Thursday, March 10, 2011

Four-Legged Angels

Sitting here today, typing away on the computer, I am surrounded by our kitty, who is snoring on the desk, and our pup, who is sitting dutifully by my feet. And I am once again reminded of all the four-legged angels who have been in my life over the years.

The first angel who always comes to mind is Stephanie, my droopy, but adorable basset hound, who my grandmother adopted from a breeder when I was 7 years old. Stephie was only a baby, but had already been beaten and malnourished. She was supposed to be a gift for my Uncle, but she did not trust men at all. She had been abused by the man who ran the kennel, so she would cower away any time a male came near her. So, she became mine--my pet, my friend and my companion during a very difficult childhood. I had to feed her out of my hand because she was afraid to come to the bowl. We did everything together--played, slept, watched TV. Unfortunately, we also shared many not-so-happy childhood events together. She experienced abuse, neglect and even homelessness right by my side. She would try to protect me and suffered many consequences because of it. But, despite all of her pain, she was always by my side.

Stephie passed away when I was 20--after a long 13 years together. I was crushed. Not only had I lost my lifelong friend, I lost the only being who had been there for me.

Shortly after Stephie passed, I found out that I was pregnant. It was my senior year of college and I was far from being ready to be a Mom. But, after much fear, worry and utter panic, I realized how much I already loved the tiny, still unknown, child inside of me. I would have loved for Stephie to be by my side during this miraculous time. And it still makes me sad that she never got to meet my daughter, although I know she looks down on her every day.

My daughter also shares my love for animals. For her fifth birthday, she asked friends to bring donations for a local animal shelter, instead of gifts for her. When we delivered the gifts, I decided to surprise her with a new pet. So, on that day, we adopted a cat.

Yin, our dear rescued kitty, brought so much love and joy to our home. She would snuggle by my daughter when she was sick or sad and keep me company during many late nights studying for law school courses and the dreaded bar exam. And when I met the love of my life (who I later married), Yin would greet him at the door and sniff him thoroughly, like a parent interrogating her child’s suitor. They quickly loved one another. He would play with Yin as soon as he walked in, and she would return the favor by rubbing against his leg and purring. On Mother’s Day and other occasions, my then-beau would always buy me 3 cards—one from him, one from my daughter, and one from Yin. The latter he would simply sign, “Thank you for loving me. Meow.” It was his tenderness and love for Yin that was one of the many things that made me fall in love with him.

When Yin passed away in March of 2008, we were all devastated. My husband (who was then my boyfriend) was in Iraq at the time. The line was silent for a long few moments when I broke the news to him.

A few months after Yin passed, and shortly after welcoming my love home from Iraq, we went to the local animal shelter, thinking that we were going to adopt a puppy. But, as soon as we saw this adorable litter of polydactyl (six-toed) kitties, we fell in love. Well, I should say, my daughter and I fell in like, my husband was smitten. He reached in the cage and pulled out this fuzzy little calico ball and held her to his chest. She started to purr and then decided he was a bit too close and gave him a little swat across his hand. I think it was her combination of independence and affection that got him--kind of like myself. Her six-toed white paws reminded him of a boxer, so we decided to name her Roxy (as in, the female Rocky).

When my husband is home, Roxy follows him everywhere—sleeping by his side if he’s on the couch, snuggling by him at night (yes, we do kick her out sometimes) and even waiting for him outside the bathroom.

And when he was once again deployed, she slept on his pillow every night, as if keeping it warm for him until he returned. Watching her rub against the computer screen while we were skyping, wondering how he got into that screen and plotting how to get him out, was heartwarming. I think we sometimes forget that pets experience sadness and grief, as we do. But, when I saw our kitty roll over and snuggle against my husband's pillow, I knew she missed him, too.

Soon after Roxy joined our family, our daughter's requests (campaign) for a dog began. I had recently cared for a friend’s dog for over a year while he was out of the country for work. And dealing with the mess and torn up yard and muddy carpets (yes, I’m a bit of a neat freak) convinced me that I’m much more of a cat person. But, as always, she was persistent. She worked extra hard on her chores and school work to prove that she could handle the responsibility. She researched dogs and the care required and would often present us with her findings. So, of course, we gave in.

Soon we got a call from a local no-kill agency that found a rat terrier mix who needed a new home. We went to meet this little girl, who we had been warned was a bit timid. She had been abused and abandoned; which, of course, made me want to adopt her even more. (Survivors of all kinds need to stick together). She was perfect. My husband was hesitant, but as soon as he met her, he gave in. And now, that once timid and shy pup is a spoiled and happy member of the family. She’s still cautious of some strangers, but with us, she’s playful and loving.

Our pup, Cricket, runs and waits at the door a few minutes before the my daugther's school bus arrives each day. She knows when her best friend is coming. And when it’s time for bed, Cricket runs to my daughter's room and tucks herself under one of her favorite fleece blankies. Her only care in the world right now is that rascally cat, Roxy, who likes to attack her. But, even when Roxy tries to strangle her (one of the disadvantages of a cat with thumbs), Cricket seems to think she’s being hugged, so she just wags her tail. She is truly one of the most lovable creatures I have ever known. I can't imagine anyone ever hurting her, but I am happy that she now has a forever family.

There are also animals whom I have never met, but who I am grateful for. During this last deployment, my husband would tell me about the stray dogs who roamed near their camp in Iraq. These malnourished, homeless pets would wait outside the camp, hoping for some food and love. He would bring them scraps, and soon, they became his faithful admirers. He loved these dogs. And hearing him talk about them, and the companionship they provided when I could not, made me love them, too. We even looked into ways to bring them back to the US, but discovered that it would be nearly impossible. I don't know what happened to them once he left, but I hope that another soldier took over as their guardian, and that they are still caring for our troops today.

Our current pets, Roxy and Cricket, are an adorable and hilarious duo. And, along with my husband and myself, and our three amazing kids, they have made our family complete. And, even though some are no longer with us, I know that all of my four-legged angels are out there somewhere, looking down on my family, happy for us and the love we share. And no matter where life may take us, and what challenges we may encounter, I will forever be grateful for my four-legged angels.

I hope this has encouraged you to remember the pets who have touched your life, and to give some extra love to those who are with you currently. They truly are a blessing.

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