By Jane Smith
It looks like the coast is clear. The gyms are packed with new strangers and the days are getting longer. The holidays have come & gone and we’re left with a new year, to do with as we wish.
Did you do it up for New Years Eve? I was supposed to go to an awesome show, but it didn’t work out. Fortunately, my Christmas Eve was great. Christoph and I don’t have any family out here on the West Coast, so we opted for going out on the 24th, in the evening.
My husband and I knew we’d be out that night and then flying back East the following evening, so we made it a point to spend time with our pets. We aren’t parents, but we have three of the coolest pets ever. I often refer to them as the Unimpressed Chihuahua, the Flatulent Bulldog and Bitch Kitty. Christoph, those three & me, make up our little family. Our pets keep us sane and drive us mad, all at once. They’re perfectly flawed and we love them to bits.
That morning, we did some general goofing off, listened to Christmas carols, watched TV, petted the dogs and annoyed the cat. We had even bought each of them a big bag of treats as Christmas gifts. Ultimately though, Christoph and I decided to wait until we got back from our trip to let our furry buddies in on their gifts. Instead of feeding them—which they very well may have preferred—we snuggled them and hung out with them until we had to pack them in the car and take them to the pet boarding place.
After handing over the dog beds, blankets, leashes and chew toys, we entrusted our furry friends to the friendly staff members on duty.
The Bulldog is one hot mess, easily excitable, full of energy and a tank. The folks at the boarding place love him and he seems to love them back. He flipped out in a tornado of happy, overwhelming and comedic energy when it came time to hand his leash to the pet boarding staff.
The Chihuahua is a different story, he weighs 7.5 lbs. so is much easier to hand off. Well, I suppose it was physically easier to hand him over, but it’s always hard for me to leave him. I love that little guy; he’s the tiny shadow that follows wherever I go. He’s my sidekick, so dropping him off is difficult in the worst way. The cat on the other hand, she’s easy. Not because she’s a bitch or anything, but because she’s in her cat carrier. Her, I can just toss over to the first pair of helpful hands that I find.
After dropping off our pets, Christoph and I went home to shower and get ready for our evening out. We got home, cleaned up, got dressed and drove into San Francisco for what we hoped would be a fun night of music, food and drinks.
Turns out, we ended up having a festive time after all. Dinner was savory, the drinks were stiff and the concert was fantastic. We enjoyed the evening with our friends, but made it home early enough so that we could get a good night’s rest before our flight back East, the next night.
On that flight to Washington, D.C., we sat across from a screaming child that refused to sleep the entire time. It was so gloriously horrific that I won’t rehash the experience; that excruciatingly long flight can rest in peace, ironically, for eternity.
Even though the flight was pure shit, we lucked out on this trip. We were able to see a lot of the folks we had been missing since we’d moved west. It was exciting to see so much family in one spot. I was also grateful that so many of our pals were able to come out to see us and shoot the shit for an evening. It’s always invigorating and highly satisfying to connect with those that make up my family of friends. My blood relatives are a given, but the friends I call family are pillars in my life as well.
All in all, the trip was a success. Christoph and I had visited both sides of the family and made some memories that will last a lifetime. We were also highly pleased that we’d been able to avoid any familial friction. In the end, we were elated to have had such a wonderful time.
Tired, yet buzzing with Christmas joy, Christoph and I hopped an early flight back to the West Coast on New Years Eve. We originally wanted to pick up our furry buddies on New Years day, but the boarding place said they wouldn’t be open. We would have to wait until the 2nd of January to go get our pets. We were bummed, but figured it would be fine since we were going to a show in Oakland for New Years Eve, anyway.
We were supposed to go see Primus perform a psychedelic version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but we didn’t. What we did was take our bags to our car that we’d parked in the lot at the airport. The plan was to drive to our hotel in Oakland, eat lunch, sleep and then get ready for the show.
Instead, what happened was that we checked in, dragged our bags up to our room, took off our shoes and attempted to order room service. We were tired and just wanted to lie down. That plan swiftly failed because room service was out of service and so we were forced to go to the hotel restaurant. Tragic, I KNOW.
Quickly, Christoph and I made our way down to the restaurant and found someone to take our order. After placing our respective orders, I started to people watch as Christoph checked his voice mails. After about a minute, he said something about the boarding place having called. My heart sank for a second and then I reminded myself not to be an alarmist. I tried to keep it together, waiting for what I was sure was horrible news. I just knew one of my pups has gotten hurt and I was afraid it was going to be bad.
Turns out, no one was hurt.
I knew it was worse than anything I could have imagined the moment my husband lost his shit and yelled, “WHAT,” into his cell phone. Christoph couldn’t tell me what was happening, but instead simply handed me the phone. My insides were already trembling when I asked the woman on the other end what had happened. I was making my way out of the restaurant as she offered me her condolenseces and told me that my little buddy, my puppy baby, the baddest Chihuahua that ever lived, was dead. He had died the night before. They had found him that morning as Christoph and I were flying home to California. He died in his little bed. My heart shattered and my chest began to hurt, radiating anguish from this new void that had just been created.
