In 2015, I self-published a collection of dog essays. While they were primarily about The Dingo, aka Sally, I wrote about other dogs I’ve known over the years, too. It was a good first effort, I think, but full of lessons about what I could do better. From formatting to securing a second pair of eyes for editing purposes, I fell short of my own mark. And yet, flaws notwithstanding, it is still an obvious work of love.
2016, The Year of Lost and Found
This is not the usual summation of last year that seems to be popular around the beginning of January. Of all the events of 2016, the two that made the most impact on my personal life were all about dogs.
On Saturday, July 23rd, around 9:45 p.m., Sally breathed a last, tortured breath. She died in a place of her choosing, as I crouched against the fence and told her how loved she was. I’ve never witnessed the death of a pet, much less one that had been the center of the household for 15 years. That was hard. But more difficult still were the three months that followed.
Sally was the glue that kept us together. I live with my parents, providing support for my mother and performing household tasks like cooking and cleaning. But my father and I do not get along. Without the dog, the rift between us widened substantially, at a time when neither of us should have been fighting.
The election happened, and my neoconservative father gloated jubilantly in my face. Without the dog, we had no safe topic of conversation, and the tension between us exploded. After that, I withdrew even more, if that’s possible. My mother was still mourning for Sally, but it was plain that without the presence of a dog, the Sandlin home would consist of two animated corpses passing for the living and a bitter, closeted, and angry failure of a daughter, mechanically providing meals, and cleaning.
I implored my parents to get another dog, and my mother softened to the idea enough to begin looking at the Humane Society website where the local branches post doggy adoption profiles. Of course, she chose the 37 or 38 likely candidates, and I expected the shopping process to take longer than it did. But on Saturday, November 12th, as they prepared to go run errands, eat lunch out, and drive around, as had become their dogless routine, I said, “Go get a dog. Just pick one.” And they did.
She Wasn’t Supposed to Be Mine
Towards the end of her long life, Sally and I grew closer. I’d always loved her, but I spent most of her decade and a half tenure with us not especially liking her. She was more than a bit of a stubborn brat, and when her plans didn’t align with mine, there was bound to be a struggle. But in the last three years, I became her caregiver.
I prepared her homemade food every week, took her for long(ish) walks after we moved and she could no longer roam free, and kept her company during the day. She came to me at night during her final months when her bladder betrayed her, because I would wake and accompany her into the back yard. My room was her safe space during and after the episodes that marked her increasingly fragile respiratory system.
You see, my parents selected Sally. I would not have chosen the yappy, clearly opinionated pup who’d been passed over for her more compliant litter mates. She was the last, and quite vocal about her loneliness. But, all things being equal, I’m glad they brought her home.
I reminded them that I hadn’t had a vote about Sally, and that they should choose a dog for themselves. It wouldn’t be my dog, but their companion in old age–their choice should reflect that. Several hours after they had gone, my mother called to tell me they’d chosen a dog and would be bringing her home. She was none of the 38 candidates my mother had selected, or even the cheapest option. And she was christened Ladybug, a thoroughly unsuitable name.
I’ll admit, I was excited at the thought of a dog in the house again. No, this new person could not replace Sally, but she would bring life back into the doddering elderly creatures my parents were swiftly becoming. A 3 year-old medium dog of potentially Shar Pei and Terrier parentage, history largely unknown, mother to at least one litter.
When they finally arrived, I was not expecting the earnest, neatly proportioned individual the exact color of a butter cookie. Nor was I expecting that she would choose me as her primary pet. But she did.
She sleeps on my bed at night, although I think she would have been content with the dog bed I made ready for her. We go on long walks together almost every day, although she’s happy to go with anyone who’s offering. She is my shadow, and her name is Gigi.
In 2017, I have a project I’d like to complete. No One Has Such A Dog was written after years of threatening to do it. I had much material ready-made. But Gigi is largely a mystery to me. She’s been with us just over a month, but unlike every other family pet, she’s not a puppy. Gigi is at least three, with a fully formed personality and stories to her credit at which I can only guess.
I’d like to put together a collection of essays about our first year together, and about rescue dogs, in a secondary capacity. Plus, I think I’d like to explore professional publication. While I’ll put it out myself, in any case, this is a project I’d like to see go farther than the first volume of essays. I think Gigi is worth that.