I think she always wanted to be a mother. For all I know, she may have been before she came into my life on that beautiful cool day about five years ago. I was riding my bike with my friend, Karen and this scraggly mutt just started following us. She stayed right with us for about three miles until we arrived at Karen’s house. I bent to pet her and noticed an angry scar running the length of her left leg. It was healed now, but it was obviously caused by a horrible encounter either with a wild animal or a sharp object.
She seemed starved for attention and, frankly, starved in general. Her wiry fur, bearded face, curled up tail and black speckled tongue were not going to win her first place in any dog beauty contest. In fact, she would probably be a runner up in a bearded lady contest.
When I opened my car door to leave Karen’s house, she just jumped in like she belonged there.
How am I going to explain this to my husband? Don’t do it! You know that you have enough animals already!
I looked at Karen who just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well I guess she’s yours.”
“Some friend you are.” I yelled as I backed down the driveway with the mangy dog riding shotgun next to me.
We arrived home and I quickly hid the evidence in the barn until I could muster up the courage to introduce her to the family (especially Bill who regularly admonishes me for my penchant for bringing home strays). It never has cured me, though. I still bring them home.
So, eventually, my family discovered why I was making stealth runs to the barn with dog food. I guess the barking dog might have also given me away. When they finally met her, they all said the same thing, “That is one ugly dog!” The fact that she smelled didn’t help matters. My son called her rat dog. My other children never really called her anything. It took my five-year-old to finally name her Lilo (after the alien cartoon character in Lilo and Stitch). I have since learned the Stitch was the alien and Lilo the little girl, but that is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that I think my daughter was trying to say our dog resembled an alien.
Slowly, Lilo became a part of our family. Even our Australian Shepard, Toby decided to befriend her. In fact, they became best buddies. They ran the pasture and the hundred acre orange grove together chasing horses, squirrels and raccoons. Lilo was one tough broad. Toby would come home scratched and dented from his encounters with raccoons, but Lilo would have the raccoons up the tree in about three seconds.
Lilo also had a soft side to her. She was always being dressed up in various ensembles by Lulu (try saying Lilo and Lulu five times fast). I have to say that she looked almost beautiful in some of the frilly dresses Lulu found for her. Maybe beauty is in the eyes of the beholder when it came to Lilo, but I found her beautiful.
She was my dog from the day I brought her home. Wherever I was, Lilo was never far away. Sometimes, she’d just come into the room and stare at me and I’d ask her what’s up. She’d cock her head to one side as if she were thinking of an answer and then she’d almost look like she were smiling. I’d often wonder what was running through her head. Was she remembering back to the day she followed my bike home or thinking about something funny that happened recently.
I loved that little rat dog. I loved her spirit. I loved the way she so patiently put up with Lulu’s attempts to pretty her up. I loved the way she mothered the orphaned kitten we brought home and had to bottle feed. She kept a vigil by that kitten night and day. She also mothered the rabbit we brought home. She mothered the chickens, too. Okay, maybe my husband is right - I do bring home a lot of strays! But, there has never been a stray that has touched my heart like Lilo did.
Lilo had recently become ill with a persistent urinary tract infection. I had taken her to the vet three times, but she still wasn’t cured. I didn’t have the money to take her again. I knew she needed to go back, but I was waiting until we could afford it. Until then, I just got up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to let her out because she couldn’t wait until we got up around 6:00 a.m. She was having accidents in the carpeted rooms, causing us to have to rip up two carpets already. Needless to say, getting her to the vet was becoming a top priority for her health and our sanity.
Yesterday, I got up as usual and let her out the door. I knew that she’d be barking at the door in about an hour, but I went back to bed because I was really tired. At 6:00, I got a call from my neighbor, Joe, who asked me if Lilo was home. I realized, then, that she hadn’t barked at the door.
“Why?” I asked Joe as I was beginning to think the unthinkable.
“Well,” he said, “Patty just called me on her way to work and said she thought there was a coyote in the road. When she looked closer, she thought it might have been a dog and it might be Lilo.”
Patty was our other neighbor who left for work at around 5:00 in the morning. She didn’t have our phone number, so she called Joe and asked him to call us. We live on a road that has little traffic - especially at 5:00 in the morning, so I was hopeful that Patty was wrong.
Bill and I drove down the road and within about 100 yards from our house, saw the little body of our beloved dog. When I arrived at her side, she lifted her head and, always the fighter, made a valiant effort to stand. It was clear, however that the impact of the car had paralyzed her hind quarters.
How do I put into words all the emotions that followed our discovery? How do I communicate the dreadful heartache of seeing her lying there so helpless and scared? How do I say how guilty I felt for letting her out and for not getting her to the vet sooner? I can’t put these emotions into words, but anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet knows that all the woulda, coulda, shouldas aren’t going to bring that pet back.
We carried Lilo home and made her comfortable. Toby came in and stood vigil. I knew he knew that something was terribly wrong when he came over to me and put his face in my lap as if he were crying. We didn’t expect Lilo to hold on for very long, but her bright eyes never dulled and every time a family member entered the room, she perked up. Again, her fighting spirit was with her till the end. It became clear, however, that she was suffering and it was time to end the anguish. So, Bill and I made the harrowing trip to the vet to put her out of her misery.
The vet confirmed that she had most likely broken her back and that there was no chance of saving her. I quietly spoke into her ear and told her how much I loved her and that is was time for her to go chase the squirrels in heaven. Then, Bill and I kissed her goodbye and left the room to wait for her body. For some God only knows reason, the vet would have charged us an extra $40.00 to stay with her. I don’t know the stupidity behind that and I don’t know why I didn’t insist I stay with her, but again all the woulda, coulda, shouldas aren’t doing me any good. She knows I loved her, that’s all that matters.
For the funeral, Lulu gathered Lilo’s favorite food and her leash for burial. Then, she read a letter she wrote:
You are amazing, different, outgoing and smart. I remember you were a mother to any animal that we got. You licked the bunny, ate with the chickens and loved the cats. I never hated you. I only got mad when you peed in my room. I used to dress you all the time and you would be so cute. Since you peed on my carpet, I’m going to call you Peecarpet from now on - like Peehay. I love you.
As for me all I can say is, “Goodbye my faithful companion, loyal friend, good buddy...beloved pet. I’ll see you on the flip side.”