As I write today, I am busy wiping away my tears. On Monday, we received definitive word that our beloved little friend, Sparty the Italian Greyhound, has cancer. They give him somewhere between two weeks and two months to live. There is so much to be said about the little guy, so much I have to put down before it's too late.
He came to us, along with his litter-mate Sophie, 10 years ago this spring. I was beginning to feel the need to mother and mothering of a little person was some ways in the future, with many obstacles yet to overcome. When we agreed that we would get a dog, we agreed to get "A" dog- a little girl. It took much searching to find the breed that would be right for us and eventually agreed on an Italian Greyhound. The husband has pretty severe allergies to pets, but the IG is pretty close to hypo-allergenic. Finding one of these rambunctious creatures to adopt proved to be a challenge. Having never had a puppy of his own, the husband very much wanted to look for a puppy rather than a rescue. I know, some people look down on that, but it was the right decision for us and one that changed our lives.
Italian Greyhounds are a very protected breed. Every breeder I spoke to basically gave me the same line: they weren't sure what I was up to, but they were certain it was no good. Every single breeder doubted my intentions. Until I talked to Dick and Marilyn Heliker...in Michigan. It turned out they had a litter of three pups, two of whom would be available for adoption. If we were willing to make the 6 hour drive to spend the day getting to know them, they MIGHT consider us as an adoptive family for one dog. I don't know and I never asked, but I wondered if the offer for us to drive that distance was a test to see how bad we really wanted a new family member. I know it was a test to see if we could handle a true IG. Dick and Marilyn had more than 10 dogs in their Michigan home at the time, so a visit would definitely prove something.
We readily agreed and set a date. When we arrived, we were greeted by some of the most spirited little creatures you could ever imagine. IG ownership is certainly not for everyone, but right away we knew it was for us. There was only one 10 pound problem. There were two dogs up for adoption and I wasn't leaving without committing to the little girl. But the other one, the little boy Sparty- I could barely stand to leave him for a trip to the restroom, let alone never see him again. There would be a waiting period, during which time any adopted puppy would be spayed or neutered and then the breeders would drive to our home to deliver our newest family member. It broke my heart to leave either dog for my return home and the waiting period that would follow. I knew we would leave committed to Sophie, but the thought of not bringing her brother to live with us tore me to pieces. With a little convincing, the husband agreed that two pups were the way to go. Truth be told? Something about Sparty's incessant need to lick won over the husband long before I had a chance to do my best convincing act.
The weeks passed and eventually the doorbell rang. Two of the most wonderful pups were welcomed into our home. In the years that followed, they became our dearest family members. Rare was a family event to which the puppies did not go, rare was the evening we didn't stay snuggled under a blanket. Our lives were changed. And then motherhood happened.
I had always said I would not be one of those women who shunned the dogs when two legged children arrived. I wasn't. Sure there were times when my hands were full and fewer scratches were given, but I never for a second forgot that those two pups were my best nursemaids while I was on bed rest during pregnancy. Never could I ignore their melted chocolate-brown eyes when one or both came padding into the girls' room. And, without a doubt, never could I forget a birthday for the little four legged fuzzy guys- my girls were born on the same day as the dogs (separated by four years time.) My 9-1-6ers, that's how they were all collectively known. Life was chaotic, sometimes frustrating, often overwhelming, but never without unconditional love.
I find myself looking back at the last handful of years and realizing that time has been perfect, especially since I got my health in order. When I found health and peace, I began to see that my life was as close to perfect as one girl can get. A loving husband, two great kids, and dogs that cuddled with me whenever I saw down. One dog who was so devoted, that even a late night with friends, couldn't send him to bed without me. Those deep, knowing, compassion filled eyes were always watching. He. Was. Always. There.
When I received the crushing news, a friend mentioned how hard she knew it was for me and how symbolic to me it must be. At first, I couldn't identify what was symbolic about this situation, though I knew she was right. Then I figured it out, through many shed tears. The symbolism lies in my devotion to him. My relationship with Sparty, is much like a marriage. It took time to cultivate our routine, our understanding of one another, and a relationship of comfortable habits. I think back to the past couple of years and the peace I have found cuddling in bed, watching TV or reading, with the my soft and caring friend. It was comfortable and warm and peaceful and known.
It may sound strange, but I equate it to the idea of dating again - something that I am beyond happy I am not doing. There comes a peace when a relationship hits the point of being content and comfortable. At that point, each other's faults are known and accepted. That is where I am in my marriage and in my relationship with everyone in the household, including that little dog. Much like my relationship with my mate, where I have finally realized I don't need to always be right and that he loves me no matter what, my relationship with Sparty is a comfort. It is a comfort I am not ready to give up, and don't know that I will ever be prepared to be without. When we learned the devastating news I told him that I will not be selfish. I will not let him suffer. I will be for him what he has always been for me. I will hold him, I will love him, I will see him through. I am terrified for every second of that goodbye, but I owe him the kindness he has always shown me on my darkest days.
And when it is over, when the end has come and gone, I will carry the pure and unconditional love forward. The thought of never again looking in his eyes and seeing a universe filled with devotion and love is killing me, but I will keep looking until they close for the last time. I will shower extra scratches on Sophie, for she has never known a day without her brother. I will give her just one more treat, and love her even more. And I will never forget the time I had with them both, no matter how long either lives, because it will never be long enough.