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But the Pup, Pup, Puppy's Go-o-one

2004-08-10 - 9:47 a.m.

Well, the day every kid fears is finally upon me. My dog has cancer, and she's going to go to that big backyard in the sky.

Yeah, I'm sad. I'm not devastated. In fact, when my mom called to tell me this morning, she burst into tears, and I was the one saying things like, "It's okay. She's had a good life. She shouldn't have to suffer." Nothing quite like a good crisis-induced role reversal to kick off your morning.

I got my puppy back in 1990, when New Kids on the Block was still a vital cultural force whose albums would soon be thrown out once Nina, the most popular girl in fifth grade, announced that she thought they totally sucked (I still hadn't discovered They Might Be Giants yet, so what did I know?). I had recently acquired a book about dog breeds, which of course meant that I had to acquire the cutest of them all. After deliberations between the maltese (too high maintenance), the chihuahua (too stereotypical), and the yorkshire terrier (too gay, even for me), I decided on a pomeranian, which was fortunate, seeing as my family has a history of owning pomeranians. I have no idea why, we just do. Anyway, we finally found one out in Virginia, a beautiful little girl puppy who was clearly meant to be mine. I had originally come up with a list of names derived from Greek mythology, because I was that kind of child, but none of them seemed to fit a face that designed to be little more than adorable. Finally, I remembered that my grandmother's favorite movie was Gigi, and never before had a name so fit a face. My dog was cute as only a Gigi could be.

My dog's cuteness was put to the test a year later, at St Patrick's Day School's annual Blessing of the Pets. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, as St. Francis was the patron saint of animals, we got to spend a good portion of the afternoon on the soccer field having our pets blessed by Rev. Davenport. Rev. Davenport, just so you know, was about as kick-ass a chaplain as a school could have, so having you pet blessed by him was in no way a chore. One of my classmates was talking all kinds of smack about how his dog was the cutest dog anyone had ever seen. He had a Schipperke, which if you haven't seen it is a little fuzzy black dog with no tail. It was plenty cute, but not, in my opinion, anywehre near as cute as Gigi. When we brought them both to the field, our friendship dissolved into a bitter rivalry that, in retrospect, makes me understand a lot more of Best in Show than I'd care to admit. The class, in general, thought it should end in a draw, but each of us secretly knew that they were just being nice to that other unfortunate puppy.

Now, Gigi wasn't my only dog at the time. My other dog was a poodle/lhaso apso mutt named Prince. They got along well with one another, but the two of them couldn't have been more different. This was most obvious whenever we were going out of town and had to leave them in a kennel. It was like watching two kids going to summer camp. Gigi was dancing all around the car, looking out through the windows, excited as all get out, as if she was saying, "Oh WOW! Oh GEE! This is going to be so much FUN! I'm going to meet all sorts of new people and play games and run around in the yard and have like the best time EVER!!!" Prince, on the other hand, literally howled on the way over there, as if he was the kid who always got picked on, who got picked last for all the activities, and who was nearly willing to fake an injury to go home.

I could sympathize with Prince.

Gigi's adventurous side wasn't always amusing, of course. She had a tendency to run out the front door at every opportunity, racing out into the street and refusing to come back when called. This was a problem, because not only were we worried about cars running her down (I had three cats, all black and white, all named Sammy, all in a row, who were run over by cars), but we were worried that she might be stolen by someone who wanted a pricey pure-bred dog to sell. So, as soon as she shot between someone's legs into the front yard, I or my mother would run out after her, and we usually were able to catch her within a block or two. The problem came when she got out without our knowing, usually when someone casually came in and thought it was okay for her to go outside, or occassionally when she managed to burrow beneath the backyard fence. In these cases, we spent entire evenings roaming around the neighborhood, my mother, my grandmother, and myself, often with flashlights, often in cars. Usually, we didn't find her, but when we got home we'd have a message from a neighbor, who always told us that she was adorable and that they were happy to have her over as a guest.

For all the grief that Gigi called us, she and Prince more than made up for it as guard dogs. Granted, they barked at nearly everything that came by the house, but for every time they yelled at a small child or a possum, we remembered the one time they were barking like crazy, so much so that my grandmother went downstairs, and when she turned on the light she saw a man dressed all in black who took one look at her and ran off into the night. Dogs can save your life, even if they're toy dogs.

My dogs have been well known and well loved by my friends, and I openly judge others by the way they treat my dogs. One time, I had a friend come over, and as Gigi was loving all on her, she said, in a little sing-song voice, "Gigi, don't lick the Guccis!" If this girl had any idea the number of times that I and many of my friends have said, under our breath to her retreating back, "Don't lick the Guccis!" she would never shop anywhere but Payless.

In her last few years, Gigi starting exhibiting the signs of becoming an old dog. For one thing, she started coming back to the house when we called her, as if she was more worried about not being able to make it back home than excited about seeing the outside world. For another, she smelled horrible. It was this awful, fetid smell that prevented anyone from wanting her within 20 feet. However, we eventually discovered that this was due to tooth decay, and after we had some of her teeth pulled the smell went away. For the last few months, I was playing with her a lot more, and she never lost that puppy energy that she always had. I knew that she was already at an age where the last time I visited the house could always be the last time I would ever see her. I hope that she felt the love I was giving her towards the end. I hope she had fun, and always knew that she was part of a family, or, to put it in her terms, pack, that loved her.

I don't want to get too sentimental, because--and I know this is not a popular opinion--I do not think of dogs or cats as people. I believe that Gigi had a personality of a sort, and that, despite looking kinda dumb, she was actually very smart for a dog, but I do not equate her with a relative or a friend. I've had friends and family who have spiralled into deep depression after losing pets, and while I sympathize and try to be there for that person, I always have a little voice in my head saying, "It's just an animal." It might just be that I'm wired differently from other people, but I have yet to muster that kind of connection, and I don't really feel the need to do so. Today, I don't feel like I've lost a friend or a member of the family. I lost a pet. I get waves of sadness and think I might cry, but I've felt stronger grief for the death of relative strangers who were human, and I'm okay with that.

But at the same time, I wish I could be there for her. I wish I could play with her for a couple more hours, and be there with her when she falls asleep and goes wherever it is that dogs go. I wish I could make sure that she feels safe when she goes, and I will miss her very much, and enjoy the little doggie part of her that will always be inside me.

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