POST 18. Everyone’s Best Friend

 Everyone’s  Best Friend

I was 7 years old, so excited to celebrate the holidays … first, Hanukkah with my grandparents.  Grand-pop gave us gelt , both the foil wrapped chocolate coins and real ones for our piggy banks. Playing dreidel games, making chocolate filled cookies, and eating grand-mom’s sweet apricot noodle kugel! Wonderful, sweet memories, especially the loving memories of my grandparents , still alive in my heart for almost 60 years.


Then came Christmas,  pure  magic …baking cookies, taking walks with my family at night to see the neighborhood decorations, ice skating with bonfires afterwards, making ornaments and luminaries, and preparing for Christmas Eve… because we could select one gift from the pile.  After waiting forever, Christmas Eve finally arrived!


On Christmas Eve, our house was a flurry of activity. With my brother, Leslie, we set to work, selecting ornaments as though each one was a  precious diamond!


 It was getting late and Daddy was still struggling to build the tree stand. Finally, the tree was standing tall and regal. It almost didn’t need ornaments. And it smelled so good! The four of us set to work, making the tree glow with lights and ornaments, most of them homemade. 


This year I made a puppy ornament out of cardboard and painted with watercolors … on both sides. I wanted a puppy so badly. But my parents said they doubted I’d be able to care for it responsibly, despite my protestations. I knew in my heart I’d be a great dog owner. 


Now it was 9 o’clock. Mommy and I made popcorn and hot chocolate. We settled around the tree. Daddy chose one gift and carefully removed the wrapping. It was a red striped tie with a gold tie clip. It was from Mommy.  Then she chose one gift. It was from me, a locket I bought myself, from my allowance. I cut up a snapshot of my brother and one of me to put inside. Her eyes brimmed with tears, made bright by the light of the tree; she was so touched. Leslie got the Erector set he’d been wanting. Then Daddy left the room. It was my turn. My heart was beating so hard! Why was he taking so long?


He returned with a box with a giant red bow on the top. Tiny holes pierced the box. Oh, my. I couldn’t breathe!


 “Go on. Open it,” he said. I pulled the bow off, and the box fell over. Out came a living fur ball of squirming, wriggling PUPPY!  I was elated as I scooped it up and it licked my face!


Heidi as puppy

I named her Heidi, after a favorite book. I fell in love with Heidi instantly, and she with me. She became my best friend. We were inseparable. I played with her every day. She loved to fetch anything, ball, sock, or frisbee! She learned quickly to shake paws, roll over, sit up, and walk on her hind legs. She entertained my friends and family. .


But I didn’t know that she would die.


 I wasn’t prepared. I just didn’t want to think of the possibility, although I noticed her muzzle was turning white and she was less playful as time went by. But that didn’t matter. We cuddled all the time, while I was doing homework or filling my journal with this story.


 I came home from school one day and called her name over and over. She didn’t respond. I found her upstairs in my bedroom.  She was dead, all alone, curled up on my bed. I held her for hours, petting her.


I was 17, but I cried like a colicky baby as we wrapped her in her favorite beach towel and buried her in the backyard where the sun would warm her forever. 


I cried on and off for days. I just couldn’t stop. My parents understood my grief and  allowed me to skip school for two days, a real rarity. I took to my bed and cried into Heidi’s pillow, even into the weekend. I recorded my loss in my journal and wrote about our adventures. The tears slowed with each word I penned.


On Sunday, Dad suggested we make a gravestone for her. He made a large frame while I prepared a bucket of concrete. Through eyes nearly blinded by tears, I poured the concrete into the frame. I smoothed it carefully, til the surface nearly glistened. Dad said to wait awhile for the mix to set. I thought about what to draw in the concrete and what words to write. Dad carved a stylus for me to use for the rest of our project. I decided to draw a dog with a halo and angel wings. Continuing, I wrote, “You will live in my memories, Heidi, my dearest friend.”


I stopped crying and returned to school on Monday. Tears came only at night now.


I still think of Heidi. She was my first dog and my best friend. 


Lou and I had dogs of our own and we loved them passionately, perhaps because we were never able to have children of our own. 


Fats trying to keep up with Lou

Our first sheltie was Fats. How we adored him!  But the years flew by in a flash. Fats was approaching the end of his life.  


I was first to realize that it was time to take him to Carla, our friend and vet. Lou couldn’t let go. When Fats could no longer walk or stand, Lou held him up to potty. When he could no longer keep from drowning in his water bowl, Lou held his head.  He carried him to our bed so he could feel our love. He wagged his tail. That was a special moment, that he could respond to love, even as his body was failing.


The next day, we took Fats to Carla to be euthanized. We both cried outrageously. Carla was crying too. She could not continue the procedure, so she had to ask us to step away. Fats was cremated. We buried his ashes at the first house we built. I wish we had kept his ashes so that he would be with our other dogs when we built our second house. 


Dustin, our second Sheltie

Next came Dustin, then came Tyler, and last came my mom’s  Shitzu, Geisha, which we inherited upon her death.


Our dogs all lived full and happy lives and died near the age of 14. Fats and Dustin were champs at obedience trials and I trained Tyler in obedience as well,  but his gig was Agility training, and Geisha was our sweet lap dog!


Tyler and Geisha helping Lou shovel snow

Did it get any easier to lose our dogs over the years?


Tyler, our third sheltie, so much fun



 In fact, I reached the point where I couldn’t take the dogs for checkups, for fear Carla would have bad news!


When Tyler’s cancer became too advanced, he was euthanized. Geisha died in my arms. We never had another dog again. Losing them was just too hard. 


There is terrible grief in losing pets. They are like our children, at least for some of us. Many people don’t understand that kind of loss. 


Are they the lucky ones?


 I think not. They miss out on the loyalty, the love, the playfulness, the companionship, the cuddles, and, yes, the friendship. 


As with all forms of grief, the loss of a pet is a very real loss. Offer support, particularly if you are the parent of a grieving child, or the child of an elder, or the friend of someone without children.


My dad really helped me deal with the loss of Heidi. He’s the reason Lou made little gravestones for each dog we lost.


Do I still miss our dogs?  Every day !




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