Forgive me, but today I cannot write about politics or politicians. I cannot speak about Senators blaming forest fires on illegal immigrants or a state legislature that refuses to extend unemployment benefits because of ideological beliefs that the unemployed are lazy and benefits encourage more laziness.
No, today I speak instead of the beautiful but short-lived life of my adopted child, my four-legged son named Porky. While I realize this is a much more personal subject than what I normally write about, I cannot go through this day without paying homage to his life and remembering the beautiful soul that brought so much love to me and my children.
Pet lovers the world over understand this type of love. But for me, this was a new experience. I grew up with several different pets – a couple of dogs, a bird, a cat – but I never really liked dogs. In all honesty, I was terrified of them. My first memories of dogs include the German Shepherds that lived across the street from me when I was very young, just a toddler. I have vague memories of out-of-control beasts tearing at our front screen door while my mother used a flyswatter to try and chase them away.
The memories don’t really improve from there. After we moved to a different city, my next-door neighbors inherited an equally out-of-control dog that frequently bit neighborhood children and seemed to scare even its owners. My friends’ dogs, while nice, were of the barking kind, and I dreaded interaction with them. When I got older, my parents bought a dog from the pound without realizing it had been abused in its former home and had a tendency to snap, growl and chase without provocation. Having a sense of how terrified I was of dogs, my intuitive little sisters would encourage the family dog to chase after me when we squabbled. I frequently found myself holed up in my room and fostering an even deeper disdain for the four-legged monsters of the world.
Years later when my husband Nick first suggested we buy a dog, I said no. Actually, I think I said something more along the lines of “are you mad, over my dead body, not a chance in hell.” So it was with great surprise that I found myself searching for a nice, lovable watchdog that would bite intruders but not me just a few short years later.
Being burglarized takes a toll on your psyche, and in my case, it actually caused me to say yes to the prospect of a dog. Though I was married to a cop, I had lost the sense of safety I had once felt in my home after I watched in horror as a man climbed over my balcony, threw my belongings to an accomplice below and attempted to break into my home. After many sleepless nights, my husband convinced me that a watchdog would give me a sense of security and keep intruders away. I begrudgingly agreed.
As we searched for the perfect dog, I came across an article about Chinese Shar-Pei’s, the cute, wrinkly dogs with the old-man face only a mother could love. The article said Shar-Pei’s were excellent watchdogs, bred to be hyper vigilant and faithful to its owners. That was all the information I needed to decide this was the dog for me.
I’m sure it must have been a comical sight to watch me as I searched for a puppy. I was afraid to hold them and jumped whenever they got near me. I wasn’t even really sure how to pet a dog, terrified as I was of getting near its face and the teeth made to rip apart humans.
But Porky was different from the very beginning. His owners described him as a “love bug,” and as soon as I saw him, I realized he was the one. I sat on the floor, and immediately he came up to me and humped my arm. I looked at my husband and said, “I think he chose me!” We left the house, puppy in arms.
I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Porky wasn’t completely potty-trained and managed to tinkle all over our apartment. We were in the middle of moving into our first home, and as I would pack a box, Porky would chew apart either the box or its contents or both. Because he was so young and just a mere 12 pounds, he couldn’t walk down the steps of our apartment, and I had to carry him down. I had no idea how to hold a dog, and so I picked him up around his belly and tried to carry him down like a sandbag. I was unsuccessful, angry and annoyed at my husband’s inability to control his laughter.
Porky also had the common tendency, like most puppies, to playfully bite while at play with humans. Again, the movie Cujo came to mind, and I was terrified of getting too close. But dogs are smarter than we give them credit for, and Porky was no exception. He always had a sense of my insecurities and never once did he attempt to even playfully bite me. Never once did he bear his teeth at me. Never once did he growl at me. Never once did he show me anything but complete love and devotion.
It wasn’t long before this scary animal made his way into my heart, and I found myself referring to him as my child and loving him as if he were a part of my very soul. And Porky, smart as he was, knew this.
As I said earlier, Porky sensed my insecurities and took it upon himself to help me feel safe. Because Nick worked the evening shift, I was home alone at night, and so Porky would wander the house while I slept. He would jump onto the bed and cuddle with me, but he would rarely sleep and never soundly. He barked loudly at any sounds he deemed threatening, and no one could get past the front door without first needing to get past him.
When Nick was home during the day it was a much different story. Porky would curl up next to him, snoring loudly and completely oblivious to anything else going on around him. The house could have been under attack, and Porky would have been the last to hear it.
After Nick switched to a day shift, Porky switched his hours too, snoring loudly at night and ever watchful during the day. And after Nick was killed and I was once again home alone at night, Porky went back to night duty and back to keeping watch for me.
Shar-Pei’s, as my veterinarian told me many times, are not generally good with kids or with anyone other than their owner. But Porky broke the mold on that one. He adored his brothers, Brody and Colin, and sensed what each of them loved and disliked. When Brody was a baby, Porky would gently bite down on his socks and sometimes the back of his pants and try to pull them off. Brody loved it. We spent many hours laughing as Porky would play this game with him. And as Brody got older, he in turn played his games with Porky. Brody would chase him around the house with a doll stroller then reward Porky for his game of chase with bites of popsicles or licks of ice cream.
Colin wasn’t as keen on the playful bites and was more of a director of sorts. He instructed Porky as to what he could and couldn’t do, and Porky, ever the faithful student, listened and obeyed. They, too, had a loving relationship, and Colin became Porky’s favorite person to kiss. And when my relationship with my boyfriend Alan blossomed, Porky took to him much the way he had taken to Nick, and the two became adoring fans of each other.
Porky, like so many of our pets, wanted nothing more than our love and attention. And as I sit across from his chair that now sits empty, I realize that that’s all I ever wanted from him, too. And yet, he gave me so much more than that. He dispelled my fear of animals and turned me into a dog lover. He taught me that all your troubles could melt when greeted by a tail-wagging dog sitting in anticipation of your arrival and jumping for joy as you walked through the door.
And so, when Porky could no longer meet me at the door or stand on all four legs, and when his eyes told me he was in pain and needed me to end it, I knew I needed to be the caregiver to him that he had been to me. Just as he sensed my every fear and emotion, so too did I need to sense his.
But when you love someone so very much and when you and your children have already experienced heart-wrenching grief and when you want so badly to hold on to the family member you have relied on in times of joy and sorrow, your decision can be muddied with denial and second-guessing. And as anyone who has gone through this process before can attest, the decision is never easy.
As I gently laid Porky in the grass so he could bask in the sun, I sat back and wept and asked for guidance from the person I knew would know best… Nick. And as I watched Porky, a hummingbird swooped in and hovered above him. He stayed there as I smiled and acknowledged the sign, then quickly swooped away.
When I returned home without Porky and methodically put away his food and bed and blankets and tried without success to think of Porky in a happy place, in a place, as my son said, with lots of chew toys, without pain and with dad, I looked out the window to the place where Porky had laid earlier that day. There, above the grass, was a hovering hummingbird. I smiled and knew, yes, Porky was in that happy place and even now, finding a way to ease my fear and bring me comfort.
We often refer to ourselves as our pet’s owners or caregivers, but in reality, they are ours. What they give us and what they leave with us is a love more patient and understanding than what we humans can offer. They ask so little and give so much. It is indeed a dog’s world, and we are so very lucky if we ever get the opportunity to live in it.