A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.
Edgar came into my life last October. I can still remember the day we met. He was standing in the center lane of a street already busy with Monday morning traffic. My daughter and I had just left the gym, and she noticed him before I did, alerting me to that fact by screaming at me to stop the car, jumping out, and flailing wildly at the oncoming traffic, successfully bringing it to a momentary standstill. Within seconds, she had scooped up the tiny Chihuahua trembling in the widening beam of the headlights before him, named him Edgar (in homage to Mr. Poe), and announced that he would be moving in with us.
In spite of having just run several miles on a treadmill, I still hadn’t had my coffee, so I was neither alert nor ready for a Monday let alone the prospect of a Chihuahua. In the back of my mind, I presumed we’d post a few “Found Dog” signs around the neighborhood, and by the end of the day “Edgar” would be back where he belonged, answering to whatever name someone else had given him.
Sophie almost convinced me to let her stay home from school that day, so she could be with “her” new dog. He was shaking and scared, submissive and sweet, and Sophie was vexed that she could see his little ribs so plainly. Without saying it, I knew she knew that based on our experience with Molly, a beautiful brindle, some years back, a new dog was probably not in the cards. On the heels of a spectacular crisis in my professional life, we had rescued Molly in the Christmas of 2008. She adored me, and the feeling was mutual. Molly was elegant and affectionate. She knew how to be retired. She wanted to lounge around the house all day, but she did not want to do it alone.
Ultimately, we had to surrender Molly to the Arizona Greyhound Rescue. Her separation anxiety grew so severe, that she just couldn’t stay in the house by herself. I was heart-broken the day I returned her to the man who would place her in a foster family where someone would be home all day as well as another greyhound to keep her company. Life with Molly – although brief – had helped seal the deal as far as any future pets were concerned. We would be a one-cat family. No more dogs. No way.
But there were tell-tale signs that this little Chihuahua was making his way into my husband’s heart. “Surely someone is missing this little guy terribly,” Ken said. He bought dog food. He drove around the neighborhood, looking for “Lost Dog” signs, hoping to make some family’s day by returning their dog. He checked the newspaper and Craigslist every day to see if someone in Phoenix had lost a cute little Chihuahua. He took Edgar to the Humane Society where he was informed that they didn’t take lost dogs. Still, they checked for a microchip. No chip. No collar. Nothing to suggest that he belonged to someone. They estimated “Edgar” at about five years old, determined that he hadn’t been neutered or cared for. He had bad breath and worse teeth. He was malnourished and dirty. He weighed three pounds. Barely.
Within three weeks, it was clear that nobody was looking for this little dog, who in spite of having four perfectly good legs, expected to be carried everywhere. Dutifully, we all obliged. He gained weight. He stopped trembling. He slept in our daughter’s arms every night. He came running when we called “Edgar,” and soon we were all in love with him, as poet Mary Oliver writes,
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?
When my daughter and I were far away in Northern Ireland a month later, visiting my parents in South Derry, Ken died in our Phoenix home. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning, when I am contemplating all that has happened in the past couple of years, I find myself wanting to be reassured that as his fragile heart stopped working, Ken’s last interaction on this earth was tender, with three pounds of unconditional love curled up like a comma on his chest.
That day, on another continent, in another time zone, I had been keeping my fingers crossed that a friend would come through with tickets for the free concert Van Morrison was giving at the Waterfront Hall after being granted the Freedom of the City of Belfast. But I was distracted – repeatedly – by thoughts of foreboding, by the unexpected sound of my own voice as my phone-calls home went straight to voice-mail. Worried, I did what I always do when I have “a bad feeling,” I sent a text to my best friend, Amanda (the original BFF) to ask if she would drive to my house to check on things.
I have a flair for the dramatic and, conventional wisdom be damned, I sweat the small stuff. The devil is in the tiniest of details after all. I make mountains out of molehills which sometimes works when I can produce a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But this? This was the second most significant detail of my adult life, wrapped up in a persistent phrase that travelled via text from Castledawson to Chandler at 12:25PM Mountain Standard Time:
“Trying to be calm, but afraid he is hurt/dead.”
I was on the phone with Amanda as she walked to my front door, as she looked through the bay window to see little Edgar looking back at her, still and silent, knowing what we had yet to discover, waiting for her to find the keys under the doormat, to come on in and call my husband’s name three times before finding his lifeless body on the bed, hoping he was just resting but knowing he was gone.
It has been seven months, and Sophie tells me that every day without her dad begins not with sorrow and dread, but with Edgar licking her face and making her smile. He is ready, always ready to help her get ready to walk out into the world.
“But what about Edgar?” she asked me over pancakes one morning last week. “What if he spends every day just waiting by the door for me to come home? What if he’s lonely? Doesn’t he need a friend?”
Yes. He does. Don’t we all?
So last Thursday, I set about finding a friend for Edgar. It didn’t take long for me to learn that there are thousands of dogs just like Edgar, in need of friends. According to the Arizona Humane Society, dogs like him have replaced pit bulls as the most abandoned breed. From January to March of this year, 821 Chihuahuas have been surrendered or brought into the shelter for a variety of reasons. And in 2013, the Arizona Humane Society and the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the two largest shelters in Phoenix, received 10,535 Chihuahuas and euthanized 2,100.
So I drove to the Arizona Small Dog Rescue after work on Thursday, having spent my lunch hour perusing picture after picture of tiny dogs who needed a home, one in particular – a little black and tan Miniature Pinscher Chihuahua mix, just two years old. The volunteer told me she had come from a “hoarding situation,” but she was “as sweet as can be, quiet, mild mannered and gets along with all dogs and people who are nice to her.”
And with that, I knew she would be coming home with me, that Edgar would have a new companion, that we would name her “Gloria” – with a nod to the most requested encore at a Van Morrison concert in Belfast, and, of course, Ms. Steinem – and that my 16-year old daughter’s tender heart would expand once more.