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Beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear…

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Ten years ago I had my heart torn to shreds by a dog no bigger than my hand. Clif and I were living in L.A. and Mom asked me to find and bring home a miniature Chihuahua for my brother’s Christmas present and due to bad luck and lack of experience, I chose a puppy that was sickly and quite possibly too young to be separated from its mother. I gave that puppy every ounce of love I had and nursed it, to no avail, day after day. Finally, I had to surrender it to my vet for more advanced care. I will never forget the next morning when I called to check on ‘my’ puppy and the receptionist very casually said, “Oh, she didn’t make it”, and I felt like I must be absolutely crazy because the woman told me that my dog had died in the same tone that she might have told me an appointment time but I felt like my heart had fallen right out of my chest.

Clif and I found ourselves preparing to deliver the same sort of gut-wrenching news to the girls on Tuesday evening, gut-wrenching for the both of us because our own grief was still so raw and we had no idea how Allie and NR were going to handle the news that our beloved Oddjob had died that morning. Oddjob was sick over the weekend and the vet recommended an exploratory surgery to locate and hopefully fix the problem, which, she thought was in his stomach or his intestines. We answered the phone on Tuesday morning expecting a briefing about the surgery that was to take place and instead we were told that Oddjob didn’t survive through the night.

When that little puppy tore my heart ten years ago my grief was so severe that even Clif, who is usually more practical, was sure that the only remedy was to buy another dog, one just for me this time. I was absolutely stunned at the suggestion. A week’s worth of caring for a sick puppy had cost me and Mr. Kipling does not exaggerate the cost. We browsed pet stores and dog breed manuals but I was nowhere close to committing. I had loved and lost many dogs throughout my childhood but none had ever hurt my heart as much as this one and for all of my stoicism and auspiciousness, I would tremble at the thought of giving my heart to another dog to tear.

I didn’t give either of my daughters credit for having the capacity to realize a loss so completely, but the look on Nora Ruth’s face when we told her about Oddjob was utter anguish and she cried as if her heart were breaking. I promised myself not to cry, to be strong and calm and to reassure the girls but Nora Ruth’s reaction made it difficult to keep my composure. Allie seemed more disturbed by her sister’s reaction and her cries were a reflection of the grief that Nora Ruth was expressing. Nora Ruth was obviously shocked, as were we when we first heard the news, and she kept repeating, “I didn’t think he was going to die.” She cried off and on that first night; subsequent days have been easier although every so often she announces that she misses Oddjob, asks a question about heaven, or repeats that she didn’t imagine Oddjob would die.

I never overcame my grief or conquered my new fear of loving and losing an animal and so I never made up my mind about finding a new dog, but late one afternoon I came home from work to a quiet, dusky apartment. Clif was napping on the sofa and when I said, “hello”, the light was so dim but I could see something fat and round shifting on his chest. When I switched on the lights I saw a fat, snuffly, drowsy little pug puppy blinking at me and Clif was grinning that grin he does when he knows he’s truly shocked me. Of course I was in love immediately but I had to voice my doubts; Clif explained that he had picked the fattest puppy in the litter AND he had even watched to see which puppy had been the most adept at getting to the food and water bowls first so he was sure that we had the healthiest, most self-sufficient puppy. I still laugh through my tears to think about Clif’s criteria and how he blessed me that day.

We buried Oddjob at Barker’s Beach because he loved it there. Oddjob could be very ho-hum, even with all of the kids running around, with his nose between his paws and eyebrows raised just enough to look out from under his wrinkly forehead at the tornado of little people and activity going around the house. (We blame this attitude not on old age but on his disgruntlement over all of the “additions” to our household over the past 5 years.) But when we told him that he could “go”, Oddjob was a different dog. Even better were the days when the “going” took us all to Barker’s where he loved to run circles, dodging and spinning around poor Toots, who is not at all comfortable sitting or walking in sand, sniffing through all of the seaweed and driftwood, and swimming out to us as we waded through the rocks and turtle grass. We chose a spot set-back from the beach and raised a bit, quite close to our favorite picnicking spot so that whenever we go to Barker’s we can feel like he’s there with us, too. As Clif and I hugged and cried, I told him “thank you” for my old friend, Oddjob, the best gift he gave me ten years ago. Later, after we had taken the girls to see Oddjob’s grave and after they had cheerfully hunted for large corral to mark and decorate his grave, Nora Ruth suddenly burst out crying and exclaimed, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave Oddjob here when we go home!”

Choosing a name for our little pug was not easy. Clif grew up with large dogs and I grew up with Jack Russell Terriers with names like ‘Little Big Man’ and ‘Ruff and Ready’. We wanted our little guy to have a masculine name, something that he could grow into and be proud of but that wouldn’t be too much of a contrast with his size and breed. Finally, we were running through comic book heroes when Clif said that our puppy reminded him of a strong-man character in Goldfinger; one Google search and Oddjob had more than a name. He had personality, smarts, and so much love for the both of us. As a puppy he stood outside of my shower every morning and howled until I poked my head out to talk to him. Long before I had children to corner me and pepper me with questions while I was in the restroom Oddjob would tail me, wait quietly on the bathmat and then follow me back out. We taught him a whole bag of tricks, were so proud when he first learned to enjoy swimming with us, and somehow survived all of his smart-puppy antics which included climbing over doggy-gates, pulling apart dog-proof garbage cans, and general mutiny when we dared leave him home alone for longer than an hour.

Oddjob has followed us faithfully to so many places- from LA to Nashville, Nashville to North Carolina, North Carolina to Mississippi, and finally to Grand Cayman. He was our family before we had a family in the more traditional sense. It’s difficult to imagine leaving Oddjob behind when we leave this island. I could hardly believe that my five year old so quickly expressed the thing about Oddjob’s dying that has caused me the most consternation but I told her how Oddjob was born in LA and the ocean and the sand were in his blood. I told her about all of times Clif and I took Oddjob to play at the dog beach in Long Beach and I reminded her of how much he loved Barker’s. Allie asked me the other day if heaven is in the sand; as you can tell, she’s a little confused, what with all of this talk about heaven and the conflicting story that Oddjob is under the sand at Barker’s Beach. Or maybe she’s close to the truth and Oddjob’s heaven is a beach. I hope so. It will be good to meet my old friend again on a beautiful, Caribbean-blue and white beach.

Oddjob taking a swim at Barker’s Beach

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4 thoughts on “Beware of giving your heart to a dog to tear…

  1. You sweet,sweet family. I love you and am so sorry about your pup. The hardest thing about having them is losing them; we know it from the start, vow not to give our hearts so completely next time but do they steal them… maybe? NR’s learning a hard lesson early but later will agree (I think) “it is better to love and lost than to never have loved at all”….I love u.

    • Thanks, Aunt Pat…I can always count on the Berry side of the family to “get me” when it comes to talking about my dogs. Love you xoxoxo

  2. Eloquent and well expressed Becky.

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