Yes, I’m one of those people.

This weekend is proving to be very busy already. Most of my Christmas packages have arrived, and I’ll start wrapping presents tomorrow (if only to show myself that I don’t have enough wrapping paper in time to get more). But the weekend follows a very busy and somewhat stressful work week. This morning I had a 9 am grooming appointment for my dog, so I had to kick it into high gear early enough to drive her there. They promised to have her back to me by noon, because I’ll be leaving home around 12:30-ish to go to a concert about an hour away.

So what have I spent my morning fretting about? My dog.

You can’t know how it tugs at my heart to leave her with strangers. I’ve said it plenty of times before. She’s my emotional support animal. She might not have the credentials, but I feel lost without her. Today was the first time in a while that she wasn’t shaking when we pulled out of the driveway. The last few times we’ve gone anywhere, it has been to Sean’s house, which she loves to do. It hasn’t been a vet visit (which is also coming up this month) or a groomer visit. She settled right down for the drive. So I felt extra awful when drove up into the parking lot of the grooming establishment. I took her into the grooming salon with all the noise (and the smell – I’m not sure where that smell comes from, but maybe it’s the bird cages in the lobby) and handed her over. I’m sure they will take fine care of her, but they are not me. When she came home from the last (her first) visit there, she drank a bowlful of water and promptly slept for several hours. I knew she had been anxious. This morning when I turned to go, the receptionist was leading her back to the salon, and she tried to bolt for me as I was opening the front door to leave.

I felt like such an asshole, but I simply can’t bathe her and trim her nails myself. She’s a lot of dog with a lot of energy.

When she came into my life, I was so ready for a dog again. My Lily had died in the summer of 2012. I had fostered several Bichon Frise dogs, all of them senior dogs, with my ex-wife. The last one we fostered together went to live with her when we split. I loved the dogs, but they were no Lily. Lily was an English Bulldog (now I guess they just call the breed “Bulldog”) who was my daughter’s 17th birthday present. By the time Stephanie died, Lily had been living with me for awhile. Steph just couldn’t care for her. She could barely care for herself. I missed Lily almost as much as I missed my own child. I wasn’t sure I could ever fall for a dog again. Love them, yes; fall for them? I wasn’t sure.

Five years later, I tried adopting another Bulldog from a rescue organization, but he had been through some things and was aggressive. I didn’t have the mental or physical energy for that, and I was a little afraid for Annabel, my cat. Back he went to rescue. The next year, my son and I went to the local shelter to look at the available dogs. We made a right when we should have made a left (cats versus dogs section), and ended up walking past the cat cages. I tried to hurry through and not pay attention to all the cute, playful kitties there, but Lola, a beautiful Russian Blue mix, reached out and grabbed my sleeve. She claimed me. Though we did go over to the dog area, all the dogs that seemed right for me were spoken for. Only a few Chihuahuas were left . Not my breed by a long shot. We went back into the cat room, and I adopted Lola. (Annabel is now 7, and Lola is 6.)

I decided to wait another couple of years to even try to find another dog. My tenants moved out of my house in Walkersville. I’d been living with Sean almost since my divorce was final. He decided to sell his house, and we moved into my vacant home. It wasn’t a perfect set up for us. Our bedrooms would be across the hall from one another, but he was already talking about finding a place in North Carolina. This gave him time to do that.

I opened myself up to the possibility of adopting a dog, once again, since I was back in a house with a fenced yard. It took a while for me to come to that decision, though. It was a tumultuous spring and summer that year, and I was working a lot. I commuted over an hour each way to my job. It wasn’t a perfect time to get a dog, because the majority of the work would have fallen on my son. What would I do, then, when he moved? But in late summer, I found another job in northern Virginia that would permit me to work from home full-time. After accepting the position, I started going through the process of applying to different rescue organizations, looking for a dog who needed someone to love. History had told me that it could take awhile to get through the process and find the right pup. I tried several organizations that friends recommended, but things didn’t seem to be working out. Then I found Lucky Dog, an organization in northern Virginia, which had some adorable puppies and young dogs available. Their next adoption was scheduled on Saturday in Arlington. I had been at my new job for two weeks.

