Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No, not the designer.  My family’s beloved dog.  Pucci, poochie, get it?  We’re Italian, so we thought it was cute.  It was another name for the amazing mutt otherwise known to the Studniarz family as Sweetie.

Before I get to the story, I’ll say that I have a weird mind for dates on the calendar.  It’s a strange ability I inherited from my mom.  I can easily think a few years into the future or past to know what day of the week a certain date will fall on.  I remember events very clearly and what I was wearing when they happened.  I often remember what other people were wearing too.  And I always remember birth dates, wedding dates, dates of death…mostly without meaning to.  For the most part, it’s a blessing.  I tend to appear more thoughtful than creepy because of it, though it never fails to weird Steve out when he quizzes me.  Last year, a new date was unfortunately added to my mental calendar.  February 24 – the day we finally said goodbye to Sweetie.

So, one year later, I’d like to offer this tribute.  It was a story I wrote about her on one of those other websites.  Since no one probably read it, here it is again.  In honor of a wonderful animal and the 13 years of happiness she brought to us.

In Memory of Sweetie

part of the Studniarz family 4/5/96-2/24/09

Each year throughout my childhood, I begged my parents  incessantly for a dog.  Looking back, it was rather odd that I was so insistent because my very first memories of dogs were that they were huge furry beasts only put on this earth for the purpose of knocking me over.  I was actually quite terrified of dogs.  

Living the idyllic middle class childhood in Eastlake, Ohio, complete with cul-de-sacs and families with station wagons, there were also plenty of collies and retrievers that roamed the neighborhood.  I envied the other kids who would run full force, arms extended, toward a big slobbering furball.  Each time I rode my bike around the same circle of houses and saw a neighbor with his pet, I thought to myself,  “I can do this.  I’ll just pet the dog like everyone else does.”  But inevitably I’d end up in a pile on the ground, bike and all, with the owner kindly restraining the animal and me hoping I hadn’t peed my pants.  

Then one day everything changed.  My parents brought me to a picnic at the house of some friends, where there lived a Beagle named Bud.  I took to Bud immediately, and he to me.  We played in the yard all evening, and I confidently stuck my hands out to pet him without fear of being bitten or toppled.  Even at this young age, I knew I’d had a revelation.  I had finally found the canine camaraderie that everyone else seemed to have.  I had always wanted to feel comfortable around dogs, but I had to start small.  

Though I never saw Bud again, it was all I talked about for years.  I wanted a dog just like him.  My parents humored me and listened to my arguments, but they realistically reminded me that a house with two working parents and two latchkey kids was no place for a dog.  I knew they were right, but I thought maybe, just maybe, we could make it work.  Eventually it occurred to me that, just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I had found the loophole and could take my case straight to Santa.  But after years of petitioning Santa, I started to wonder if they were in cahoots.  

Time rolled on, and the spring before I started high school my parents decided to move to a new house.  Since they had chosen to build the house, they also included a doggy door in the blueprints.  My excitement could not be measured!  The time had finally come.

After moving, we searched for months for a dog, not exactly knowing what we wanted, but often finding what we knew we didn’t.  Armed with just a book about various breeds, we visited every humane society in three counties.  Oh, the days before!  Then one day, on a whim, my dad told us he had answered an ad in the paper.  A lady named Tracy from Madison had found a stray but, being an animal lover with seven other pets, couldn’t afford to take in one more.  Her neighbor had seen someone drive off after throwing the dog out of a car, so Tracy temporarily took in the timid animal and called her Sweetie.  And she would be bringing her over on April 5.  

The days until April 5 dragged on, but soon Spring Break arrived.  On a sunny Friday morning, Tracy walked into our kitchen dragging the most skittish little dog we had ever seen behind her.  She literally slid across the floor as if she had never seen linoleum.  “Oh, it’s ok, come here, Sweetie.”  Ah, then we saw why the name stuck.  We all said it instinctively.  

She was a Chow-Spitz mix with beautiful black fur and a white belly.  When I patted her on the back, I could feel her bony spine, the result of mistreatment and malnourishment.  She had huge, sad eyes.  We agreed to take her for a trial week, but as soon as Tracy left, we all knew she was never leaving our house.

