A Pup Is Born
This winter we had to say goodbye to Betty. It was absolutely the hardest thing that I have ever had to do. She was a month shy of turning fourteen and lived her life to the fullest. I often think of all the random people that Betty made smile during her life. It was literally thousands. I know that almost everyone feels that his or her dog is more "special" than anyone else’s is. That’s how it should be. In this case, it was no different. For me, and for many of the other people in her life, she was the best dog that ever was.
I had rehearsed "that" day hundreds of times over the past fourteen years. I’m not sure what benefit I had hoped to gain from it. I suppose my rationale was that if I could somehow imagine how difficult it would be, that it might hurt less when the time came. I was wrong. It didn’t help at all. There are certain experiences in life when the actuality is much different from the mental images that we conjure up before. It is the emotion that simply cannot be "fabricated" before the event occurs. This is true for highs - one’s wedding, birth of a child; and as well as lows - the loss of a loved one.
It has taken me a while to be ready to put these words down on paper. It may sound cliché, but I lost a part of me when she passed. To this day, I miss her even more than I thought that I would. These next few columns are dedicated to Betty, my first-born pup, the one who will forever hold a special place in my heart...
From the day that she came into my life, just two days after she turned seven weeks, Betty made me incredibly happy. I found her in a Boston Globe classified. She was born in a gritty, coastal North Shore city. Of all the cities in Massachusetts, this one is either considered the armpit or the asshole, depending on which way you place Massachusetts’s head. Her "breeder" listed the ad as "Black Lab/ Springer Spaniel puppies." I put the term "breeder" in quotes, because typically, breeders don’t breed mutts. And as we’d later find out, Betty wasn’t the mix she was sold as. Her vet later surmised that she was probably a Black Lab/Gordon Setter mix. It was also possible that she was a Heinz 57 dog - a mix of many breeds. None of this mattered to me. In reality, while I love my goods designer, I prefer my dogs mutts. And if Betty were a designer dog, she would be the Birkin bag of dogs. She was the proverbial pick of the litter.
We met on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May of 1999. Joan, the "breeder", replete in a poly-blend housecoat and curlers under a kerchief, sat smoking her Virginia Slim 120s on a metal lawn chair on the sidewalk in front of her stoop. As the nylon straps of her lawn chair stretched towards the sidewalk, I could hear them crying for mercy. She beckoned one of her kids to get the puppies. Between drags of her cigarette, she reached for her Big Gulp of her high-fructose corn syrup laden beverage from under the chair. Along came a slew of six puppies, all of them deliciously adorable. There were four girls and two boys. I wanted a girl dog. I’ve always been fond for female animals because I think they can be more gentle and maternal. This probably sounds strange coming from Mr. Mom, but it’s just a feeling I have, not necessarily based on any fact. I watched Betty. She was playful and spunky, swatting at the woman’s Big Gulp with every chance she got. My boyfriend, Matt and I agreed that she was the one. We had been on a streak of not agreeing on many things, so it was a refreshing change.
We got into the car and I held Betty on my lap. She cried when she left her littermates. I cuddled her closer, thinking about how confused she must be. I promised her that I would do right by her and give her a good life. I then turned to Matt and said, "I think this dog is going to enrich our lives." He made fun of my waxing poetic. It irked me a bit. I was, however, right. At the time, I didn’t even know how right I would be.