It was love at first sight. I walked into the adoption clinic and, among a cacophony of barking and crying dogs flailing about everywhere, she sat quietly, nose poked through the chain link fence that separated the dogs from the people. Our eyes met and I instantly loved her.
My Rita was trouble right from the start. Another person had “claimed” her and was waiting to discuss it with his spouse. I was broken hearted, knowing this person was going to go home with my dog, but there was nothing we could do. As luck would have it, the spouse was not interested in her, so she was offered to me and I couldn’t say yes fast enough, angry at the horrible people that rejected her, but grateful they did, so she would come to her proper home.
Then there was the issue of her age. Dogs under 2 years old were considered puppies and cost more to adopt. Dogs that were 2 years or older were considered adults and cost less to adopt (to encourage people to adopt older dogs.) Rita had been found (i.e. abandoned) and her estimated age was 2 years old, but, as luck would have it…JUST under 2 years old so they could charge the full price. I really didn’t care. I was taking her home no matter what the cost.
She was terrified as I held her all through the adoption and the whole way home, and never stopped shaking. She was completely stiff and was all muscle, so it was like trying to comfort a 15 pound dumbbell.
Once home, Harvey wasted no time informing Rita he was king of the roost, and they did not instantly bond as we hoped they would. He bullied her, and she was scared of him, so we we spent the first couple of weeks helping them acclimate to one another, and they eventually formed a unique bond, wherein he would harass her, but would not tolerate anyone else doing so.
Rita Mae had several problematic habits from the start:
- She “chomped” at people. Not actually biting them, and rarely grabbing anything more than air, but if she was close enough to your face, she could catch a bit of nose. It was never a hard bite, but it scared some people, and we were always having to warn them and explain she wasn’t biting. We spent the last 10 years trying to rid her of that habit, but never succeeded.
- She compulsively licked everything and everyone: herself, Harvey, me, Jeffrey, the Pillows, the bedspreads, the floor…everything. It would drive us absolutely batty, especially at night when we were trying to go to sleep and all you could hear was the sound of tongue licking the comforter. We spent years trying to correct this, as well, to no avail.
- She was a barker, and a loud one at that. Anytime the doorbell rang, the front door opened, people arrived, or people left, she would bark for 5 minutes straight.
- She didn’t know how to play. We could never get her to chew on a toy, play with a ball, play tug of war with a rope…nothing. The best we could do was chase her through the house. When we would sit across the room from one another and toss the ball back and forth for Harvey to chase, Rita would run after him each way, barking, and sometimes even block him from getting the ball. We think she may have though he was taking the ball from us and she wasn’t going to allow it. It made for a loud, fun, but frustrating play time for all of us.
- She was clumsy, always running or sliding into walls, chairs, and doors, or falling off furniture. She had no coordination. She was like a bull in a china shop.
- She shed like she was a walking snowstorm. When she’d get active, she could whip up a white fur storm that would put Elsa’s snow blizzards to shame. You always knew who’s lap she’d been sitting on.
- She was completely unaware of her size and weight, and would often climb onto the back of the furniture and pounce on us, or suddenly jump up from the floor onto us, often on our stomachs, and would knock the breath out of us.
- She was a sloppy eater, and always left trails of food and treats all over the house.
- She was a snorer and heavy breather, and you could hear her sleeping through the whole house. It made us laugh more than it ever bothered us, but some nights it kept me awake.
- On walks, she would pull and tug at her leash, so excited to be out and about. The only way to get her to stop was to walk long enough to tire her out so she’d change to a slower pace.
- She was TERRIFIED of loud noises, raised voices, thunderstorms, fireworks, or sudden movements. She would shake, cry, and pace, and was practically inconsolable. We knew, when there were storms, we would get no sleep that night.
We did a lot of research about her habits, in the hopes of finding ways to curb them, and came to the conclusion she was likely abused in her past. However, this knowledge, all her habits, the anger at the people who abandoned her, and the couple who initially rejected her, all made me love her more. I don’t know how I feel about love at first sight or soulmates for humans, but I have no doubt I loved her the second I saw her and that we were meant to be together. She was very clearly, first and foremost “my dog” although she and Jeffrey loved each other very much, as well.