It only took a day until Sweetie realized she was home, too.  By Saturday, we were strolling with her around the block, her tail bouncing in the air.  Whatever life she’d known faded into the distance, and it genuinely appeared that she was smiling as we toured the neighborhood.

Over the next few months, we grew accustomed to life with one crazy and adorable dog.  We slowly gained insight to her personality and the past life she’d had.  Occasionally she did the most curious things.  She’d dart in fear when we’d least expect it, and she simply refused to go in the basement.  We weren’t sure if dogs had them, but we always chalked it up to flashbacks.  And it only made us want to reassure her more that humans could be kind.  

We nourished her back to health but learned that, even at 30 pounds, she still had a killer instinct that led her to chase deer four times her size.  Perhaps in being first-time dog owners we were not the best trainers or perhaps she had her own ideas, but we soon learned that an electric fence and that permanently installed doggy door were not for her.  Nothing could stop her from running after what she perceived as dinner!  

She begged shamelessly, often readjusting her position at our sides with everything short of an “ahem” during dinner.  And she’d outright grab herself a snack if we weren’t paying attention.  I recall one time in particular when I had settled in front of the television with a fudgesicle after a warm summer evening.  As I began to go for one side, she came right up and licked the other.  “Well, great, now it’s yours!” I said.  She had that way of being such a rascal while also making us laugh.

We weren’t quite prepared for her tremendous speed and energy.  We’d think we were taking her on a walk, but she’d drag us down the street, huffing and puffing as if we could never move fast enough for her.  We decided to test her speed by connecting her to my dad’s bicycle which had a speedometer on it.  She was in heaven!  She raced down the block at speeds of 25 miles per hour, which we found astounding for a dog her size.  But then, cuh-rash!  Well, there went that experiment.  As usual, she thought she had spotted prey and darted 90 degrees to the right.  Only she must have forgotten that my dad and his bike were still attached.  Narrowly escaping broken bones, he decided it was back to walking at human speeds for her.  

And of course there was “Wild Dog”.  Our house created a perfect circle between the kitchen, dining room, living room and family room.  She discovered that she could reach slightly closer to her preferred speed if she ran this loop continuously.  She’d spring without warning and, in a flash of lightning, leave us doubled over with laughter on the floor.  We desperately tried to figure out what set her off – maybe the new dog food? – not realizing that it was simply normal behavior for a young and happy dog.  So we went with the flow, often setting ourselves as obstacles in the middle of the floor for her to jump over.  And when she’d need a moment to breathe, she’d come to a grinding halt at her spot in front of the fireplace, looking at us for praise.  “Well, guys, what do ya think?”  Huff, puff, huff, puff.  “That was a good one, right?”

Over the years, she became the fifth member of our family.  While my mom, sister and I hated to acknowledge that she was truly Dad’s Dog because she clung to his side, we each loved her tremendously.  I even jokingly credit her with helping me choose my husband.  I had brought home a couple of boyfriends throughout the years, and Sweetie inevitably peed on each of them.  But she never relieved herself on Steve.  No, she bit him!  I’m not sure if it helped the situation when I told him, “See, she likes you so much she wants a piece of you, too!”  

As much as we try to avoid it, time has a way of aging us all.  Over the last year, as if out of nowhere, Sweetie started to show her age.  We were thankful it happened rapidly and that she never appeared to be suffering, but we still laughed our way through her newfound Senior Citizen status.  And now, as we say goodbye to her, we fight back tears but know that we did the best thing any family could for an animal.  As my mom said, “We took an abused dog and spoiled her rotten.”  

I’ve often thought about the circumstances that led to us taking in a stray, sight unseen, from an ad in the newspaper.  I’m not always one to believe in coincidence.  Unfortunately, we’ll never know who her original owners were, but I’ve often wondered throughout the years if they knew that the same dog they left for dead was actually alive and well.  It breaks my heart knowing that they’d never even care, but it also fills me with pride to know that we gave her 13 years with a good family.  We like to think she hit the jackpot.  

So I never did get that Beagle named Bud.  I got something far better – a Sweetie.