In the summer of 2007, I had graduated from college, found my own apartment and, in an act of official independence, brought a puppy home as my own. He was a little white fluffball of melt-your-heart cuteness, a Havanese mix I named Grady.
A few months after raising and loving Grady, I was following a story in the news about a puppy mill bust in Jackson County. A woman had been keeping hundreds of small dogs in overcrowded cages outside, during the middle of winter, hoping to sell them to pet stores and the like. By the time the authorities visited the compound, many of the dogs were dead. Those that survived were vetted and sent to rescue groups to find homes.
One of those who had survived was a tiny black Shih Tzu puppy named Francine. When I inquired about her, a woman from the rescue group said she was severely underweight and they believed the woman was starving her to make her look like a toy Shih Tzu, a breed with a higher price tag. That was it. That evening, I took my Penelope home.
For 11 beautiful years, Grady and Penelope shared a friendship like I’ve never seen before in two dogs. Penelope was always the calmer, gentler, easy-going one. Grady, although ever eager to be in my arms, was more adventurous and curious (which often led to me chasing him down the street in my pajamas). They were inseparable.
Last October, I held Grady in my arms as the staff at Cobb Emergency Vet Clinic helped him take his last breath. For nine months, he fought bravely through congestive heart failure with a resilience you don’t see in most people. But that evening, after I had given him a bath and noticed his stomach was distended and his breathing far heavier than usual, we both knew it was time.
Oh, how I cried. He was my first pet of my own, and one I loved so very dearly. But the mourning I wasn’t quite expecting belonged to Penelope. All she ever knew was life with me and Grady. With him gone, she was lost. She was hiding in odd places and making strange noises. She had little interest in eating, or much of anything, without Grady.
She was grieving, and I was afraid I might soon be grieving over her, too.
Everyone told me to get another dog, but Penelope is so easy. She’s so low-maintenance, so quiet, so loving. Selfishly, I wanted to just be able to enjoy that. But when a friend saw a little ragamuffin puppy’s face on the Homeless Pets Foundation’s Facebook page, I agreed to go see him. “I’ll just take a look,” I said.
Famous last words. The next day, I took home that precious puppy, whom I named Norman.
Life with Norman hasn’t always been easy, although his training through the wonderful trainers at Kennesaw Mountain Animal Hospital has certainly helped, and helped me, too. (You can find some of their training tips on page 20.) I had become accustomed to two very docile dogs, but Norman is so full of life and energy. He loves playtime and attention. He is always smiling – at least, that’s what it looks like, to me. He wants to run, he wants to play with other dogs, he wants to do all of the things that Penelope has no interest in, although he tries his best to get her to join in the fun.
But, just a few days after I brought him home last December, Penelope was coming out of those strange corners. The odd cries stopped, and consistent eating started. I’m sure, like her human mother, she’ll always be grieving Grady in some way. But Norman brought her back to life, and that sweet, crazy little rescue mutt has brought so much to mine, too.
As this month’s guest columnist Dr. Sam Matthews so eloquently put on page 80, “The best of us probably remember that, yes, our pets are among the creatures that sing the praises of Heaven, and if we hear those praises in a sunrise or a waterfall or a field of flowers, we will surely hear them in the purr of a cat, the song of the lark, or the soft neigh of a horse.”
Or even, perhaps, the happy squeal of a puppy who was given a new lease on life and gave one, too.