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02 August 2013

The Story of a Girl and Her Dog

Mimi on Cates bedMia on my bed/her throne.

A few days after my 16th birthday, my mom called us from the car.

“Vacuum the entire house, there needs to be nothing on the carpets, nothing small!” we were told. My sister and I probably assumed we were having last minute guests or a friend come over, so we frantically tidied the house.

The doorbell rang, and finally we could figure out why we’d been asked such a request.

I opened the door, and all I could see were my mom’s hands, and hanging there in front of my face was a little brown, white and black puppy with ears shaped like angel wings on the side of her ridiculously small head.

After years of resigning myself to the fact that we simply could not have pets, and my sister’s obsession with dogs (at one point she may or may not have even insisted we pretend she was a dog - drinking water only from a bowl on the floor) - we suddenly could have a puppy. We could have a dog.

My parents had divorced about 3 or 4 years prior and it was just us girls in the house, and now we had Mia - named after Mia Hamm.

 

I remember that first summer with our new dog. I remember the first night she slept on the floor in my mom’s room with all three of us in the same room - her puppy dreams and fluttering eyelids all fascinatingly new to us. I remember the night I tried to sleep in the livingroom with her, but she had no interest in sleeping, and instead just wanted to roll around in my hair, and bite my arms.

In the mornings she’s come and sleep in my bed (occasionally almost slipping off my pillow and on to the floor) and she was also overcome with such excitement when she realised you were finally awake.

I feel in love with that little rambunctious ball of fur, even though she’d eat coloured markers, chew chapsticks, steal underwear, and occasionally even snack on her own poop. I remember how excited we were when she figured out how to jump up on the couch for the first time (obviously we were great trainers with very strict rules), and our surprise at how she managed to escape the “jail” we had created for her in the kitchen when left her alone in the house.

IMG_1612I was quite a sad teenager when I was 16, for reasons I didn’t then understand. I remember that I would take Mia for walks. I’d cry on her fur. She’d lick my tears (and my entire face if I’d let her).

At that age I also  remember having to learn to let go of the horrible fear I had that something would happen to her. I was afraid that I loved her as much as I did, and I was petrified that somehow she would be taken away from me, hurt, or hit by a car. She used to bolt out the door the moment it opened, but thankfully, my step-dad eventually came into our lives and helped Mia become more of a dog, and learn to stay within the parameters of our front lawn, and that she didn’t need to run.

Mia had quite the personality - neurotic and friendly, sweet but ridiculous. Her greatest love was food, but licking things, particularly anything metal (her favourite being her own ID tags), pillows, leather couches, her own paws, and Bug’s ears was also a great pastime of hers. 

At one point she took to sitting frog-legged in the grass, waiting for the neighbour's cat to appear. She would stare hypnotically off into the distance, waiting, waiting, ignoring your calls for her to come in. Mia was weird like that - obsessive about things she didn’t understand, like puppies or Rudy.

She had an amazing memory, and there were particular phrases we could ask her over and over again that would always cause her to cock her head from side to side and play along, such as:

“Mimi - did you go potty in the rocks?”
(In one house we lived in there wasn’t any grass in the yard, so she’d have to pee on rocks.)

“Mimi - did Mommy lock you in the garage?”
(My mom accidentally left her in the garage for all of 5 minutes but we still bring this up to this day - she always responds with the same look of WHY YES SHE DID.)

And my favourite:

“Mimi - is Miley in the well?”
(A Lassie-style question about Miley Cyrus being stuck in a well that Mia was always very concerned about.)

She was also very good about hunting down “flies” (anything with wings, that she could never actually catch) and having her ears cleaned. She was so good at this, in fact, that all you would need to do is say, “Mimi clean your ears?” and she’d stop what she was doing, walk a few paces, and flop over on one side. Even if you just wanted to check something on her, she’d assume you wanted to clean her ears and she’d flop over, expose her belly and give you a wide eyed look. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED, RIGHT?

Mia also enjoyed a good chat. If she was excited, she would half-bark half-barooo and sit back on her haunches, sometimes daintily lifting a front paw. Mornings were her favourite time to talk. Probably because she wanted to be fed.

Mia was not, however, fond of baths. Oh, she’d take them, but only if you could manage to locate her, and then get her in a position where you could carry her, or make her walk into the bathroom. If Mia didn’t want to do something, she didn’t have the gall to run away, she’d slink away from you, walking quicky, weaving in and out of chair legs, hiding under tables, or sitting up-right on the sofa like a human, as if that would somehow prevent you from picking her up.

“Mimi, take a bath? Mimi...Mia...MIA...MIA COME HERE.”

After her bath, as some kind of reward, we would wrap her up in towels and blankets and she’d like to be held for as long as you'd hold her. Then, suddenly, she’d emerge from her nest and run around the house like a lunatic, shaking the water off and bouncing through the house.

