And they call it puppy love – a Dalmatian love story

My husband came home from work one day and told me that a friend had a Dalmatian he could no longer take care of. My husband asked me if I knew anyone who was interested. Was he serious? I laughed. “Duh,” I said. “Do I look like chopped liver?”

I don’t know what I was thinking. After all, I was in my forties and had just started pre-menopause. My husband and I worked full-time jobs. We had four kids spanning elementary, middle and high school, two dogs, three cats, a cockatiel, a miniature blue rabbit, two ferrets, a hamster, a four-foot iguana, a small decorative fish pond, a 150-gallon saltwater tank and a fifty-gallon freshwater tank with Oscars. We were stretched thin with all the vet visits, the kitty boxes, the dog walks, homework, cooking and laundry. The last thing we needed was another mouth to feed. But my husband and I agreed to think about it over the spur-of-the-moment weekend vacation at Disney World with the kids.

During the hour and a half drive to Orlando, we saw signs from God and the universe. There were billboards featuring Dalmatians. We followed behind a car with a Dalmatian in the back seat. We saw Dalmatian bumper stickers, but the kicker came when we tried to check into the All-Star Music Resort and found out they had no more rooms available; however, they did have rooms available at the All-Star Movies Resort in the 101 Dalmatians section.

Talk about destiny.

My husband and I knew then what our answer was, and on our way home, we swung by the house of my husband’s friend and adopted Baby into our home.

From day one, she was the best dog I ever had. She was full of life, energetic, full of expression and personality. She followed me around like a shadow and she loved to cuddle. She was a beautiful dog, one brown eye, one blue, and she was covered in spots. Baby wasn’t “show” quality, but she was perfect for our family.

For two years, she led a spoiled-rotten life. Before we adopted her, she lived outside, chasing squirrels, barking, not getting much attention. With us, she curled up at our feet, slept in our bed, enjoyed the dog park, played in the surf at the beach, and lived a blissful, happy life inside in the cool air-conditioning, out of the hot Florida sun.

Then, one day, I got a call from my husband while I was at work. Something was wrong with Baby—something terribly wrong. I was perplexed. She’d just been to the vet, and he gave her a clean bill of health. By the time I got home, she was lying in the hallway, unable to lift her head or move. Her tongue hung out of her mouth. My husband and I lifted her into the van and drove her to the emergency vet, a five-minute ride from our house. I ran inside to get a tech, but by the time I returned to the van with a gurney, Baby crossed the Rainbow Bridge while being held in my husband’s loving arms.

At the time, I hadn’t experienced so much hurt since my father passed away two weeks before my twelfth birthday. It felt as if my heart had been yanked from my chest and no matter what I did, the tears kept coming. We managed to go back home without her, my sweet Baby, but then we had to face the next hurdle. We had to tell the kids. There was nothing that could prepare us for the loss of a family member. We sat around, hugging each other and sobbing. Our Baby was gone, and an incredible emptiness settled inside our home.

I went to work the next day, my eyes swollen and red, and I still couldn’t stop the tears. My friends were supportive, but there were others in the office who didn’t understand. “She’s crying over a dog?” I heard someone say.

No. Baby was more than a dog. She was my sweetheart, a soul mate in her own right. She gave me and my family unconditional love. The vet said she died from a ruptured spleen, but it didn’t matter. All I could think was that I’d never see her face, kiss her cold nose, hear her bark, or watch her run and romp in the waves. Who was going to curl up at my feet when I read, or lay her head in my lap when I was sad?

She was so young. Only six. My age, in dog years. My own mortality sank in.

It’s been twelve years since Baby passed away. Since then, most of our other pets have passed on, too. I am not looking forward to my dogs or cats dying, but they are getting older, like me, and I know it’s inevitable. And while it makes me sad to think of losing these precious creatures in my life, it soothes my soul to know that Baby will be there, waiting for them on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, ready to romp and play. And when my time comes, I know she’ll be there waiting for me, too, alongside my mom, my dad and all my other critters. I couldn’t ask for a better welcoming committee.

