Friday, October 26, 2012

Kleenex and Cocktails

Mollie, dressed up for Christmas (December, 2011)

{Warning: sadness ahead. We each wrote about our Mollie more than a month ago, but couldn't bear to look at the words again until now: Jan's version, then Robert's.}

Lots of Kleenex. And a few cocktails. That's our story lately. A few weeks ago, we lost our dear, sweet, beloved, beautiful girl Mollie. Best. Dog. Ever. I could just stop there, because that's the short truth of it, and going further will probably make me reach for even more Kleenex. Another box, please.

We all love our pets unconditionally, even the pain-in-the-ass ones. Mollie's unofficial sister, Weasel, died several years ago after 16 years of hyper living. She was berserk, nervous, and angst-ridden, but sweet, smart, and loyal, too. We loved that funny little nutball with all our hearts. 

But when Mollie died, we knew there would never be another as completely and utterly wonderful as she. Some legendary dogs just defy description (and gravity).

This morning, as I was sweeping up the kitchen, I dislodged a half-chewed champagne cork from under the refrigerator; the kind of thing that makes me burst into tears. Little remembrances of her, and the amazing things she did.

She was a miracle dog, and we were so very lucky to have her in our lives. Lots of our clientele knew her well. She entertained kids and dads for years at our shop. She was our constant companion, everywhere we went. She was not only our loving girl, she was the ultimate shop dog, and she lived for fifteen great years.

Here's her story.

Fourteen years ago, Robert's co-workers came back from a camping trip with a starving, matted dog whose skin was raw with flea bites and ticks. After exhausting all methods to find the owners, they thought maybe Robert was the right rescue dad. They figured we needed another dog. Like a hole in the head.

She came right over to him, sat down on his feet and looked up at him with those big spaniel eyes... and he was a goner. He called me and said, "I think we have another dog. I can't say no. That okay with you?" "Uh, sure!" I answered. No use debating a done deal. It wasn't like we researched breeds and did our due diligence. It was just love at first sight, and that's all you need sometimes.

I rushed her to the vet and got her fixed up, with meds for flea allergies and the right food to get her bony, starving body back to health. Afterwards, she jumped right up in the car, sat in the passenger seat, and put her sweet little paw on my shoulder. I could hardly breathe, I was so happy. We had ourselves a new little girl, about a year old, still nameless, a certain mix of Border Collie and Springer Spaniel.

The very next day, we decided to take her to the shop to see how she would fare. There's no manual for training a dog to be a good shop dog:  they either are or are not suitable for it. But it's a lot to ask of a dog: be friendly to everyone, be patient, don't run off, don't get in the way, don't bark, don't whine, don't chew on the merchandise. It's the same basic rules we give to ourselves as owners... She stepped right into the role as if she already knew what she was doing. Her training mostly consisted of us pointing to the street and saying "no street, no street."

That first morning, I had the oddly identical conversation with three customers in a row. It went like this:

Customer: Oh how cute! What's her name?
Me: I don't know yet; she's a rescue dog and we just got her.
Customer: Well, she looks like a Mollie to me.

So there it was. Her name was Mollie, and we could start calling her that.

In our at-home life, she was our lovebug. She wanted to be around us all the time. She also loved the sofa, silk pillows, and our bed. And – like all dogs – she loved to play. She and Weasel lived for their daily frisbee game on the lawn. She was always right there, never strolling very far, even those few times we accidentally left the door open. Oh, did I mention that she insisted on getting the newspaper for us every morning? Even the hefty Sunday edition, even in the driving snow.

Nothing fazed her: not loud noises nor lightening flashes nor vets pulling cheatgrass out of her ear.

At the shop, she especially adored babies and kids, and was exceedingly gentle with them. I think she could smell a baby a mile away; when one came through the door, she was already on high alert, and ready for baby love. Ready to kiss their little feet. She let kids fall on her, lean on her, pull on her, curl up next to her... with not one whimper. Mostly, she wanted them to come out on the lawn with her and throw a pinecone. She could do these amazing, twisting, flipping, mid-air catches, and would trot back with the pinecone and drop it right in your hand.

Her other favorite toy: champagne corks. When we used to be open on Sundays, we always served mimosas, and Mollie was keenly alert to the sound of a champagne bottle being opened. She'd stand out on the lawn (or wherever she was) and Robert could pop that cork right to her, and she'd do one of her amazing little mid-air catches, then chew the cork a bit and spit it out. She loved those champagne corks.

For years, she entertained kids (and dads) while mom got a chance to shop. I think she even helped a few kids get over their fear of dogs. Now that's Shop Dog Extraordinaire.

And, she was a beautiful girl. Soft, silky fur, freckle faced, tail like a minky paint brush, and little Yedi furry feet that were like big slippers when she had her full winter coat on.

The last few years were tough. She grew an abnormally large fatty tumor on her side that was inoperable. It slowed her down considerably, but she kept up her good spirits and happy disposition. We always got a very lively greeting when we got home. My heart still skips a beat when I open the door, thinking she's there waiting. Then you remember. It's very quiet. We are not used to the not-there of her yet.

We tried to prepare ourselves for this for a long time. We spent as much time as possible with her. We showered her with love and affection and kisses and constant attention. We tried to be in the moment, because we knew there wouldn't always be moments. But nothing really prepares you for the reality.

We haven't shared our news with too many people. We just keep on working, as we worked that first day when we lost her in the morning. Work helps keep your mind off things, and helps keep you from turning into a mopey, weepy bundle of sludge on the sofa. {By the way, a big thank you to Dr. Deb from All Pets Smiling, who rushed to our house that morning, and was so compassionate and professional and caring.}

To Mollie's legions of fans: we're sorry. And so sad. If you start getting teary in the store, don't look at me, because I'll start weeping again. It's not a pretty sight. Now where did that damn kleenex go?

Robert's story (he's better at the short and sweet version... he claims his is more succinct because he has better focus – hah):

Five days passed before I could tell anyone without crying. It's now two weeks and I am still having such a hard time. Our little Mollie dog is gone. There. I said it. Our house is empty and I swear that our voices echo now that she is no longer there to hear them. We both listen for her, and then quietly sigh.

But there are memories of course. They come when we call them. Do you remember Mollie? The Vice President of Public Relations was there at the shop to greet you every day for nearly 14 years. Whether outside tucked under the bushes, or inside tucked into her bed in the corner, she was happy to see you. But it was children that really got her attention. Racing for pinecones, flipping in the air to catch them, she kept your kids busy while you shopped. She just knew what each child needed from her. Mollie would cuddle with the little girls out on the grass, then roughhouse with the boys, playing keepaway and tug o'war. The next minute would see her crawl on her stomach to try to greet a shy little one without alarming her. To many, we became "Mollie's store."

So the sweet memories stay with me and so many of our dear customers, who over the years got to meet and maybe play with Mollie. Every day someone who remembers will come in and ask about her and share a story. I just smile and nod my head because that special little soul is part of me and I am forever changed because of her.