I was often exclaiming “Poor Rita.” None of her behaviors seemed malicious or intentional. She just seemed to struggle with being a “proper pet” and was always causing us just enough hassle to be a problem, although usually in an entertaining way. But, the more problematic she was, the more I loved her.
And,boy, could she show love. She snuggled with the best of them, and despite her musculature, could and would sink into my arm and lap like a puddle of warm fur, with the loudest sigh that would make me tear up, knowing how comfortable and safe she felt. When she looked in my eyes I would melt. I knew she knew I loved her, and we would have these moments in which I was convinced we were thinking the same thing: we were these two broken creatures who loved each other unconditionally, understood each other, and somehow found our way into each others’ lives. And we were both grateful for it.
She was a bulky, cumbersome, clumsy gal, but she was always precious and petite in my eyes and I spoiled her to no end, hence her acquired moniker “my little princess.”
When her behavior started to change in December of last year, I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to end well. We had her examined, got blood work done, researched her behaviors and decline, and did everything we could think of to assess her deteriorating condition. But mostly, we wanted to keep her as comfortable and happy and safe as possible, and make sure she remained as much a part of our daily lives as possible for as long as possible. But she grew more and more distant, distressed, and confused over time, and never seemed to be comfortable or content unless she was asleep, which she was most of the time. She stopped interacting with us and cuddling with me, and when we would try to hold her, she would struggle to get down so she could continue her endless pacing. Despite the fact that she stopped being “my Rita” some time ago, I never stopped loving her and, in fact, loved her harder to try to show her she was safe and loved, even if she wasn’t sure where she was or who we were. And, eventually, we had to make the toughest choice a pet parent ever has to make: choosing her comfort over ours, and letting her go, to stop her suffering, even though it meant starting ours. I am grateful I was able to lay with her, pet her, kiss her, and stare into her eyes as she drifted off to sleep for the last time. I got to be the last person she saw or heard as she left, and I hope, somewhere in her poor little clouded brain she knew I was there with and for her to the end.
Those of us who are or were pet parents know all too well the grief of losing a beloved pet and furry family member. This is the second time for me and, although the details were very different, the pain of loss is the same. It is the price we all pay for the unlimited joy and unconditional love our pets bring into our lives: we will outlive them, and we will eventually have to say good-bye. If we are lucky, no matter how painful it is to do so, we will get to be there with them in the end to to see them go, and usher them off this mortal plane. That, to me, is the greatest act of love we can show them.
But I don’t want to dwell on that one painful moment, when there is a decade of good memories to focus on instead. I feel grateful that we found her, and got to bring her home and live with her for 10 years. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been able to work from home full time the last 2 and a half years and be with her so much more, every day and night. I have photos from almost every day of her life, because I could never stop taking pictures of her and Harvey, even though we lived with them and saw them every day. I just couldn’t help myself recording every moment of adorableness she displayed.
But that was then. Now, I feel her absence in every square inch of the house and in the space next to me where she always snuggled, and there is a deep ache that cannot be soothed by anything other than time. For me, writing this post is a necessary part of my closure and healing. I need to acknowledge her passing, and give her a proper send off, so this is my attempt to do so.
Right now, the loss is overwhelming, and it hurts to talk about her, say and type her name, see her pictures, and feel the emptiness in my arms and next to me that her beautiful, warm, furry, little body used to fill. There is a deep ache that cannot be soothed with anything other than time. I know the pain I feel is the continuing love I have for her that I can no longer give to her directly. This pain will ease in time, and be replaced with fond memories and stories of the things she used to do to make us laugh or smile.
But for now, the house is a little emptier, colder and darker, and our family is mourning her loss deeply.
She is, and will be, missed.
Goodbye, Rita Mae, my Princess. Thank you, for all the love.
Goodnight my angel, now it’s time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I’m rocking you to sleep
The water’s dark and deep, inside this ancient heart
You’ll always be a part of me