After reviewing the dogs who would be available at the event, I decided to look at a long-haired Dachshund puppy named Christopher. Contacting the group, I learned I should get there as soon as the event opened around 10 a.m., because they assured me he wouldn’t be there long. A friend and I got coffee that Saturday morning and then hit the road. We figured on being there around 9:30. But that wasn’t early enough! When we arrived, I located Christopher, but a young woman was hovering over his enclosure, cooing over him and petting his soft little ears. I asked if she was a volunteer. “No,” she said. “I’ve already filled out the application and paid the adoption fee for him.” She was just waiting to take him home. I asked her what time she got there, because they told me to arrive at 10. She said she had gotten there at 8:30, because she really wanted him.

I was so disappointed. My friend and I wandered around a little, with me grumbling under my breath that they shouldn’t have started adopting out dogs until the event started! Dejected, I was ready to go home. I had the money in my pocket for the adoption and had already filled out the necessary paperwork and provided references. My shoulders sagged and my face showed my sadness. I was glad Christopher was going to a loving home, but it wasn’t to mine. My friend encouraged me to take a look around. There were plenty of dogs who needed someone. I complained that I had wanted a smaller dog that would be easy for me to take care of, but we kept walking. Knowing that because of my advancing age, this might be my last dog, I really longed for a puppy, perhaps one I could train to be a therapy dog, as Lily had been. You often can’t know whether a dog is a good candidate for that job until you’ve had them for a while. I was willing to take any dog I adopted through training and all the assessments necessary to become certified. I had many such notions about what I wanted.

And then I saw her. She was small and was curled up tightly in the very back of a pile of puppies, an entire litter that had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in Florence, SC. Several of her littermates were a golden brindle or some combination with a white spot here and there. Another, a male who was up dancing and showing off, seeking attention, was solid chocolate. Adele had a more classic dark brindle and white coat. Clearly she had some American Staffordshire Terrier in her. Her lively brother’s coat would indicate that the mother was probably a chocolate Lab (DNA tests confirmed that Adele’s sire was full AmStaff and the mother was a Lab mix). But I couldn’t take my eyes off of Adele. I knew I wanted a female, and I asked the volunteer if they could confirm. The woman lifted Adele out of the pen and brought her closer to me so I could take a closer look. Because people are jerks, the volunteer can’t just hand you the dog, lest you take off running with the dog before you are approved and have paid your adoption fee.

Poor pup. She looked scared and sleepy. She’d had a long trip up from SC the night before, and she didn’t know where she was or what she had done to deserve being thrown into a shelter, then a van, then a pen.

For me, it was love at first sight. I told the volunteer to please get me the paperwork to formally adopt this little sweetheart, and then I handed over my money to their treasurer. After what seemed like forever, they put Adele in my arms. I have shared a picture of the two of us, below. To this day, it’s one of my favorite pictures of any I have. You can see the happiness on my face and the love on hers. She did not yet have a name, but the rescue group had called her “Barbie.” All the littermates had B names.

At the time, all I knew is that I needed the love of a dog in my life, and this pup snuggled right up in my arms. After going through two marriages and two divorces, it looked like I was going to be perpetually single, but I had a lot of love to give. I choose to shower that love on my pets. In this picture I was so tired from a busy Saturday morning, but so happy. The woman in the background with the big smile is one of the volunteers, Georgia. She was thrilled for us.

When my friend and I got back in the car, she asked what I was going to name my little one. I looked in the back seat, where my new love was sitting quietly, watching me. I said, “She has kind of a mellow quality. Kind of like an Adele song.” And so, my new pup was dubbed “Adele,” and the name suited her perfectly (though she would prove to be anything but mellow during her puppyhood)! I drove home to Maryland and introduced Adele to my son. He fell in love, too. His big ginger tomcat, Chips, walked into the living room and stopped short. He got a very annoyed look on his face as he stared at Adele. He would “train” her how to treat cats, starting with a quick swat when she got too close to him. They would end up being great friends.