PhotoTaking selfies with my dog before it was cool.

Along with bathing, Mia did also did not like:

  • Cats (probably due to us telling her “Is that a kitty? GO GET THE KITTY!” when she was a pup)

  • Fireworks

  • Vacuum Cleaners

  • Arguments

  • Trying to be cuddled when she didn’t want to be

  • Being picked up

  • The three of us pretending to hit each other

  • loud noises of any kind

  • brushing her teeth

  • having her hair blow-dried

  • suitcases

  • our neighbour Dave mowing his lawn - although this as more of a game than a true annoyance

When I move to London, one of the things I knew I would miss in more difficult ways than I would my family, were my dogs.

The first year I move, we lost Czar to cancer.

After that, whenever I would go home, Mia, Bug and the newest addition Gunther would come flying out of the house the minute my mom would open the front door. Mia never forgot me, which was what I always feared. She’d run up, put her paws on my shoulders and lick my face over and over and over again.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHAT DO YOU SMELL LIKE? WHY HAVE YOU BEEN AWAY SO LONG? HOLD STILL LET ME LICK YOUR NOSTRILS.”

She loved Iain, too, and would sit with him (to the point of annoyance) and lick the leg of his jeans just like he were one of us. I liked to think she knew who he was to me and immediately thought, “Oh yes, OK so you take care of her now? I see. Can I please lick your pillow?”

During our visits back to my mom’s house, Mia would get OH so excited whenever we’d come out of our room first thing in the morning. It was like a surprise for her every day, “HEY YOU ARE STILL HERE!”  I’d hear her clicking throughout the house (dog nails + hardwood floors = noisy) and she’d sit pressed up against the door so closely I could see her fur sticking out from under the door. This way she could nap, but still know if the door opened.

Over the course of the visit, she’d relax. She saw that the suitcases were unpacked, she learned that even though we’d go away during the day, or even overnight, we’d still come back. I would always come home, and Iain would be there too... until it was time to leave again. She’s see the suitcases and she’d know. Some visits she’d ignore me until I left, and even brush off my goodbye kisses. Other times she would want to come in the room and watch.

But this last trip, the one that I made at Christmas was different.

As with humans, dogs get old. They have cloudy blue in their eyes where there used to be deep brown, and grey streaks in their fur. They move slower, become calmer, and their hearing becomes questionable - although I’m sure this is an act as Mia could always hear a food wrapper or the refrigerator being opened.

My last visit back home was hard, because it became apparent that our little Mia was indeed old, and having some very serious health problems that were rather upsetting to observe. I became so angry and so upset watching when she’d go through an episode or seizure caused by her heart murmur.

I could feel my friend losing her ability to function as she used to. I tried my best to help clean her up as respectfully as I could when she would have an accident and be unable to get back up again. I cried on her fur once more as I could see she was afraid. I could see her heart betraying her, her body betraying her, and I knew that this was it

During my last visit, I spent a lot of time staring at her, worrying and stressing about her. I felt powerless and frustrated and panicked - all the while knowing that logically, she was 12 and had heart problems. This is what happens. I always knew this would happen.

I knew that this last trip would be my final time with my friend. I knew I would never see her again when I said goodbye for the last time.

Mia started life as a rescue pet, and in many ways, she rescued us. We all needed something at that point in our lives as individuals, and as a family. Mia filled a void we didn’t know existed, and she introduced us to the wonderful relationship that humans have with pets.

But Mia also taught me that this relationship can break your heart.

Two weeks ago Mia’s heart could no longer keep up and we lost our baby girl. She was in my mom’s arms when it happened, just as she was when she was brought into our lives.

Since then I’ve struggled to know how to cope, to know how to feel.

Our family has lost one of our constants.

Mia - Mimi, Dodo, Mia Louse, Petite Cranium, Sad Clicks McGee - was such a good dog, she was such a good pet, such a good friend, and now she is gone.

I’ve never lost a family member I’ve been this close to - and she was that. She wasn’t a dog, she wasn’t a pet, she was my little baby who I grew up with. She was my friend. She was our friend. She was different things to all of us, but in so many ways the same.

I’ve tried desperately to not be too over the top with my grief or my mourning or my sadness, as I understand the loss of a pet isn’t something other people understand if they’ve not gone through it.  I have continuously tried to fight it. Fight being sad, fight being overcome with a kind of grief that seems impossible to explain to those who don’t know.

But I’m sure if you have been through this, you know. Yow know what this feeling is.

I am 5,000 miles away crying over an animal I’ve not seen in almost 9 months, but that was my companion for 13 years, even when I was no longer living under the same roof as her. I am heartbroken.

Time will heal the loss and the heartache. New pets will come into our lives.

She’ll now be in the earth, next to her good friend Czar, with the sunshine and fresh flowers looking over where her ashes now lay...

As we always used to say to her so softly, “Such a good girl, Mimi. Such a good girl.”

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