Baby - February 2001

Lessons I learned from my soggy cat

It was a bleak, rainy morning, the kind that begs you to stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head.  As usual, I got up late and was running around like a fool trying to draw on eyeliner with one hand while feeding whiny kids with the other.  The ferrets, Romeo and Juliet, escaped from their three-story penthouse cage for the umpteenth time that week.  I heard them scampering about in the boys’ room, no doubt hiding another sock treasure they stole.  I put their litter box in the room along with some food and water as I didn’t have time for another ferret round-up.  I was late for work and my kids were late for school.

I returned to my bathroom to finish painting my face and perfecting my hair when I heard my youngest daughter yell out to me, “Mom, Tequila’s in the house and he’s swatting at Buttercup.”

I rolled my eyes.  Who in the hell opened the slider and let the six-foot iguana inside?  And why is the bunny loose in the living room?

I ran out of the bathroom in my undies.  Sure enough, there’s a standoff in the middle of the living room, Tequila whipping his tail and Princess Buttercup bing-bonging around him leaving little pellets all over the tile floor.

“Oh my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding!”  I picked up the rabbit and put her outside in her custom-made, two-story bunny hutch, complete with carpet and a homemade hut.  I looked at my sons as I swept the bunny poop.  “Who let the iguana and rabbit in the house, huh?”

Neither one said anything but they both wore mischievous grins.  A second later  Tequila tried to climb my leg.  I shrieked.   My boys burst out in laughter.  For some reason, they thought me getting clawed by a big, green reptile was funny.  I huffed, put on my stern face and told them to get their shoes on.  My oldest daughter came around the corner of the kitchen with a pen and a piece of paper.  “You have to sign my homework,” she said.  My youngest daughter yelled out from the kitchen table, “I need money for lunch.”

My mind was in a whir.  I glanced at the clock.  8:25.  I had thirty-five minutes to finish dressing, drop the kids off at school and get to work on time.  If I hurried, I could do it.  I yelled at my oldest to open the slider.  I picked up the iguana, put him in his tropical paradise cage complete with a pond, a Ficus tree and a tray overflowing with lettuce, fruit, veggies and hibiscus flowers, and scurried to my room.  As I’m wiggling into my slacks and top, I hear my girls yell simultaneously, “Casper, no!”


And then came the laughter.  Lots and lots of hysterical laughter.

I poked my head into their bedroom.  Our white cat, Casper, was in the fish tank, wide-eyed, drenched from head to toe, and desperately trying to claw his way out.  The hood light dangled behind the dresser and the inhabitant of the fish tank, a white albino frog, was on the floor gasping for breath.

Shit. You’ve got to be kidding me!   

I glanced at my watch.  8:35.

I lifted Casper out of the tank and set him on the floor.  Through her giggles, my oldest put the frog back in the tank.  He was happy to say the least.  I, on the other hand, was wet and on the verge of tears.  I was late.  Really, really late.  I was about to cry when I looked at Casper.  He was strutting down the hall, his head and tail held high, flicking the water from his paws as he went.  He sat down for a moment, licked his fur, then got back up again and strutted off with that ‘I meant to do that’ feline arrogance.

I couldn’t help myself.  I laughed.  I leaned against the wall and let the laughter come until my sides hurt.  Pretty soon we were all laughing and making fun of Casper falling into the fish tank.  As if knowing we were talking about him, he sauntered back down the hall, shot us all a look like we’d lost our minds, and sacheted into the bathroom to eat.  My kids all stood around me, laughing and hugging me.  In that moment I realized something very important:  stop rushing through life, laugh as much as possible, it’s okay to take a few risks, and when the risks don’t work out as planned, flick it off and walk away with your head held up high.

I was fifteen minutes late for work that day, but they were fifteen minutes I’ll never forget.  I never thought I’d learn some of life’s most important lessons from my soggy cat.

And who said cats are dumb?  Oh yeah, the dog, but that’s another story for another day.

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