Wednesday, October 13, 2010

To Nerina, with love

Dear Nerina,

I want to take this time to tell you how much you have meant to me these past (almost) 15 years.   Knowing you has been a gift that I will cherish forever.  It seems you came into my life knowing that I needed you alongside me - guiding me, supporting me, giving me love and loyalty, showing me strength and compassion, and just being a true companion each and every day.  From the beginning, I knew we were meant to be together, and that you chose me as your life partner...


Sunday, April 14, 1996 - the eve of your arrival
I had just returned from living in Ann Arbor for 2 years, studying and living in an incredible place.  I remember being pretty depressed after finding out that I couldn't move out of my parents house and my partner decided not to follow me to Arizona.  My depression kept me in bed for days, not able to eat, with no energy.  That afternoon, I remember looking in the classified ads for puppies.  I thought that was just what I needed to distract me...a cute, cuddly dog.  Black Labs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds.  Only problem was that these puppies in the paper weren't cheap.  Nope, this wasn't going to work for me.


Monday, April 15, 1996 - the day of your arrival
I remember this day like it was just yesterday.  After a long day of work, I was returning home, driving up 15th Avenue to the house on the hill.  What I remember most is noticing you  trot from the sidewalk onto the street...and stopping right in front of my car.  You were the cutest, smallest, furriest puppy ever, and you stopped right there on the street, sat down, and wagged your tail at my approaching car.  I stopped, pulling over to move you out of the street and get you back to your owner who was sure to miss you.  You were so cute.  As I picked you up, your tail was wagging and wagging, your tongue licked my face.  It was like you  were looking for me and finally found me!  I never meant to keep you that afternoon.  I saw a woman nearby walking her dogs and we approached her together.  "Excuse me, do you know who this puppy belongs to?"  She pointed to the house on the corner. "But I don't think she wants that one, " pointing to your little puppy cuteness.  "She had a whole litter and this is the last one.  She let's her out hoping it would disappear."  I asked "do you know what kind of dog she is?"  "Her mom is a Rottweiler and her dad is a Chow.  They were all born about 2 months ago."


I walked over to the house, knocked on the door.  I heard dogs barking inside, then from the  window a large dog jumps up barking and growling and scratching at window.  The dog was mean, trying to get at me and the puppy in my arms.  She then lunged at the window, breaking the glass...I got us out of there quickly!


So back at the car, you were sitting on my lap looking up at me lovingly.  At that moment, I knew you were coming home with me.  I couldn't leave you at that house, with that mean dog.  I put you in the passenger seat, strapped you in with the seat belt.  You easily squirmed out of it, since you were so tiny.  I remember holding you in the seat; you fit in the palm of my hand, and we headed to your new home.


The months that followed - 
Keeping you at the house wasn't easy.  I had to convince my dad  to let you stay.  I told him it was temporary until I could find you a new home.  Of course, I never looked for a new home; I just hoped that I could pull it off for a while until he let you stay.  Those months, you had to stay outside.  I snuck you in at night, and you slept near me in my room.  We got you a crate that you hated...you bit and chewed and cried until I would get you out of it.  I even tried getting in the crate with you to show you it wasn't scary, but you were so much smarter than that.  So we passed the months this way.  You learned so many things those days, but especially you stayed close to me and brought me out of my depression.  You were the light in my dark days.  

I named you Nerina after a few weeks of searching for the perfect name.  In the end, it was Nerina...my little black girl.  You had shiny black coat, and your tongue started changing colors.  True to your breed, you had developed a black tongue.  I remember walking down the street and heard a little boy point to you and tell this dad..."Look dad!  That lady gives her dog grape juice!"  Yes, you were my little black girl, my bundle of hope and joy.


December 3, 1996 - Our escape
Things at home went from bad to worse.  After my depression ended I was determined to find my independence from my family.  Day after day, I worked on getting strong.  Counseling, working, taking you out as often as I could.  Our family moved into a bigger house, but you were put outside, in a large dog run, and I don't think you enjoyed being there.  I'm sure I neglected you during the weeks leading up to this day, as the tension built inside the house.  But you were patient, I think you totally trusted me that we'd be ok.  When the day came that I knew I was leaving, my first thought was how I was to take you.  I knew that once I left, you would not be welcome there anymore.  You would end up at the pound, or worse, left in the desert.  

The night of December 3rd, I left home and left you there.   I devised a plan to have my sister take you early the next morning to her friends house  where I would come to get you.  It was the only thing I asked of my sister that day.  To ensure your safe escape.  She got you out safely and I visited you every day.  You couldn't come with me because I was staying with a friend and there was no room for you there.  But it was temporary.  And you trusted me.


A month later, I found a little place and I came to get you...this began the journey that has lasted to this day.


