Millie came to us after a two-year mourning period for our beloved Harry. We were so heartbroken when we made the decision to let go of 18-year-old Harry that we couldn’t imagine allowing another four-legged creature into our lives. But time puts some distance between those raw, sharp feelings and your capacity for love.
I brought the subject up, of course. I, who had lived very few years of my life without a dog, one day knew it was time. We knew we wanted a rescue dog, and didn’t really care what kind or what gender, as long as it was smallish. And preferably short hair to minimize the inevitable shedding. We started going to pet adoptions. Looking at those precious pups in their kennels always made me so sad. I would look into their sweet eyes and wish them luck in finding a home. God bless the people who volunteer for such organizations.
One Sunday in August we went to the PetSmart and looked at the dogs out on the sidewalk. Steve was quick about this, I liked to linger. Even if I knew a dog wasn’t right for us, I didn’t want her to feel judged or rejected. So I tried to engage with each of them, reaching through the grids of the kennels to let them lick my hand while wagging their tail. Dogs are so easy to love.
Nothing on the sidewalk was right – all too big. Steve was done, but I asked one of the volunteers if they had more dogs inside. I told her that we were looking for a smaller dog. She said yes, there were more inside and they had the cutest little mixed up dog that might be what we were looking for. So I went in.
And there she was. Sitting in her kennel, pressed against the door, taking in all the activity around her. Her front legs were perfectly straight, but her paws turned slightly out, giving her the appearance of graceful ballerina casually in first position. Elegant. I turned to show Steve, who I assumed was behind me, but he was nowhere. I went back outside and there he was at the curb, in the car, waiting for me to go home. I told him to park and come back in because I wanted to show him a dog inside.
We went up to her kennel and I poked my fingers through the grid. She sniffed and raised her Yoda ears, cocking her head slightly, so hopeful that maybe we were the ones who would take her home. I opened her kennel and she tried to bolt, but I scooped her little emaciated body up. She didn’t put up a fight and let me cuddle her. As I held her next to my face, stroking her soft, white chest, she turned her head to my face and gave me the slightest of kisses. Just a little acknowledgement that she approved of me and she hoped I approved of her. And that was it.
With an unknown provenance, she captivated us. We spent hours making up scenarios about her 10 months of life before she came home with us. She was found roaming the streets of Decatur with a limp in her back right leg. No damage was found, but she favored it her entire life. How did it happen? Every time I picked up a broom she would cower so perhaps there’s a connection. We’ll never know.
Adopting a pet is an adjustment for everyone, but so often we forget what an adjustment it is for the pet. Humans tend to think of everything in terms of how it impacts them, but this little creature came to us with 10 hard months of experience, and I’m pretty sure not all of it was good. When she cried at night, not only was that an annoyance for us, it was pain and fear in her that she didn’t know how to handle and she was trying in the only way she knew to ask for help. For comfort and support.
Millie had already stolen my heart, but Steve was a tougher sell. It’s as if she knew this and made it her life’s work to endear herself to him. I think Steve was OK with her, but she was “the dog who tried to replace Harry and failed” in his eyes for a while. So she did things that made him see her for what she was, not what he wanted her to be.
When he came home from work, she would greet him with enthusiasm like you’ve never seen. Coming home to a dog is reason enough to have one. They don’t hold grudges, they don’t sulk, and their emotion is honest and raw. Of all the dogs I’ve had in my life, Millie was the best greeter. Ever. A Millie greeting is thing of joy. You can be mad, angry, upset, brooding, or disgusted, but when you walk through the door and have her yap her hellos, twirling and swirling around you like you are the only thing in the world that matters, all those negative feelings dissolve and a big smile takes over your face. It only took a few times of her letting him know that he was her world before he was as hooked as I.
Then she would follow him around, curling up next to him while he read or watched TV. They would go on long walks and runs together, her four little short legs easily keeping pace with his two long ones. When he would leave she would look at me like her world had ended. She loved me, too, probably just as much. But I always thought that she knew she had me from that day in the PetSmart but she had to figure out how to get him. It wasn’t good enough for her to just be my dog. She was determined that she was going to be his dog, too. And that’s what she became. All the work she put into winning him over paid off because he fell for her wholly and completely.
Millie had a very unique look, almost foxlike, with piercing green eyes that would bore through you. People always wanted to pet her, but she rarely allowed it. She wouldn’t snap, but she would slyly duck away, especially if anyone tried to pet her head. Was this another scar from her puppyhood? But with us, she was pure love. She would curl up in our laps, sleep under our covers, and give us kisses. She had terrible separation anxiety, as evidenced by the numerous leather items she devoured and the upholstered chair she un-upholsterd. She finally stopped those blatant displays of fear, but we rarely left her that she didn’t howl to the heavens for help.
Of all my many dogs, she was the only one I ever had that would not run away from me. She had no fear of cars, otherwise I could have walked her anywhere without a leash. She found us and she was not letting us go. No smell or adventure was compelling enough for her to bolt from us and if something started to lure her away, one quick word was all it took to bring her back.
All dogs deserve Millie’s life. Dogs are love, pure and simple. They are what we should model our own behaviors on. Know right from wrong, be sorry when you do wrong, and never hold a grudge. And know your human parent. I think they know far more about us than we do them. And while we take care of their physical needs, they give us things we didn’t know we needed. It’s more than companionship and it’s different from what you get from human relationships. It’s primal and basic and pure. It touches your soul and makes you a better person. If you’re with your pet right now, give her a hug or a scratch on the belly and thank her.
And so, after all these years, we must part. One of the reasons Steve didn’t want to get another dog was because he didn’t want to say goodbye again. He didn’t want his heart ripped apart and have to figure out how to try and stitch it together again. But we chose love over emptiness and welcomed Millie into our world. If we hadn’t, look at all the joy we would have missed. I wonder if she knows how much she brought to us. I like to think she did. She can’t know the breadth of it because it is so vast. But I think she knew we were all complete together.
Her soul is among the angels and there’s an emptiness in mine. In time, I will heal and my memories of her ailing and floundering will be replaced with her as a youthful pup running her heart out and covering my face in kisses. Oh, yes, she brought me so much joy. So much happiness. I am richer because of her. And I miss her so much I can barely breathe. She, who only ever asked to be cared for and in return gave me complete love. The heavens are brighter now and I am trying to adjust to life without my best friend and constant companion. My heart is broken and the sharp edges cut deep into my soul.
God bless you, Millie. I hope that you and Harry and all my other doggie children have a special section of heaven. And I hope one day I will see you all there.