Monday, December 22, 2008

My Little Giraffe

My first furry roommate was Elsie. She was, as you can see, completely irresistible at 8 weeks old. What a lesson: I can now resist any puppy, no matter how cute. Oh, I still adore them, I'm just delighted to have someone else take them home.

Obviously, I named her Elsie because she looked like a little cow. She had one black ear and one spotted ear, and "Gateway" computer markings. But for a year, it seemed that only her legs grew, and eventually she looked more like a giraffe. She ended up a very tall, lean 45lb dog, about twice the size I'd expected.

Elsie was a world class chewer. No matter how careful I thought I was or how many chewies I provided, there was always something more tempting: the dining room table legs, the dining room chair legs, my shoes, my boots, formica, linoleum, the window sill. She basically shredded my house. One day it was a stack of magazines and a little pot of lip gloss. I came home to find my house covered in greasy pink magazine confetti. One day, she could suddenly reach the kitchen countertop; she knocked down, opened and ate 6 months' worth of doggy vitamins. One day, she worked open a kitchen cupboard and got into mouse poison. That was one of her more expensive adventures: $150 worth of vet visits and antidotes.

Speaking of expense, Elsie turned out to be a pricey venture. She developed doggy Lupus, and then a pancreatic disorder. For most of her life, she was on a pancreatic enzyme supplement that cost about $75 a month. That was more than my phone and electric bills combined. And on a couple of occasions, her digestive system just shut down: she stopped eating and drinking and couldn't hold anything down. A quick diagnosis indicated that I hadn't spent enough: $1,200 or so later (a night at the vet's on IV fluids), she was her old frolicking self.

Elsie was a squirrely, quirky girl. And she was very much a mama's girl. She really wasn't very friendly or affectionate with anyone else. In fact, she wasn't that affectionate with me, she just wanted to be with me, ideally next to me, all the time. My brother called her autistic. I tried to tell myself he meant, "artistic," but I knew better.

Each time she got sick, I debated whether or not to spend the money... but how can you not? How can you decide to deny your best friend life-saving treatment? Well, the fact is that most of us have to. There aren't many people with infinite resources who can provide anything and everything a pet might ever need.

When she was 11 years old, she went into another downward spiral. She was showing signs of senility and was beginning to growl at me, the only person she could stand. Between her health problems and her increasingly unpleasant personality, I felt I could not leave her with anyone else. As she got sicker, she had almost no quality of life and as a result, neither did I. So I finally made the decision to let her go.

My vet explained that Elsie would first be given a sedative, so that she would just calmly go to sleep, and not have any awareness of the next, final injection. She (the vet) believed that giving our pets a peaceful, pain free ending is our last, and probably our best, gift to them. I found that very comforting. If only we allowed fellow humans to depart as peacefully.

I decided to be with her, and that is one of the few regrets I have in my life. I wasn't able to be of any comfort to her at that point, and just tortured myself by staying until the "bitter end." If I had it to do over, I would just say my goodbye and leave.

I thought I would wait at least 6 months or more before getting another dog. But without an audience, I'm just a crazy girl who talks out loud to herself. And life without a pet is unbearably lonely.

I loved Elsie with all my heart, even when she wasn't being particularly lovable, but I am over-the-moon crazy in love with Molly. She is the sweetest, gentlest, most lovable girl. She's a very quiet dog, except when she's in her yard, guarding the Villa. I can't believe how lucky I am that she is my dog. I'd really like to go first, but I'm hopeful we'll have a lot more years together.

Photos: Irresistible 8-week old Elsie. The first four pics and my nuclear dahlia photo were all taken by my neighbor Susie. It was 1989, and my hair was bigger than my ass. (Sigh.) Later, with our dog friend Gretchen. Elsie at the fence: the only long, thin legs in my family.

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