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.