Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Annabelle - Essay from Newsletter 89

Tale of two puppies


The summer before we got married I was teaching an intensive statistics class and Kim was working fulltime as well fulfilling onsite hours in various settings for her Masters in Speech Pathology.

When the lease on my apartment was up I moved into our new house a block away and spent much of the time spackling and painting walls. When her lease was up she moved back with her parents for a couple of months but spent much of her time helping fix up the house as well.

Sometime in June she was working onsite at an Akron hospital. She stopped by the house and we sat and ate take out.

“What would you think about a puppy?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure.

“Well,” she said, “I’m picking her up on Thursday.”

One of her friends knew someone who had a litter of labs and Kim had made the mistake of going over just to look.

She picked up Tara on Thursday and brought her over to her parents house.

Kim signed us up for a dog training class in July. By then she was driving daily to a facility that was quite a bit east of us so I would go over to her parents house twice a day and do the ten minute exercises with Tara.

It meant that I got to know her parents pretty well before we got married.

Tara was a beautiful black lab who was very cute.

She would frequently escape from our backyard and would hang in our front yard until Kim or I tried to catch her. Then she would run a house or two ahead of us as if fooling us into taking her for a walk.

This lasted until one snowy day Tara got out and Kim looked out the back door at her and said, “fine, go ahead and run away. I’m not chasing you.”

Minutes later Tara came back.

Tara was great with the girls. She was patient with them and was careful not to knock them over.

She never chewed furniture or shoes - she was a great dog.

But this isn’t a story about Tara.

Replacing Tara

Tara died shortly after Elena.

I went to the backdoor to bring her in before going to pick up Maggie at school and Tara wouldn’t come in the house. She was hiding in the bushes.

I left her for the few minutes it took to get Maggie and when we came back, Tara was still in the bushes.

When Kim came home we went out and looked at Tara and decided to take her to the vet. I carried Tara out to Kim’s car and she drove to the vet. She called me to tell me they needed to put Tara down. Kim’s mom lived down the street and came to sit with her while they put Tara to sleep.

Kim said that we wouldn’t be getting another dog so we gave Tara’s cage, toys, and remaining food away.

And then Kim started spending time on Pet Finder.

“Isn’t this one cute?” she’d ask.

“I thought we aren’t going to get another dog,” I’d say.

“We aren’t,” she’d answer, “I’m just looking.”

A couple of weeks later Kim, Maggie, and I are driving four hours to pick up a new puppy.

I think my mom connected Kim to this owner who had a litter of black labs.

We called the vet on the way up to Michigan and Dr. Farkas called back to say that five weeks is a little young and here’s what we should look out for.

When we got there we discovered that it wasn’t exactly a litter of black labs. The owners had had black labs and an electric fence but the electric fence kept their dogs in - it didn’t keep the neighbor’s german shorthair out. The neighbor dog had impregnated a mother and daughter at the same time and so the owners had quite a few puppies on their hands.

By the time we got there, there were four left. Maggie and Kim watched the puppies for a little bit.

Kim liked the big dumb one. Maggie, knelt on the floor and played with the puppies and chose a tiny, cute, mischievous one that she named Annabelle.

The biggest issue that Dr. Farkas warned us about was that taking a puppy home that young means that she hasn’t gotten enough direction from her mother.

Life with Annabelle

Annabelle was so bad that when we went for dog training, the trainers couldn’t get her to obey either and refunded us our money.

I say “bad” but she wasn’t really. She was just energetic and strong-willed. She never chewed furniture or shoes and never ran away.

She loved to take Kim’s shoes in her mouth and run up the stairs to the landing. She’d sit there with the shoes between her front paws until we’d come up and take it from her.

Kim would tell Dr. Farkas how bad Annabelle was and then tell him stories. He’d shake his head and say that Annabelle was just being a dog. He’d say, “you don’t want a nerd.”

The second trainer was quite different. When he put his hand on Annabelle’s leash, she just knew playtime was over. If you’ve ever done dog training you know that most of the training is to train the owner. The owner needs to let the dog know who the alpha is in this pack and the dog will test you every day.

The pack hierarchy in our family was clear: Maggie, me, Annabelle, and Kim.

Maggie was probably the most consistent. At mealtime, Maggie didn’t pour food in the bowl until Annabelle sat still.

I learned from Maggie and that ritual continued until a couple of weeks ago. I would let Annabelle out in the morning around seven. When I let her back in she would rush to her food like I’d forgotten where it was. I’d scoop out a cup and she’d run to her bowl waiting for me to get there. I’d wait until she sat and then put the food in her bowl. She’d look up at me and I’d say, “OK,” and she would attack her food and finish everything in the bowl.

