Saturday, May 1, 2010

Myrna's Story

I have known for a while that it was inevitable that Death would find our home again.  We have a house full of large breed dogs in the double digits in terms of age, one of which suffered from a chronic illness.  I have been steeled for it, taking every day it didn't happen as a bit of borrowed time.  Yesterday for one of my family, time ran out.  However, rather than recount that long, awful night which was preceded by the long, awful week, I have decided to spend this post telling Myrna's story as a celebration of a good dog who gave us much joy.

First, however, I should say this:  losing a pet is a special kind of hard.  It's not comparable to losing a daughter, of course, but there's something uniquely painful about it, and I think it's because dogs are so completely yours.  They love you totally and expect modest things in return - food, water, some kind of shelter and a bit of love in return.  The rest is gravy on top.  And they are also completely your responsibility.  They never have the free will and choices a human does.  You even often choose their ending.  While that is dictated by their suffering, and it's a humane thing to do (for most of us not named Michael Vick), it is still your decision when the final moment will be, and that carries with it a burden.  Therefore, I will never question the depth of someone's sorrow at losing a pet.  No one I know will need to be embarassed around me because they think I'll scoff at their mourning in light of my heavier loss.  Because I will understand it.  I have been there before and will be there again, probably fairly soon.  I feel it now.  How I counter it, however, is to remind myself over and over until I actually believe it that my pet lived a good life, and hopefully I helped give it to them.

This is my baby's story.

Myrna is named after Myrna Loy, whom I have blogged about here before.  I got her on Myrna Loy's birthday in 1996, which just so happened to be my birthday as well, so it seemed fitting, even though I spent her lifetime spelling her name to everyone too young to know the reference, which meant almost everyone I came into contact with.  The story of how she came to me is Veldman family lore.  Greg is rightfully proud of pulling it off.

His sister Cathy, who lived in Ft. Worth at the time, worked with a woman whose Dalmatian had a litter of puppies from a Lab daddy and needed to find homes for them.  Cathy, knowing us to be suckers for anything on four legs, made that fact known to us and Greg decided a puppy would be a good birthday present.  He was still working at night back then, so after I left for work that day, rather than going to bed, he made the approximately 400 mile round trip to pick up one of the litter.  The drive back, with a six week old puppy in the car, was an adventure.  He had prepared a box lined with towels for the return trip.  She very immediately had destroyed that theory with a bout of nervous puppy diarrhea.  So, he had to sacrifice one of his Statesman t-shirts (the one with the bats on it, I'll never forget, because it was a cool shirt, and I had one too that I had to gladly surrender over to him to compensate) to re-line the box.

In the meantime, I had no clue what he had up his sleeve, but I was having quite the work day.  It was a Friday, I remember, and my boss had to be out of town, but another manager had to deliver a budget to a client that day, and he was worried about it.  So, he asked me to make sure she did it and give her whatever help she needed.  Well, that meant, essentially, I did it for her.  The woman in question could absorb her own blog post, as could the psychology of why I allowed her to manipulate me into doing her job, but suffice it to say that I had a client expecting something, and so I had to get it to him.  She, on the other hand, ended up leaving!  Actually leaving work with the deadline not met, knowing it was my birthday.  I was astounded, but what does one expect from someone who has a full length fur coat!  So, as I was scrambling trying to finish this thing up and fax it over, Greg was calling and calling, wondering when I'm coming home.  I became irritated.  I knew he wanted to give me my present, but for crying out loud, it could wait!  I don't actually remember when I finally left, but it was after dark in the middle of summer, so late...  I trudged home, madder than a wet hen, and walked in to find out why he was anxious.  There was this adorable little puppy he had worked so hard to get to me!  I was instantly in love (and madder than ever at the horrible woman who had kept me from this little delight for so long).

Myrna was like a little Dalmatian that had black paint poured over top her.  It didn't quite coat her belly and the tips of her paws, where the white spotted fur still poked out, and she would grow to have the sleeker build of a Dalmatian, as opposed to a Lab, but not the nit-witty temperament they can be known for.  But, at first, she was just a puppy like any other, playful, whiny, needy and requiring some potty training.  I can remember sitting out on the back porch with her in the middle of the night reading The Green Mile, which was just coming out as a serial novel at the time, waiting for her to do her business, hoping it wouldn't take too long so I could go back to bed.  Occasionally I would get caught up in the novel and we'd stay out there for a while, causing me to have to go to work a few times on precious little sleep.

And, despite my having had multiple dogs for multiple years, she was the first dog I had obtained young enough to have puppy breath.  And she did, believe me.  That awful smell that is at the same time so wonderful.  She would wriggle in my arms and try to reach up to my face to lather it with kisses that would nearly gag me, but you know it means you have a real-life puppy who loves you, so it becomes appealing in its own awful way.

I have a photo somewhere of her in those early days, maybe even from that night, curled up in her dog pen next to my cat Merlin, also black with just a touch of white.  She is smaller than he is in the picture, two black dots on a white blanket.  She didn't stay that way long.  But, as she grew, she mellowed.  Summer turned into fall, and I remember one day deciding to splurge and order the Penn State-Michigan game on Pay Per View, and she cuddled with me on the floor in front of the television most of the game, simply content to lay there and have her belly scratched.  And that is how she was most of her life.  She was gentle and sweet, wanting to love and be loved, not really worrying how to get in the closet to chew the shoes, or breaking out of the fence to explore the neighborhood.

I think I have mentioned before that having this many dogs causes them to behave more or less as a pack.  As such, there is a heirarchy, and there is always an Alpha.  Myrna spent some time as the Alpha, but I always got the impression she just stepped into the role because somebody had to do it.  She didn't object, there were no fights, or even growling, when Cheyenne became old enough to assume the position.  During her tenure, however, she was a gentle Matriarch who cleaned her charge's ears and eyes, nudged them along if they mis-behaved and watched demurely over her flock.  She continued in the role of nurse all her life - even after she was blind, she would seek them out and clean them off.  Then, at night, after a long day of caring for the group, she would climb into bed with me, lay her head on my pillow and stretch out like a little human.  I would drape my arm over her, nuzzle my nose against her fur and drift off feeling secure, loved and comfortable.

Then she became the one who required nursing.  That tale tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. So very sorry, Cheryl. She will always be with you. Shug and Kuzu still come and visit me in my dreams sometimes. All my love. - V.