“It is never a mistake to care for another sentient being.”
Those are the words a stranger uttered to my mother when she expressed concern that her 24-year-old actress (but paying the bills as a tour guide and hostess) daughter was getting a dog. Over 18 years later, I still remember those words, and they mean more to me than they ever have.
I believe it was June of 2003 when I had my “how much is that doggie in the window?” moment.
My family always had a dog growing up, and living on my own in Manhattan, with friends moving away, I started to feel the loneliness that I had felt as a depressed teenager creep in. A dog seemed like a perfect solution.
As an aspiring actress living in New York, space and money were limited, and there was always the possibility that I would have to travel or live elsewhere for a while.
A small dog I could take with me seemed like the best bet.
I did some (minimal) research and landed on a Silky Terrier as probably the best dog for me. Small and smart like a Yorkie, but not as yippie and generally hardier and healthier—a Silky would be the perfect companion.
While my mother was visiting, we took a walk through the West Village, and as we approached “Citipups” on Christopher Street, I spotted a beautiful little fur ball in the window.
Lo and behold, it was a female Silky Terrier.
I entered the shop, asked if I could hold her, and she fell asleep in my arms. She was warm and soft, and I felt a calm wash over me as I felt her heartbeat while she slept. She was on sale for $695, and the store offered zero percent financing with no money down for one year.
Not only did I find the perfect dog, but I could finance her!
My mother advised me to sleep on it, and I reluctantly agreed, handing this precious, perfect creature back to the store employee. Of course, I knew what I wanted to do and spent the rest of the day, evening, and night worrying that someone else would claim her. In the morning, I called the store and found out that she was still available.
To be honest, I have no idea what I said, but I’m sure I made it pretty clear that I was coming to get her soon. From the moment I left the store with that sweet creature, we spent little time apart for the next 18 years, pretty much all of what I would consider my adult life thus far.
I named my sweet girl Lola, as my mother advised me that a dog’s name should be something simple and not more than two syllables.
“Run Lola Run” was one of my favorite movies at the time, and I thought my tiny girl should be named after a badass character. The little badass was two lbs, 11 oz at our first vet visit (yes, I remember that like mothers remember their babies’ birth weight…sue me), and I gladly welcomed her into my bed on our second night together, despite the fear that I would accidentally crush her in my sleep. Perhaps due to the same fear, she slept on my pillow next to my head many nights as we adjusted to our life together.
Not wanting to be away from her if I didn’t need to be, I bought a denim bag for Lo (as many of us lovingly called her for years) and took her all over the city, on the subway, smuggled into restaurants where she slept under the table, to my baby brother’s basketball games outside of Philadelphia, to other parts of Pennsylvania, to New Jersey, and later on, planes to visit her grandparents (they were thrilled with the term) in Naples, Florida.
If you knew me from when I was 24 to 42, you knew Lo.
Depending on when you met us, you may have known a spunky, sweet, black, and tan puppy, a silvery adult dog who barked for treats, or an anxious, elderly, white haired dog in a diaper, but you definitely saw her in a bag. If you saw Lo in the winter, she was likely wearing one of her many sweaters that I had to hide, because she loved them so much that she wanted to wear them even when it wasn’t weather appropriate, and I’m not one of those dog people…well, except for her Christmas dress, which prompted my mother to threaten to buy me a book called “That B*tch Is Not Your Baby.”
Say what you will, but that badass b*tch was my baby…for 18 years.
She saw me through relationships with men I can’t even remember at this point, a career change, graduate school, a marriage, a divorce, navigating dating after divorce, and eventually moving to the suburbs and getting married again. She was my silent witness to it all, and I thank Goddess every day that she couldn’t talk and spill my secrets to anyone who might be interested.
Being a little bit of a worrier and someone who likes to be prepared, when Lo was around 10, I googled “average lifespan of a Silky Terrier” and found the consensus to be about 12 to 15 years.
From the time she turned 13 on, I felt like every day was more of a gift than the last. Being the badass that she was, the only health problem Lo had for many years was allergies, which we eventually managed with a daily pill. When she was 15, she became extremely ill quickly, and I rushed her to the vet, thinking it was the end.
Given her age, I didn’t want her to undergo any invasive procedures and agreed to an Xray and fluids, and to leave her at the vet till close to closing time five hours later. When I returned and the receptionist asked if I “wanted to take care of this now,” I handed over my card for the several-hundred-dollar charge without flinching or even asking what I was paying for. I just wanted to see my girl. When I heard the tech say, “Come on, sweet girl; mommy’s here,” I burst into tears.