May 1997 to June 2000 - Ann Arbor years -
You're life in Ann Arbor started on a tarmac at the Detroit airport, you were drugged up and in a crate.  You were also in heat.  We took you home and you saw so many new things and had so many new experiences.  Sometimes I think those were your happiest years.  You spent your days chasing squirrels, running in Wagner park(?) and getting into things...lots and lots of things.  You loved to eat anything you could get your paws on.  You ate bananas on the counter (the whole thing including the peel); the contents of a cooler of food that included a dozen eggs, 12-pack of Kraft singles cheese (wrappers and all), a birthday cake sitting on the counter, wasabi from a night's cooking of sushi, and grease from a bbq pit at a campground.  I've had numerous x-rays of your stomach taken during these years, as I feared that your stomach would turn after gorging yourself in these delights.  I learned to always keep a bottle of peroxide nearby to help you throw up all that you digested.  I also had the vet's number memorized.  



We went camping, alot.  We visited the lakes and woods up north, and you loved it!  You always had to stay close-by because you couldn't be trusted to wander off.  I remember countless times having you find you after you went off chasing a squirrel, deer, rabbit, or anything else that moved in the forest.  You hated the water, but would get in right up to your stomach to try to get the geese in the middle of the pond.  You even tried to eat a fish recently caught and ended up with a fish-hook in your eye!


Back at home, you spent your days outside, under the Mulberry tree, chasing the squirrels that would taunt you endlessly.  I think your happiest day was when one poor squirrel lost its balance on the power line above you and fell into your paws!  You were so happy!!  I came out to see the lifeless squirrel in your mouth, you were just licking and licking it.  This same squirrel would sit on the same power line every day and tease you...it was just out of your reach.  At night, you would investigate the critters under the bushes, and on a few occasions we would both be surprised by the awful, horrible smell of a skunk.  All over your face!  I also learned to keep a bottle of "Skunk-Off" nearby after that.


You also developed your appetite for cherry tomatoes.  Particularly, the ones growing in my garden.  It was a constant battle to keep you out of there, and to keep any plants alive.  You ate everything!  And you were happy.  And you made me very, very happy too.

July 2000 to present - the rest of your life, back in Arizona
We moved back to Arizona where you have spent the rest of your life.  Mostly, you kept me company.  The first few years for me were tough, I hated being back in the desert.  But you were a good sport.  I took you up north every month to Flagstaff to get out of the heat, and we went camping in Prescott - where you got lost for FOUR hours and we looked everywhere for you...finally finding you tangled up in a snow field cold and wet!  We camped in the Mogollon Rim where you tackled the fierce Javelina and "wild" cows...alone, because you snuck out of the tent late one night and went searching for them on your own.  I woke up to find you missing and went out looking for you before literally stumbling upon you.  You never showed any regret for your escapades, never really said you're sorry for tormenting me and making me worry all these years.  I think you did it to keep me on my toes.  To remind me that you existed and that life can be exciting and fun, and full of adventure.


Every summer you and I would load up the Volvo, and drive back to Ann Arbor.  I remember the first time doing the drive, and I was so scared driving alone.  The first night, I slept next you in the back of the Volvo...you kept me warm and safe.  I woke up the next morning knowing I would be ok.  We did that for 3 summers.  You saw the Canyonlands, Arches, the Badlands, the cornfields of Iowa, the small towns in Texas, the Smoky mountains.  You've been to the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific.  You've seen Lake Michigan and the mighty Lake Superior.  You've been to the UP and almost went to Mexico.  I think you have lived a full life.  I hope it has been happy.  


October 14, 2010 - Epilogue to your life
The last year I've seen you change.  You are at the end of your life and the spark you once had is now gone.  You don't greet me at the door anymore because the arthritis you have prevents you from getting up.  You have accidents inside, not able to get out in time to go to the bathroom.  Your pain meds give you seizures, and you wake up in the middle of the night pacing, in pain or in anticipation to the end of your suffering.

Nerina, your presence and your unconditional love has been the best gift you have given me.  I was never alone when you were with me.  Through all that I've been through, you went through it with me.  You sat with me when I cried, knowing that if I rubbed your ears or your head, it would remind me that I wasn't alone in this world.  You have seen many people come and go in my life...boyfriends, father, friends.  You have been the only constant.  My north star.  I knew that each day when I came home, you would greet me at the door, tail wagging.  I knew that when I messed up, neglected you, lost my temper with you, you would forgive me.  We could all learn something  from you, learn how be better people if we could follow your example.


Now that you're suffering, in pain, and need me, I feel lost.  I don't know what to do to make you better.  The last thing I want to do is let you go.  But it's the only gift that I can give you, to show you compassion.


Thank you for being my best friend the past 15 years.  Thank you for showing me what it means to have fun, and to love unconditionally.  I heard someone say that when dogs die they are reincarnated into humans. Wherever you go from here, have fun and remember me.  Remember that you were loved and you touched my life and will never be forgotten.


I'll miss you,
Laura