Adele was home.

Little did I know that the following spring would bring a killer pandemic to the world, shutting us all inside our homes and teaching us to stay at least six feet away from other people. I was even more grateful to have my pup with me. We could at least get out for walks and have playtime every day.

On the heels of the growing fears about the novel coronavirus with all of its new health protocols, late that March I discovered a lump in my breast. I made an appointment with my gynecologist the following week. I said to him, “I’m only here so you’ll assure me this is nothing.” I chuckled. He didn’t. He said, “As far as I can tell, you have a 3 cm mass and I want you to go get a diagnostic mammogram right away. We’ll make the appointment for you.” His face looked serious. “Should I be concerned?” I asked.

He said, “Concerned but not fearful.” Wise words indeed. And it wasn’t 3 cm. It was almost 9 cm.

The diagnostic mammogram was immediately followed by an ultrasound. The nurse manager at the imaging center sat me down in a private room and told me they had found something they needed to biopsy. Thus, my fifteen-month cancer journey began. Adele was there by my side every step of the way, at least at home. We had already been through puppy obedience class, so she was turning into the most amazing companion. During the worst of my chemo treatments (adriamycin and cytoxan), I considered having someone foster her temporarily. I couldn’t get out for walks with her, and I almost never felt like playing. I slept a lot and struggled to eat. I took a few weeks off work. My son took care of almost everything, but he rarely had the time or energy after working and helping me to take Adele for walks. She stayed by my side all the time.

By December of that year, I was finished with chemo and had been through the six-week waiting period to allow my blood counts to rebound. My hair was starting to come back as white peach fuzz, but I still had the gray-skinned appearance of someone whose body has been through hell. December 3rd, I had my surgery. It was pretty intense. Before surgery, they located the biopsy clips with ultrasound and put needle markers in to guide the surgeons. Then they did a “gentle” mammogram to ensure the needles were in the right place. I went through this and every other procedure alone. My son was not allowed in with me for chemo or anything else. The pandemic stopped all that. The nurses became my allies and friends. I had the surgery and was alone in the hospital overnight. My son picked me up the next day when they discharged me. I was weak and sore, but I was so grateful that the vestiges of the tumor and the axillary lymph nodes were all gone. Now to heal.

My first night home, Adele couldn’t jump up on me or climb in the bed with me. She had to sleep in Sean’s room. She wasn’t happy about that. She had missed me overnight. It was the first time she had been without me, but I had drains hanging out of me and was very sore. The next day, though, we decided to put blankets and pillows over me as I rested in the recliner so she could climb up on the chair with me without inadvertently dislodging any stitches or drains. My son took this picture after she settled there with me. This is our relationship in a single image. Me with her; her with me. Bonded.

So yes, I’m one of those people, the people whose pets are like their children. If I could, I would protect my baby from everything that stresses her out, including being without me – ever. I credit my son and my pup for getting me through the heaviest experience of my life. I couldn’t see my friends. People couldn’t come to visit. Folks didn’t really know what to do. I still had radiation ahead of me. It was such a hard time, but it was made easier with the love in my home.

In about an hour, I’ll be picking her up from the groomer, and a little while after that, I’ll be heading out for lunch and the concert. It will be hard to leave her, but I know she’ll be okay. The worst thing that will happen is that dinner will be a little late for her. She’s such a silly girl about her routine. You’d think she had a watch.

If you’ve got pets that you love like family, give them hugs from me. Love them while you have them. I can’t even think about what my life will be like when Adele’s time comes. Their lives are far too short. This pup has been the love of my life. Who cares if my house isn’t perfect? It’s perfect for us. Who cares if I have dog hair on my clothes? It means I’m loved.

Namaste and have a wonderful weekend.

~Jude

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