Life was different now and I didn’t like it one bit.
My husband and I walked quickly to the elevator, in tears. In true melodramatic fashion, I slammed my fists on the metal elevator walls as we road up to our floor. I wanted to crumple on the ground and cry, but I had to get to my Pooper (one of my many nicknames for him). It didn’t matter that he was dead; I needed to see him.
We waved off the kind hotel staff that offered their help as we ran to the front desk. We thanked them as we walked past. Everyone was understanding and kind. The woman at the front desk did her best to get us on our way as quickly as possible. She was sweet, they all were. Christoph and I were a traumatized mess.
There would be no hiding the tears; there would be no brave face. My usual compartmentalization would not do this day. My best friend was dead and the world could fuck right off. I needed to let my soul burn with pain and I didn’t care who saw me smolder.
The drive to the vet—the boarding place had called him in already—was as morose as you can imagine. I tried to keep focused, but it was useless. Christoph and I cried intermittently while I desperately called a few of my closest friends. I needed to tell someone. I needed someone to hear the words the way I had. I needed someone to feel my pain and Christoph was busy being our rock, focused on maintaining and getting us to our little guy.
I finally reached someone after a few minutes. My friend had lost her dog a while back and she talked me down off my emotional ledge. She miraculously got me to stop feeling like my heart was in a vice grip and about to explode into gory mush, inside my chest. She made it so that I could go through with the goodbye. She gave me the courage I needed to face reality in that moment.
Once inside the vet’s office, we prepared to see my little Pooper for the final time. After eleven years of hoping he’d outlive me, I was pacing, waiting for someone to bring me my best friend’s body so that I could say farewell. It was surreal.
The moment I was told he had died, I began wailing like my world had ended, because it had. Everything I had known for the past eleven years was changing in a horrific way. That little 7.5 lb. dog that I brought home, all those years ago, had turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d ever made. I’m pretty self-destructive so that’s saying a hell of a lot about a tiny dog.
He was no ordinary Chihuahua, though. McLeoud had the “wisdom of the elders” behind those big, brown eyes. You could tell he was aware and could understand more than just simple commands. His thoughts were complex, that was evident, and it always intrigued me. He and I communicated without need for words because he was extraordinary. He was my best friend. He had seen me through some of my worst days. He stood by me through a lot of experiences and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I leaned pretty heavily on that tiny dog.
Superficially, I was also lucky in that he wasn’t yappy. In fact, he barked less than most dogs I knew. He also had the perfect profile: huge ears, beautiful eyes and a tiny nose, everything perfectly proportioned to maximize adorableness. He was regal.
Christoph and I used to call him the Pharaoh because he would always sit atop a pillow on the couch and survey the rest of us as if we were his subjects. He was phenomenal, the best Chihuahua that ever lived. Anyone lucky enough to meet him, understands just what I mean. You guys know I’m not just gushing. He was special.
I realize I’ve probably bummed you out. Sorry about that, but I had to, man. This whole “dog dying” thing hit me hard. I suppose it’s because I didn’t know just how close we really were. Eleven years was not enough. I think I’m still in shock.
Some folks have asked why I chose to opt out of the autopsy to determine the exact cause of Pooper’s death. I figure, no matter what the result, it won’t change anything. No one’s bringing my dog back. He’s gone and that’s all that really matters. Interestingly, despite the fact that he had been to the vet twice recently—and been deemed in great health—I kind of felt like it was just his time. This was the one thing that has kept me mildly sane through this grieving process.
McLeoud had been acting a little off in the weeks leading up to his death. For example, he didn’t want to walk as much. When I would take him for a walk around the neighborhood, he would stop, mid-walk, and demand to be picked up. This was especially odd for him because he hated being carried. McLeoud always preferred to walk on his own. See, told you he was badass.
In addition to the “walking thing,” he had become more needy than he’d ever been. He’d whine for my attention, like he did when he was telling me he wanted food or water, but he wouldn’t want either of those things. I, of course, would get frustrated and tell him that I didn’t know what he was trying to tell me. McLeoud would just stare at me with sorrow in his eyes, as if to say, “no, that’s not it, don’t you get it?” It was starting to freak me out.
As a matter of fact, one day in the morning, I woke up and put my Pupper on my chest to pet him. I did this most mornings because he slept with me at night and who doesn’t want to cuddle an adorable dog first thing in the morning? I would lie on my back, put McLeoud on my chest and pet him and tell him he was adorable. I’m one of those crazy dog people, I know.
This particular morning, though, I felt sad during our AM ritual. I began to think about what life would be like without my little guy and I started to tear up. That’s when I looked into McLeoud’s eyes and said, “Hey man, if you die before I do, you gotta look for me on the other side. Promise me you’ll find me on the other side. Wait for me, we have to be together again, ok? Promise?” He stared at me and seemed to understand, but he also looked a little sad and so a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks. I quickly snapped out of it realizing how ridiculous I was being and I let out a laugh. I then reached over and got the bulldog’s attention and told him that the same went for him. With a giggle, I got out of bed as I shook my head at my own absurdity.
