Our dog Annie, a Bichon Frise, died last week. Named after the Little Orphan, she was 16. At the time Annie came into our lives, I was getting divorced, Dylan and Zoe were 5 and 2, and it was 3 months before we left our life in Miami to start anew in Colorado.
One of the many books I scoured on how to help kids through divorce suggested a puppy. Due to what can only be attributed to mid-divorce psycho syndrome, a puppy actually sounded more reasonable than, say, a gerbil or therapy. So I busied myself finding the perfect non-allergenic puppy* to compensate my children for what was suddenly a way less than perfect family.**
Even in my addled state, I knew I should get a rescue dog. Though wrong and irrational, at the time a rescue dog represented damaged goods. If my kids couldn’t have a perfect family life, I would at least see to it that they had a perfect, undamaged puppy. Cuddly, adorable and non-shedding, Annie seemed to fit the bill.
My sisters and I wrapped the tiny fluff ball that was Annie in silks and presented her in a ribbon laced wicker basket to Dylan on her 5th birthday. It was a magical moment the kids still remember. What the girls don’t recall is the hell I endured with that dog.
Like our fractured family, Annie was not the model puppy.
She was a yapper and biter from the get go. She snapped at every outstretched hand, especially children who could not resist reaching for what resembled a cute stuffed animal. Annie also launched into high pitched barking tantrums and hurled herself at the fence for every passing pedestrian. I was constantly in fear of getting sued by furious parents and we were the bane of our new neighborhood.
Our puppy was also a housebreaking nightmare, the white carpet in our rental a tapestry of yellow stains. The dog trainer suggested more walks. I was used to Miami weather where kids only needed to wear sunscreen and bug spray; in Colorado, counting the time it took to get the kids into coats, gloves and hats, walking the dog became a full time job. Inexplicably, whenever we returned from a walk, Annie added another stain to the carpet. The trainer insisted the problem was me and the puppy was not to blame.
The verdict was in: in addition to a failed marriage, I was also a failed dog owner.
I complained bitterly that what the divorce books should have said is: the last thing you f*cking need when going through a divorce … when you weep every day … when you are moving across the country with a toddler and kindergartner … when you can’t wait to get the kids to bed so you can drink copious amounts of wine … the very last thing you need is a puppy.
At least that’s I thought at the time.
What I think now, is that Annie was exactly what all of us needed. Her cranky disposition toward strangers never extended to the girls, even when they treated her like a rag doll. They dressed her in bonnets, booties and dresses, stood her up to dance, subjected her to tea parties, and strapped her into strollers. She endured all with stoic patience and even
devotion. When the kids fell asleep and she had the opportunity to escape their clutches, Annie slept by their side.
Annie was a salve during a painful time.
That’s why, despite not being a dog person (as confessed in a previous post,) I loved Annie. It’s also why, when she died, I wailed in sorrow. Why, though she was 16, deaf, blind, and suffering, I was not ready for her to go.
When I discovered Annie had died, I called my ex-husband, Paul, who said all of the right things and insisted on leaving work to grieve with me. As I waited for Paul, I fretted over what to do with Annie’s body. With a quick google search, “dead/dogs/freaking out/what to do,” I found my answer. Humane Dog Disposal, Inc.
I called and sobbed into the phone. The woman on the other end kindly explained my options. The least expensive was immediate removal followed by disposal in an “unmarked” grave, which unfortunately included roadkill. The second option, significantly more expensive she apologized, was removal followed by “private” cremation. Payable by cash or credit card.
Annie, our princess, laid to rest with a bunch of squashed raccoons and possums?! Never. She was going out with dignity.
When I pictured dignified, I did not envision Mark. He was 6’3” and arrived to remove Annie in a bright hawaiian shirt, bermuda shorts and flip-flops. Mark was our Doggie Angel of Death.
Despite his cheerful attire, Mark cried as he carried Annie away. His tears gave mine pause. While I appreciated his empathy, Mark’s display of emotion felt an infringement on my own heartache. No longer thinking about Annie, I wondered if Mark cried all day as he escorted deceased pets to the “other side.” Weird.
Then it got more weird. Mark felt moved to mournfully recount the day his family dog died….
The extended family were all present. Mom held the dog on her lap as she was euthanized, unconcerned about warnings the dog would poo as she died. Afterward, before even cleaning herself, mom gently washed her dog because “no dog of hers was going to the grave dirty.” Then she informed the family the burial would not be until the following day, because she wanted to sleep with her beloved dog one last time. Dad would have to sleep on the couch.
I was stupefied. My own grief forgotten. All I could think of was how Mark’s story gave new meaning to the term “TMI.”
“The most amazing thing,” he said, “is that our dog was also a Bichon Frise and her name was Annie!” The coincidence was not exactly a miracle, I thought, considering the vast number of Bichons on the planet and the likelihood that many of them would be called Annie — an apt name for a small, adorable, curly-haired dog.
Finally, Mark presented Annie’s death certificate. We could expect her ashes by mail in 2 weeks. Mark assured us it would be Annie’s ashes, not those of some random poodle or possum. He confided that his more unscrupulous competitors actually do not take care to return the correct ashes.
After Mark left, Paul and I shared a moment of stunned silence. We agreed that Mark was crazy and speculated whether he tearfully recounted the story of his Annie to every Bichon owner who crossed his path.
During a break from the mediation workshop I passed a man walking a Bichon. Unbelievable! She looked exactly like Annie. I stopped to pet her and asked the dog’s name. “Abby,” replied the man. Impossible! Practically the same name. Voice cracking, tears streaming, I recounted the day Annie died. I asked the man if he didn’t think it a miraculous coincidence that my dog looked exactly like Abby and their names were were so similar.
The man looked at me like I was crazy, took Abby’s leash, and slowly backed away.
*Note to parents with asthmatic, allergy prone children such as my otherwise perfect Dylan, there is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog. Dylan wheezed and sniffed her way through childhood, though she has always insisted Annie was worth the misery.
**Note to new parents who, like I was, are smug with the certainly that their children will always eat organic, non sugary foods in a TV free, plastic free, anger free house and otherwise experience a perfect family life — good luck with that.