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.
~ Mary Oliver,
First there was Molly, a retired racer who loved me. We had rescued her in the Christmas of 2008, on the heels of a spectacular crisis in my professional life, and she lifted my heart. Molly adored me, and the feeling was mutual. Elegant and affectionate, she knew how to be retired, but the separation anxiety was too much for her, and because I was unable to spend every minute of the day with her, I had to surrender her to the Greyhound Adoption Agency. Heartbroken, I promised myself – and my husband – that we would just stick to cats.
Then one early October morning a few years later, Edgar came into our lives, the moment we met indelible in my memory. My daughter and I had just left the gym, and there he was, standing in the center lane of a street already busy with the rush of early Monday morning traffic. Sophie spotted him first, alerting me to that fact by screaming at me to stop the car. She jumped out and – flailing wildly at oncoming traffic – she successfully brought it to a momentary standstill that allowed her to scoop up the tiny Chihuahua that trembled in the widening beam of the headlights before him, name him Edgar, and announce that he would be moving in with us.
In spite of having just completed several miles on a treadmill, I had not yet had my coffee. I was neither happy nor ready for a Monday or the prospect of a Chihuahua. Rather than argue or rise to the bait, I told myself we would 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 the beautiful Molly, a new dog was probably not in the cards. Her dad and I had established an unspoken rule – we were always good at that. One cat. No more dogs. No way.
But there were tell-tale signs that the unlikely Chihuahua was making his way into my husband’s heart. “Surely someone’s missing this little guy,” he’d ask. Repeatedly. Rhetorically. 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. Daily, he checked the newspaper and Craigslist to see if someone in Phoenix had lost a cute little Chihuahua. He took him to the Humane Society where he was informed that they didn’t take lost dogs. Still, they checked for a microchip. There wasn’t one. They estimated his age at about five years old, determined that “Edgar” hadn’t been neutered or cared for. He had bad breath and worse teeth. 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. He was like a bag of sugar, so 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, because, as poet Mary Oliver reminds us,
. . of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.
A month later, my daughter and I were far away in Northern Ireland, leaving Edgar and the cat at home with my husband. It was dusk when we were with my parents and the blacksmith’s son in The Forge in South Derry, in Seamus Heaney country. We were there because I had given up waiting for a friend to 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. With Van out of my mind and Barney Devlin’s son regaling us with the story behind the the midnight anvil – the one with the sweeter sound – I was in my element and couldn’t wait to tell Ken about it, knowing only he knew my affection for all things Heaney. When I called him, there was no answer.
There was no answer.
The unexpected sound of my own voice as my phone-calls continued to go straight to voice mail, transported me into a panic. A certain and unshakeable foreboding had me in a vice. It was not to be ignored.
Next, a flurry of texts between my best friend and me, in different time zones, on different continents. I was on the phone with her when she arrived at my house and looked through the bay window to see Edgar looking back at her, still and silent, knowing what she would find after she found the keys under the doormat and called my husband’s name three times over before finding his lifeless body, hoping he was just resting but knowing – as Edgar did – that he was dead.
I don’t know and will never know his final thoughts, but I must believe that when he died in our Phoenix home, my Ken’s last interaction on this earth was tender, with three pounds of unconditional love curled up like a comma on his chest.
Late in the first summer following Ken’s death, Sophie told me that her day begins not with sorrow over the loss of her beloved daddy but with Edgar licking her face and making her smile. He is ready – always – to help her get ready to walk out into the world. “What about Edgar?” she pondered over pancakes one morning. “What if he spends every day just waiting by the door for me to come home? Doesn’t he need a friend to keep him company?”
Yes. He does. Don’t we all?
So I did a little research. I found out that dogs like Edgar are indeed 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. 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. Knowing this, how could I not find a friend for Edgar?
After work one day, I took a detour home via the Arizona Small Dog Rescue. Having spent my lunch hour perusing their website – picture after picture of tiny dogs who needed a home – I was more than curious about a little black and tan Miniature Pinscher Chihuahua mix, just two years old. Rather than give her a number, they had assigned a temporary name – “Lupita.” The volunteer told me little Lupita had come from a “hoarding situation,” that she had been caged for most of her two years, that she was “as sweet as can be, quiet, mild mannered and gets along with all dogs and people who are nice to her.”
With that, I knew she would be coming home with me, that Edgar would have a new companion, that we would change her name to “Gloria” – with a nod to the most requested encore at a Van Morrison concert and, of course, to Ms. Steinem – and that my 16-year old daughter’s tender heart would expand once more.