing such a thing existed. It sounded a whole lot like waterfront property in Arizona. After doing some research and finding such a thing was actually possible, we agreed to go and take a look at her pups, mainly just to see if handling them caused me to have trouble breathing or break out in a rash. But by the time we had come to this decision, she had already sold her litter.
Neither of us had had a dog since childhood, and we were both unsure of how to proceed from where we were. The last time I had a dog, my parents had gotten a Yorkshire terrier/poodle cross puppy from a friend. We named her Dixie. She was my best little buddy and she was run over by some little jerks on four wheelers when I was ten. That had been my last pet.
I was honestly reluctant about getting a puppy. I wanted to see the kids happy, I really wanted to hear them start laughing again. But as a mother of four kids already, I knew full well the majority of the work would fall squarely on my shoulders, and I didn’t really want a dog. But I was willing to give it a go. We called some local breeders and asked if I could come by and see if I had any sort of allergic reaction to their puppies, but they were not willing to let me do that.
At this point, my daughters had also caught the bug and were begging for a dog.
It was the middle of August, 2010. We had taken the kids to the mall to shop for school clothes and shoes. There was a newly opened pet store at the mall and we went in. They had little fenced in areas where potential buyers could take a puppy in to play, and we thought this might give us an idea of which dogs would not cause me to hack and wheeze.
If I had the information then that I have now about pet stores and puppy mills, I might have made a different choice. But at the time, I didn’t have that information. I didn’t know anything about dogs or shelters or breeders. I just knew that if we were going to do this thing, I first needed to make sure the animal wasn’t going to kill me.
So we went in and had a couple of puppies brought out. They were cute, for sure, and after explaining about my asthma and allergies, the staff was careful to only bring me puppies that shouldn’t cause me a reaction.
But there was this one pup. Up in the top corner square of glass, a little tiny ball of fluff. She was white with big brown eyes and a few brown spots and brown ears. She put her paw up on the glass and stared at my husband. He put his hand up to her paw and stood there, staring at the glass. A few seconds later, I saw one of the staff taking her down from her space.
I played with her a bit and held her close to my face and waited, but my eyes didn’t itch and my breathing was steady. I put her down for the kids to play with, and she turned on the charm. In what seemed to be a fraction of a second, my oldest son began to cry, big, fat tears streaking down his face. “Please Mom,” he begged in a broken little boy voice, “please. I love her already, Mom. Please don’t make us leave her here in this place. Please.” As I turned around, I saw my husband handing over a credit card. “Wait, wait,” I wanted to say. “I’m not sure…”
But the kids were so happy, and my husband was grinning and his ears were turning red, which was a sure sign of happiness. So we left the pup there and drove across the street to the pet supply store to buy a harness and leash and a crate and a few other necessary things. We went back to pick her up and bring her home. I felt completely unprepared and still slightly in shock of this huge commitment we had just made. I thought to myself about all the responsibilities I would now have, about getting up at night with this baby dog, and all of the extra expenses.
We had no idea what we were doing. We brought the puppy in the house and sat on the floor in a circle around her. She ran in crazy circles, her tiny fluffy white legs a blur. We laughed, all six of us.
I looked at my kids and they were grinning, laughing, falling over each other in glee.
We named the puppy Zoey, because it means ‘life’, and as cliché as it may sound, we really felt she had brought new life to our family.
I know there were a lot of ways we went wrong, trying to train this dog. Housetraining was a nightmare and I took a lot of bad advice from people I thought knew better than I, but I also read a lot of books about raising dogs and learned a lot in the process. And sometimes I would be cleaning the dog crap or vomit from the carpet and grumbling about how I never even wanted a dog.
But in the last five years, that little ball of fluff has grown on me, and somehow I’ve become her particular human. When I’m writing, she curls up on my feet. She’s my walking partner. When my sister was dying and I was lying in my bed, unable to function or care for my family, she stubbornly sat next to me in my bed, or if I sent her out, she refused to leave my door, sitting there outside my room for hours. When I’m sick, she’s right next to me.
As it turns out, I’m more of a dog person than I thought I was.
And the sacrifices I thought I was making to give this dog to my kids have come back to me tenfold.
I can’t imagine our family without this goofy ball of fluff.
We have another dog, a little yorkie, named Ziva. The two of them are partners in crime.
Every day we laugh, watching them run around the house. We take them on vacations with us, camping and to Ren Faires.
Even though they are a lot of extra work, and money spent when we don’t always have it…
It’s been worth it. Because no matter how much I spend on them, I’ll never be able to pay back the one thing they gave us when we needed it the most.
Laughter in the midst of grief.
And that has been well worth every penny.