Saturday, January 12, 2013

Man's Best Friend | A Tail of a Dog that Changed My Life

A Tail of a Dog that Changed My Life

You know that age old saying, man's best friend? There is a reason that it is a popular saying. And that's because it is completely and utterly true. 

When I was little, the only movies I would cry in were ones featuring dogs. Be it my all time weeper movie, Benji or that adorable movie, My Dog Skip. A dog movie makes me cry. And certainly by the middle of writing this post, I will probably be in tears...oh wait...they started already. 

This is a story of a dog that changed my life. Of a dog that was a little girl's best friend when she really, really needed one. 

When I was in sixth grade, my family moved me all the way across the United States to Long Island, New York. Yanking me from the life I had grown up knowing along the Pacific ocean and planting me in a harbor town on the Atlantic. I've always been quiet. But this move came quickly after another move, and I was emotionally exhausted from having to put myself out there. I sank inside of myself. I'd like to blame the attitude of the students or even the Umbridgey social studies teacher who smelled like talc powder. I also liked to place a lot of blame on ragweed and grass pollen. 

The reality was that as a sixth grader, I was depressed. And filled with anxiety that made me physically ill. I didn't want to have to try and fit in anymore. I just wanted to get through each day. Well, I survived sixth grade. I managed to convince my teachers that I wasn't as smart as I really was. And got sent on my way to seventh grade. Middle School. 

My first day of middle school ended with my locker jammed, me in tears in the guidance office for the key, and Professor Trelawney scolding me for not asking politely. Needless to say, it was not off to such a great start. They figured out my con, moved me to an upper level math class, and forced me to participate in P.E. 

Miserable once again, I started begging my family for a dog. We already had a dog, Max, our giant Irish Wolfhound. But he wasn't the sort of companion I was looking for. Eventually, I won and they told me that if I wanted a dog, I could search in the newspaper everyday in the classifieds for a listing (yep, in 1999 we couldn't do a google search). 

It took a few weeks but finally, I found him. The listing said they had champagne colored cockapoos. I had my father place the call, and the next day our whole family went to this woman's house to see him. He was the size of one hand, had matted fur and reeked of urine. But the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew, he was our dog. This was my dog. 

We brought him home, bathed him (three times), and snuggled with him all day. 

And he was perfect. 


His only flaw was a voracious appetite. That 15 lb dog would eat anything he could get into his mouth. He didn't chew slippers or toilet paper rolls. But he would eat a whole pack of gum, somehow managing to not actually eat the cardboard around it. He really loved a good chicken salad sandwich. And don't get me started on his taste for peanut butter and chocolate. Sometimes when he thought you weren't looking, he would roam from room to room in search of just one treat. And trust me, if you had so much as a hershey kiss in your purse, he would get it. But really, can you blame him for being a food connoisseur? He was like a broom, vacuum, and disposal all in one. If you dropped any scrap on the floor, he would lap it up in a heart beat. 

He was the most loving, kind, and caring dog. It is like he knew when you were having a bad day. He would just sit by you or on you and keep you company for hours. He never lost that adorable look of a sweet puppy. He was a fixture in my life for thirteen years. Even when I was lonely, I could go home and pull him into my arms and just cry into his fur. 

College took me away from him, but every time I came back home he would be waiting by the door. I know he knew me. He knew I was Nikki, the girl who picked him out.  

About two years ago, this excellent pup who could eat anything and survive was diagnosed with cancer. The vets removed the tumor but said he would only live between 3-6 months due to the aggressive nature of this type of cancer. 

When six months came and passed, we believed him to be immortal. I would come home and sit with him everyday. He would squeeze in next to me as I read or wrote or watched a movie. And I would cry saying goodbye only to be granted another time and yet another time with him. He was a fighter. 

Finally, last Christmas ('11) it was beginning to seem like the cancer was getting much worse. He didn't go after as much scraps. He laid on the couch all day. It made it hard to do anything because the moment you sat down, he was next to you. All he wanted/needed was somebody to sit with him. All I wanted was to be with him every last moment that I could.  

On my last night at home, I pretty much balled for hours. I skipped the family games to sit with him. And as I was about to get up to go to bed that last night, this sluggish dog climbed from his spot and sat down right on top of me. Because he knew. He always knew how much he meant to me. And in that moment I knew that he was saying goodbye. I had to leave the next day. Making no attempt to hide the tears. And a few weeks later, my wonderful dog, Rags, passed away. 

I honestly believe that all dogs go to heaven. At least the good ones. Or as the little girl I nannied always said, "Rags is in seven? No China? No heaven." She loved him, and she didn't even know him.

I miss him. I really miss him. Sometimes I think I hear him running to the door. Or his little click clack of his nails racing into the pantry. Sometimes I drop a piece of cereal on the floor and forget that now I have to pick it up. Christmas morning was great but I felt him missing from the room. (In case you are curious, right now I am a crying mess.) 

Now, it has almost been a year. And for some reason I felt like now is the time to tell his story. I was influenced by this sweet note I read about a six year old boy who described dogs like this, "People are born so that they can try to learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody and being nice all the time, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long (source)."

Rags has been gone for a year. I don't miss him everyday, but when I do I miss him just as much as the first day he was gone. 

My family has since gotten another dog, not a replacement by any means, but a new companion. Briscoe was born at 15lbs and now weighs in at over 100+. They are as different as dogs can be. Except for the one trait that matters most. They love unconditionally. 

 Briscoe who is pretty darn amazing.

I will have other dogs that I will love. But none will ever be Rags. Rags was the best friend of a lonely 13 year-old-girl. None can ever fill the gap in my heart the way he did. Because he was there, the gap was filled. He didn't save me from a burning fire or from nearly freezing to death in the himalayans. But he saved me nonetheless. 

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