Giving your heart to a dog

tortilla sniffing the flowers3When you give your heart to a dog, you’re setting yourself up to the inevitable fact that you are likely to outlive them.

Life with any pet means a lot of love and companionship, but also means you will watch as they seemingly age twice as fast as you, and suddenly, they are the senior citizens in the household.

And then, one day they are gone.

I am facing this now with my little dog Tortilla, a Chihuahua terrier mix who serendipitously came into my life 15 years ago when I wasn’t even looking for her.

Tortilla, the lost dog

IMG_0714She had been a stray puppy wandering the streets for weeks before the animal shelter took her in. Once in the shelter, the little blonde dog  huddled at the back of her kennel, thin, scared and invisible, waiting for someone to come rescue her. Visitors to the shelter walked past her. The shelter volunteer told me that often people don’t want an insecure dog. They are looking for bundles of joy and playfulness.

The day I met her I was struggling with sadness over my older cat, TK, who was sick with cancer. TK , which stood for “The Kitty,” had been in and out of the vet for tests and surgery, and was not well at all. So, I found myself in the pet store, shopping for cat food, something bland and easier for TK to keep down, which in my mind would make everything better.

She was  resisting, as if to say, “I don’t want to be caged any longer.”

As I walked into the store I passed the area where the animal shelter was adopting out dogs. It was about 5 p.m. and they were starting to pack the animals up to leave. That’s when she caught my eye, this skinny little puppy with one ear sticking up at attention toward the heavens, and the other one flopping down over the side of her face. The shelter volunteer was having a hard time getting her back into her kennel. She was  resisting, as if to say, “I don’t want to be caged any longer.”TORTILLA

I asked the volunteer if I might take a look at this bony little dog. I held her and scratched her skinny belly and on the spur of the moment, perhaps out of my weakness of emotion over TK, decided to adopt her. They told me that I could pick her up in a week after she had been spayed.

One leaves me, one arrives

A week went by and during that time my cat lost more ground in his fight for life. In what can only be described as an unplanned and terrible timing, the vet advised me to put TK down on the same day I was supposed to pick the puppy up from the shelter.

…there is no backspace command when it comes to death.

I cradled TK in the vet’s office, stroking him, talking to him in the baby voice that we all seem to have for our pets, and assured him how much I loved him and what a beautiful, wonderful kitty he had been for the past 15 years. My chest literally ached with sorrow, and my tears dripped onto his soft fur as I held him in his last moments. Then, as the vet administered the medication, he relaxed in my arms and fell into his perpetual slumber. This pet that had been part of my family for so many years was gone and I wept inconsolably.

In those heartbreaking moments after the death of TK, all I wanted was to hit the undo button and everything would go back to normal. I surely didn’t want a new, unknown animal in my house who was going to try and take TK’s place.

But, as we know, there is no backspace command when it comes to death.

With red eyes and a bad disposition, I left the vet and went to pick up the new puppy. That first night, in my mourning over TK, everything the puppy did annoyed me. She whined, she piddled, she was too timid. The topper came at 2 a.m. when she crawled under my bed and threw up all over the floor.

We were off to a rocky start, for sure.

For everything there is a season…

me tortilla crater lakeIn what feels like a blink of an eye, 15 years have passed since then, and now Tortilla is old and frail with her own myriad of health problems – congestive heart failure, Cushing’s, Canine Vestibular Disease, advancing age.

This little dog, who christened her life with me by throwing up under my bed, became a beloved part of the family and has since filled my life with joy, giggles, and love.

…she bosses the two 100 pound Labrador retrievers around, after she first steals their chew bones.

Tortilla, the found dog

The timid, skinny waif blossomed into a brave, happy, playful dog with a Queen of the Universe complex. Her life has been full. She’s traveled to the beach nearly every summer, climbed mountains, trudged through snow and tiptoed through fields of flowers. She’s been camping and fishing, sleeps quietly on my lap and in my bed, and loves to visit my mom’s house, where she bosses the two 100 pound Labrador retrievers around, after she first steals their chew bones.

When jobs were lost, friends moved on and family members died, Tortilla was a sure source of nuzzles when needed. Her trademark ear, the one that points straight to heaven, has remained at attention all these years. People at the dog park may not know my name, but they all know who Tortilla is.

I suspect Tortilla has a few good months left –maybe more, maybe less. And I know one day soon I will bid farewell to her, just like  I did with TK, and the other loved pets whom I have outlived.

And still, after she is gone, I will gladly do it all over again. And again..and again.

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2 Responses

  1. Octavio De Armas says:

    Well written but most important with lots of heart. All animal lovers can relate to the feelings express in the article. Once again Ms Murphy you out did yourself.

    • Murphy says:

      Thank you Octavio. I especially appreciate your comment knowing how involved you are with dogs and your deep compassion for them all. Thanks for visiting!