Today is my husband's 45th birthday. But that's not what I am going to write about. You have already heard enough about my husband; it's time for you to hear about another important man in my life.
At the end of the summer in 2005, there was a terrible hurricane in Louisiana. The floodwaters rose and rose, drowning many people and rendering many more homeless. People fled inland in droves, leaving the streets abandoned and lawless. Many people left their pets behind. Robyn Urman, who runs a local animal rescue organization called Pet ResQ Inc., hastened down there and came back to New Jersey with dozens of homeless animals, and, with her own particular brand of crazy-dog-lady love, she got them the medical attention and the homes they needed. (You can read more about Robyn here.)
It just so happened that I lost the canine loves of my life in 2004. Their names were Roxanne and Chester. They died just a few months apart, Roxanne of old age and Chester, after a few months of searching for her to no avail, of a broken heart. I had a broken heart too, and though I did not die of it, I swore I would never again have another dog.
Then, one day in October 2005, a note appeared in my mailbox. It was from my neighbor Julie, who was familiar with my love for dogs. "Robyn Urman has rescued dogs for adoption. Don't know if you're ready yet, but she could use some help and supplies and stuff. Here's her number. xo Julie."
It happened to be Yom Kippur, so the local schools were closed. The kids and I piled into the minivan and drove to PetSmart, where we bought a big pile of leashes, dog beds, and Milk-Bone treats. We brought them to the local grooming salon, where we found Robyn and her dogs.
"These are for you," we told her, handing over our donation.
"Wow," she said, moved. "Thank you! Would you like to see the dogs?"
NO, screamed my heart. "Yes," said my mouth.
She led us into the back of the shop, where a dozen or so dogs were sleeping or sitting in crates. She let one of them out. He was mostly black, with some caramel-colored markings. He stood about knee-high and was disproportionately long for his height. He was young - maybe nine months or so - and of indeterminate breed. The very first thing he did was steal my heart. I didn't even have time to think about it.
"What's his name?" I asked.
"We've been calling him Sparky," she said.
I got a text message from my husband. "What are you guys up to?" he asked.
"We are at Pet ResQ looking at the dogs available for adoption," I responded.
"Cool. We can talk about that later," he said.
"No," I said. "It's too late to talk. His name is Sparky."
Sparky came home with us that afternoon. We toyed with giving him a better name, since we all agreed that Sparky was a pretty dumb and unoriginal name for a dog. But he was used to it and responded to it readily. He was happy, and when I say that I am not just describing his mood that day. I am describing his temperament as a whole. I have never met anyone who is as happy to be alive as Sparky is.
Our vet loved him right away, too. He performed the surgery necessary to ensure that Sparky would not be burdened with fatherhood, and he pronounced him healthy and well-adjusted. Whoever had owned him before had gotten him his first set of shots. They had also taken him for a lot of car rides. Sparky loves riding in the car.
I tethered Sparky to the belt loop on my jeans, and he had no choice but to follow me everywhere. He was housebroken in no time. He walked to school on a leash. He rode shotgun in the minivan to pick up the kids from their afterschool activities. He accompanied me to the supermarket and waited patiently in the car while I shopped. He slept at my feet, no matter where my feet were. I had to step over him when I was cooking or cleaning. He dozed on the bathroom rug while I showered. He had taken it upon himself to become my shadow and my guardian.
I had not thought that Roxanne and Chester would be so easily replaceable, or that my heart would have room for another dog. He's a small dog, but his soul is huge. He has taught me a tremendous lesson about the nature of love and devotion. He wakes me every morning at an unmentionable hour to go for a walk around the block. I can't be angry at him, no matter how tired I am. His sweet face looks at me earnestly. I wonder what his life was like in flood-ravaged New Orleans, and as I scratch his fuzzy little ears while he dozes in his dog bed, I sometimes think he is very, very lucky.
But he's not as lucky as we are.
Here's hoping your week ahead is a good one, with someone warm and devoted sleeping at your feet.
Jennie and Sparky