I’m not a dog person.
If you’re a pet lover and that first sentence didn’t turn you off right away, let me tell you the story of how a dog became my unexpected savior.
During the summer of 2009, I finally caved to my children’s incessant requests for a dog. One rainy day, we started perusing the Internet for the perfect furry friend who matched all of our keywords: Small but not yappy, hypoallergenic, companion, easy-going, family-loving, good with cats (a little mouse problem had made me give in on that one years earlier). The great Google engine kept throwing out a breed we had never heard of: Coton de Tulear.
Now, being a francophile of sorts, my little ears perked right up. The royal dog of Madagascar? Tell me more! Bred specifically to be a companion who does not require a dog run or constant exercise? Sign me and my couch up! Hair not fur, so it doesn’t shed? This couldn’t get any better! Ultra-popular in France but not so much in the U.S., this little white fluffy dog looks and feels like a cotton ball, thus its eloquent French moniker.
Amazingly, we found an experienced breeder in CT, my home state, and so the lengthy road to dog ownership began. The following winter, we were on line at a California amusement park when I received the email that our litter was born on February 22, 2010. All of us could barely contain our excitement as we monitored the breeder’s pictures and updates until the 6 week appointment when we could visit and choose our puppy.
The big visit was scheduled for Good Friday, so I took the kids out of school the Thursday before and we headed to Mystic to stay overnight. My daughter was 12 and my son 9 at the time, and sitting on that sunny deck in early Spring as adorable puppies jumped all over us warmed my heart and assured me I had made the right leap of faith. We left the breeder with a first choice and hoped he would be ours in three weeks.
Instead of driving all the way back home to NJ, we headed to my parent’s house in western CT to stay overnight, and that was when I learned my father was having health problems.
Shortness of breath and intestinal issues had sent him to his GP that day instead of work, and he had come home from the appointment with a referral to visit a cardiologist the following week. I was surprised to see him open the front door that Friday afternoon, but his smiling face and eagerness to hear all about the puppies belied any internal problems he was having. As he ventured down to the basement to find the old dog crate for me, though, I remember volunteering to help–something I had never had to offer to my father before.
One week later, he saw the cardiologist and called to tell me about the appointment. I happened to be in the car driving to Richmond, Virginia, and my 20th college reunion at the time, and was quite surprised to answer a call initiated by my father–if he was calling me and I wasn’t at work, I knew something was wrong. I could hear it in his voice, too, the utter disappointment and resignation. The doctor had told him he needed stents put into his heart and advised him to cancel an upcoming business trip to Chile. He also told him to get a colonoscopy to check the intestinal bleeding first, and that’s what ultimately put him in the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery 8 days later.
Amidst many, many hospital visits and miles logged between NJ and Norwalk, I tried to keep the puppy planning on schedule for the kids. I canceled the first pickup because Dad had unexpectedly gone back into ICU, but we managed to get out there about 10 days late after spending the night visiting with my father. He had been in the hospital three weeks at that point, and it was getting harder and harder to envision him coming home.
If things were normal, I would have taken the puppy right to my parent’s house so they and their dog could meet our new addition but instead, I used Norwalk Hospital as a pitstop and let the dog out on their front lawn while my mom came down from ICU to see him. Had I known I would never see my dad conscious again, I would have gone upstairs, but Mom said they were trying to find a room to move him out of ICU so I naively thought the worst had passed.
It hadn’t. The worst came six days later when he died, back in ICU, on the night of May 13. My family, including the puppy in his brand-new carrier, had rushed to the hospital to be with Dad during his final, unconscious hours. I marched right upstairs willing the puppy to remain silent in what I hoped looked like a black duffel bag on my shoulder. My children sat with the puppy, Bogey, in the waiting room while I went to be by my father’s side.
Bogey never left my side from that day on. Every sob I made, every tear that fell, he was right there to nuzzle and comfort me. Even now, when I’m upset with my computer or at some disturbing report on the news, he senses my dismay and rushes onto my lap, eager to put me at ease. When I sat devastated in front of the TV as I learned of the 26 killed at Sandy Hook that December day, he was with me, licking my tears away.
Bogey was named after a golf term… I used to joke he was “one over” my pet quota as I never thought I would own a cat AND a dog. I also never imagined a dog would help save me from drowning in grief and sorrow. That caring for and loving an animal would get me through my darkest days. This Bogey has won over my heart.