My sweet girl was back with a final diagnosis of a terrible urinary tract infection. My little badass lived another three years after that. And I’m convinced she made sure I had another sentient being to care for before she left me.
In Lo’s last year on Earth, I found that I was surprisingly, seemingly miraculously pregnant at age 42.
The human soul I only infrequently and tentatively allowed myself to dream about made its way into my body in October of 2020.
As the world continued to adjust to “pandemic life,” I also adjusted to having another life growing inside me. I think Lo adjusted too. With the pandemic raging on, I saw patients in my psychology practice virtually and spent much more time at home, so Lo and I had more time together as I allowed her to roam freely through my office during work hours, and I spent more time with her at home before and after.
My little shadow would walk into my therapy office at least once an hour, seemingly to check on me and either stay with me or go back to the other room where her food and water were.
As time went on and my pregnant belly grew, my sweet, old lady, who hadn’t cuddled with me in years, would lie down with me for close to an hour, resting her head near my belly, as her baby brother (again, sue me) continued to grow, preparing for life on the outside.
When I told my mother I was pregnant, she said, “Don’t be mad, but I always said to your dad, ‘watch…Katie will get pregnant, and Lola will die.’”
I said, “Don’t feel bad. I wondered if she had to die to send me a child, so every birthday of hers was bittersweet.”
As a psychologist, I am well-aware that that is magical thinking, and I don’t care. As my sweet son, Eli, was growing inside me and making his way to Earth outside my body, my sweet girl, Lo, was transitioning away from her earthly existence, and magical thinking or not, I think she sent Eli to me or at least waited for him to safely arrive before she left me.
“Induction Day,” as we called it, arrived on June 24, 2021, and so did Eli.
Because of restrictions due to me having a C-section, Lo stayed with her grandparents for two and a half weeks before coming home to meet her baby brother. I wish I could tell you it was a beautiful, joyful meeting, but it wasn’t. After time away from her, I could more easily see the ravages of age to her diminishing physical body, and she didn’t even seem to notice the tiny (but bigger than she was at that point) human addition to the family.
While I knew she didn’t see well, she didn’t even flinch when Eli cried, leading me to believe that she also could barely hear. She also made no noise, which I only realized when my husband asked, “When was the last time you heard her bark?”
As my boy was growing and thriving and screaming and engaging and becoming more embodied, my girl was leaving hers.
I believe animals and babies have energetic connections to other realms that we lose as adult humans, and I swear my two sweeties were working together.
I know Lo helped Eli get here, and I’m sure he helped me see how she was suffering and struggling to leave this plane. On two consecutive mornings, my sweet boy’s sleep patterns allowed me to witness events that appeared to be either seizures or strokes.
After that, I knew I had to make the decision I never wanted to make and help her transition as peacefully as possible.
On the afternoon of Eli’s two-month birthday, I had a veterinarian come to the house to facilitate this sweet soul leaving her body. About five minutes before the vet arrived, I held Lo up to Eli, and for the first, and last, time she sniffed and kissed him.
I took a picture of it that I will cherish forever.
As my husband held Eli in another room, I held my dear companion on the daybed where we had previously cuddled. She and I were both calm. I spoke to her quietly and thanked her profusely for her love and dedication. As the veterinarian administered the medication, I continued to hold her and sing to her. She was warm and soft, and I felt a calm wash over me as her heartbeat slowly faded away. Our earthly relationship ended just the way it started, with her asleep in my arms, my heart full of love for this tiny, perfect creature.
I firmly believe that Lo knew she wasn’t leaving me alone and that I needed another sentient being to care for, so she sent me another tiny, perfect creature in the form of my son.
I have often wondered exactly what it is that makes the connection with our animal companions so deep, so special, why so many of us come to treat them as, and even call them, our children.
I think there is something about them being almost totally, if not fully, dependent on us, much like babies are. To be that dependent on another being requires a great deal of trust, and animals give that to us time and time again.
Animals and infants also don’t have the mask of the ego. They are sensation and energy, pure response to the present moment, and they draw us right into the present with them when our own minds and egos stray from it. When we meet them here in the beauty of now, we experience unconditional love, pure, simple, and magical.
When we experience love like that, we start to understand the power of it. Love is about the only “thing” I know that is magnified every time we give it away. When we give love to another, especially an animal, we are not losing anything. We are actually able to experience it grow, watch it magnify and come back to us even stronger.
It is never a mistake to care for another sentient being, and it is most definitely never a mistake to love one.