Tara had always slept in her cage. She had a blanket she laid on outside of her cage during the day. At night she’d pull the blanket into her cage and arrange it and lie down. The cage door was open so she’d lay in the cage with her head outside and her body inside.

Annabelle started out sleeping on the floor. At one point I noticed that she was sleeping on the bed under our feet.

Kim said that while I was traveling she’d started sleeping on the bed and jumped up after Kim had fallen asleep.

I didn’t want the dog on the bed but I filed this in the “do you want a dog - I’m picking her up Thursday” category.

I didn’t find out til years later that while I traveled, Annabelle moved up to the top of the bed and lay down on my pillows.

Annabelle’s gift

I can’t imagine surviving Kim’s death without the help of Annabelle.

It was comforting to hear her snoring at the end of the bed.

She nudged me awake in the morning when it was time to get up. Without her I wouldn’t have been up by six and downstairs by seven every morning.

She would wander over to me at least once an hour demanding attention. Sometimes she needed to go out. Other times she just wanted to play.

She played the worst game of fetch ever.

She’d come over with one of her toys and push it at me or stand in front of me squeaking it til I looked up from my computer.

If I ignored her, she’d drop the toy and gently tug on my sleeve until I patted her and stood up.

I’d scoop up her toy and walk to the foot of the stairs and toss it up onto the landing.

She’d run up and get it.

She’d never bring it back so we could play again, she would sit with it between her paws.

So I’d climb up to the landing and take the toy from her and toss it down the stairs.

She’d go bounding after it. She’d pick it up in her mouth and wander back to her spot and sit down having lost interest in the game.

Initially I was frustrated that she was so bad at playing.

Then I embraced it. Once an hour she was encouraging me to get up out of my chair, take a little break, and walk up and down a half flight of stairs.

At five o’clock she’d start pacing waiting for her dinner. People complain about how hard it is to deal with the time change. It never took Annabelle more than a day to adjust to springing forward or falling back.

This past year when I was doing a lot of online teaching, I’d always schedule a short break for five so I could feed Annabelle.

Around ten, Annabelle would go up to the landing.

When Kim was alive, Kim would close her book and say, “Annabelle’s ready for bed.” Kim would take her book upstairs and read it there. I’d come up a bit later. Annabelle would be snoring at the foot of the bed while Kim was reading. Soon I’d be out and the two of us would be snoring while Kim tried to read.

Once Kim was gone, I’d head upstairs when Annabelle was ready.

For the past five years, Annabelle has determined much of the rhythm of my day.

On a good night, she’d sleep through the night. On a bad night I’d wake up suddenly to realize that she had to go outside to go to the bathroom now. Right now. Hurry.

Sometimes it was a ruse to just trot around the backyard for a long time checking things out. Other times it was the emergency it had appeared to be. In any case, we’d go back to bed and Annabelle would fall back asleep long before I would.

The end

Annabelle and I have been good for each other these past two years.

With the pandemic, I haven’t been traveling so I’ve been home every day for her. And she’s gotten me up, kept me moving, and put me to bed each night.

In May I took her to the vet for her checkup. This Dr. Farkas is the son of the Dr. Farkas who was our vet when we first met Annabelle.

He had to look up her age since she acted so young. He suggested we clean her teeth as they’d gotten quite bad. He’s very good at presenting options and discussing the issues. When I asked if I should do it, he said that at her age there was always a risk of any procedure and she might not live that much longer. But, she would be much more comfortable if we addressed the issue.

I thought about it and he said, “it’s not cheap and I can’t tell you she’s going to live another year or two. The goal isn’t for her to die with fresh breath in six months.”

We did the cleaning and he saw her again in October because I wasn’t sure it made sense to do all of the immunizations she was scheduled for. Again, he looked at the list and said no to this one but recommended we do this other one. He drew some blood and said that she looked surprisingly good for her age.

All that changed a couple of weeks ago. She’s had trouble with stairs off and on and needed help getting onto the bed but it had gotten worse.

I now had to lift her off and onto the bed and I had to steady her on the four steps in and out of the back door.

A couple of weeks ago she got fussy with her food and since then she stopped eating even as I offered her more of a variety. She went from sitting next to me when I ate and waiting for table food to not even bothering to come over.

Something was wrong.

I comforted her as much as I could but she just wasn’t herself.

I contacted Dr. Farkas and described everything and he let me know what he thought might be happening and suggested I bring her in for blood work and a visit.

When he saw her he knew immediately this wasn’t the dog he’d seen two months earlier. He offered me choices but clearly there was only one thing to do in her best interest.

I sat with Annabelle til she fell asleep for the last time but left before they administered the drugs that would end her life.

It was surprisingly emotional.

The house is quiet. I had to put myself to bed last night and had to get myself up this morning.

Did I want a dog? I don’t know. But I am thankful for the two that accompanied me through the past twenty-nine years.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 89. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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