To this day, don’t know why I felt the urge to say that stuff to my dog, but I was compelled to do so. I also glad I did. It doesn’t matter if he understood me or didn’t. I’m just happy that I said it because I meant every word.
The death speech, McLeoud’s odd behavior, the change in his energy level and the fact that he was socializing less, were all signs that something was wrong. Sometimes, I feel bad because I wonder what would have happened if I had insisted with the veterinarian that he was acting strange? Would he have done a test that could have potentially saved his life?
What I do know for sure is that the lady at the boarding place said she went in to check on my little guy the evening of December 30th and he was in his tiny round bed. She said that she put his blanket over him and he wagged his tail in appreciation. She also said she’d done the same every other night and he seemed completely normal. In the morning she went to wake him up, but he wasn’t moving. He was gone and they called in the vet to make sure.
Horribly simple and quick, right? Believe me, I totally want to blame someone; I’m with you on that. I mean who goes on vacation to have their delightfully, tiny, badass, black Chihuahua die the day they fly home? Me apparently, and that’s not fair.
I get that life isn’t fair, but fuck life and fuck fair. With that said, what good would it do for me to blame the folks at the kennel? My vet said McLeoud showed no physical sign of trauma. There was no indication that he was hurt or mistreated.
Sounds like I’m at the anger stage of the mourning processes, right? Hopefully, that’ll mean I’ve made some progress. You know, I’m astounded at the impact this one event is having on my life. I can tell you with all sincerity that I’ve experienced some pretty traumatic loss in my life. I’ve had an inordinate amount of emotional adversity thrown my way and while it builds character, it also tends to make people somewhat jaded.
As the damaged and jaded human being that I am, I figured I’d be better equipped to handle the death of my beloved Pooper. In reality, I wasn’t prepared in the least for this immense sense of loss. I thought this would be different than when a person died. I figured it would be easier to take, but I was wrong.
After saying goodbye to McLeoud, we still had to go to the kennel to get the bulldog and cat. The woman on duty at the front desk gave me a huge hug when I walked in crying. She told me again what happened since she was the one that found McLeoud and called us. I held it together as best I could while Christoph and I got our stuff, our pets and got the hell out of there. I called my friend Isabelle on the drive home. I told her that McLeoud had died and I swear I could hear the shock reverberate through her skull. She immediately dropped her plans and drove to meet me at my house.
When Isabelle got there the wailing started all over again. She has known both McLeoud and me for a long time; she knows exactly how close I was to that dog. She could understand my enormous sense of loss; I could see it in her eyes. Unfortunately, that only made me sadder. I cried for the next several hours. I cried until my head was throbbing. I was depressing everyone around me and so I cried some more.
After a while, I managed to pull myself together and pop some pills so that my headache wouldn’t morph into a migraine. That was about the time Christoph, Isabelle and I started to talk about McLeoud. We recalled all the things we loved about him and how exceptional he was. We remembered his fantastically sassy attitude. We smiled as we thought of his disdain for anything ordinary. We marveled at how humanlike he felt to each of us. We remarked how we looked upon him as a person because he always seemed to understand what we were saying to him. He was smart and adorable. He was kind of a jerk. He was perfection.
I was then moved to play a song in honor of my fallen soldier and I knew exactly which song it would be. My little Chihuahua had the attitude of a dog 20x his size. He didn’t take any shit from anyone and feared few.
This song defines the way McLeoud lived life and it makes me misty every time I’ve played it since.
It wasn’t long after the song started playing that I grabbed a lighter. I had that fucker lit the entire time. If anyone deserved a lighter-sway, it was my best bud.
As you can see, it’s been tough. I still feel pretty lonely despite having another dog and a cat to keep me company when I’m working from home. Christoph has been great, too. He’s tried to perk me up each and every day. He continues to keep my life together and remind me that I’m lucky—despite everything, I’m very lucky.
The one good thing that came from this horrific experience was that I felt the support of my friends loud and clear, despite most of them living on the east coast. Some talked me through it, others sent me flowers, cards, text messages and checked in on me to ensure that I was ok.
It warmed my heart to see just how many of my friends understood how much that little dog means to me. I was glad that they understood that McLeoud had made a huge impact on my life and he was leaving an enormous void with his departure. I was grateful they didn’t mock me or poke fun at my emotional state. It feels good to be understood, supported and cared for by so many poeople that I respect and love.
Even though McLeoud’s death amplified my loneliness, it also gave me the opportunity to connect. My real friends are class acts, each and every one.
You guys got me through this and I owe you big. Thank you for all those calls, texts, flowers and donations made in McLeoud’s name. I appreciate you letting me know that I’m not alone. Thank you for reminding me that there’s still good stuff to look forward to, every day. You fuckers mean the world to me and if I die first, I’ll be sure to wait for you.
RIP – McLeoud
You were my best friend. I will always love you & I promise to find you on the other side.