I wasn’t looking for another dog. We already had one, and he was damn near perfect. But when I saw Trixie’s black, white, and tan face, I was done for. A tiny color photo in an email was all it took. That was 12 years ago.
Trixie came all the way from Arkansas in a large van full of dog crates that the adoption facility referred to as “The Puppy Bus,” and we picked her up in the cold, dark parking lot of a truck stop in Connecticut late at night, a transaction that felt as illicit as a drug deal. We had seen more photos of her before arrival, but we hadn’t met, and she had no idea what her future held.
Neither of us knew that, after we drove home, I gave her two baths in rapid succession to clean away the intense stink of her travels, and she fell asleep on my chest, that we would rapidly become close in a way I’d never connected with another animal despite adoring them all my life, bonding in that unspoken way that maybe only humans and canines can. The mere sight of her face makes me flush with oxytocin, not unlike a mother, yet with a funny, furry child.
Our intense closeness is something I recognize as not entirely healthy. Trixie suffered separation anxiety each day I left for work for months, destroying many household things by chewing her nerves away: shoes, couch legs, books. It took a lot out of me to stop saying goodbye to her, acting as though I was merely taking out the trash, ignoring her pleading eyes, in order for her to feel sane when I was gone. She is still my shadow, a “velcro dog,” following me through every room in the house and pressing against my side on the couch watching TV, in bed at night, under the kitchen table during meals.
Probably part border collie, definitely part corgi, Trixie’s herding genes, under-utilized with only the cats to corral, make her too smart for her own good. She is often bossy, bored, and neurotic, reminding me that she would have likely been very happy with a bunch of sheep to wrangle. Like a diva, she noses forcefully into hands and faces to be petted. Fireworks and other loud sounds cause her to shiver. I once broke up a fight with her and our other dog, and in the melee, she broke my finger. Her cuddling skills are expert level, and she can be extremely goofy, which elicits what my husband calls my “cartoon laugh.” She’s complicated.
I always knew she needed me; I had no idea how much I would need her.
I had no way of knowing that, less than a year after we picked her up in that parking lot 12 years ago, my beloved big brother would die — the guy who had assured me it wasn’t crazy to want another dog, his approval in adulthood as reassuring as it was when we were kids. I had no idea how much Trixie would give me in the aftermath of losing him, as she patiently allowed me to cry into her scruff, and offered silent, consistent support as I processed the awful experience in writing. She had the stamina to sit out my grief with me in a way a human couldn’t, never rushed or worrying about what to say. She was just there with her simple, abiding love.
Trixie was diagnosed with renal insufficiency (read: kidney failure) last April. She had never really been sick before, and the vet appointments and treatments (including lots of subcutaneous fluids distributed by needle by me) have shaken me, but I am grateful beyond words that we’ve stabilized her this long. I know time is not on our side, and that every day is a gift. She’s currently doing downright joyful things like rolling on her back with a peanut butter Kong and running in the backyard like she’s a puppy instead of an old lady. She doesn’t anticipate the future the way I do.
I have separation anxiety, too. One big loss invariably makes you brace for the next one, knowing just how much it hurts. Knowing we won’t have another dozen years, I can’t help but be prematurely bereft. I try, try, try to keep my mind on today instead of tomorrow and instead of yesterday, just focused on the here and now, watching my husband serve her meat treats for a celebration dinner.
I wasn’t looking for her, and I didn’t know how much she would mean to me.