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ZACKY, THE WONDER DOG
I had never had a dog as an adult before. My only dog was one I had in my youth. I loved him, of course, but the experience was different, as I wasn't responsible for much. We'd play hide and seek (he'd always find me), and we used to sing together (I'd play piano and sing and he sang with me). We were quite a duo. He was a cocker spaniel named Rusty.
No, Zacky was an entirely different experience. My husband, Jerry, was ill with skin cancer, and we were fairly limited in the things we could do. I hadn't given one second's thought to a puppy and if I had I would have stripped the thought right out of my mind long before it could settle in.
And then one day my life changed. We were living in an apartment that didn't allow dogs, but on this day, I walked into the apartment lobby and I saw some people playing with a puppy. Sometimes I am so incredibly shy, and other times I just join in and make myself at home in someone else's world. In this case, I looked at the puppy, found a chair, sat, and looked at him again.
What's his name? I asked. They told me the name. I called the puppy and he came over to me, but he didn't walk like other dogs. He raised his entire body and, with legs straight, hopped over to me like a rabbit. I had never seen anything like it. I said, What is it? Wheaten Terrier, he answered. I was mesmerized.
My last question was, You're not supposed to have dogs in this building, right? Yeah, he said. We just stopped by to show the puppy to our sister who lives here. I stayed a little longer, then, finally, forced myself up from the chair and went upstairs to our apartment. I told my husband, Jerry, I met the most remarkable puppy.
I don't remember his reaction, but I know I had become obsessed. I called a friend who knew a bit about dogs. He did some research for me (computers were just coming out at the time but I didn't have one yet). He said the dog is expensive, requires grooming regularly (more expense), needs to be well trained (or they're stubborn and could be difficult), but it was like he was talking in another language. Nothing he said made any difference to me. I was bound and determined to have this dog.
Finally, I got the names of some breeders. Do you have any Wheaten Terrier puppies? I would ask. I made a few calls and nothing. And then I got lucky. One breeder had some pups that were almost one month old and yes I could see them.
I arrived early. I'm always early. I was born early 6 a.m. I was excited.
The breeder let me into her home and led me upstairs to the puppies. She told me on the way up that no decisions would be made until they were about 9 weeks old, that they wanted to see who would be a show dog and who wouldn't.
The puppies were with their mom in a large, wire cage. The woman closed the door and opened the cage and out came all these little baked potatoes. Well, that's pretty much what they looked like. There were three boys and three girls. I knew I wanted a boy. A pup with a turquoise ribbon around his neck (they all had different colors) came right over to me. He started licking my fingers. The others scattered, started chewing on wires plugged into walls and other things they weren't supposed to put their little sharp teeth on.
But the little boy with the turquoise ribbon kept licking my fingers. I said, meekly, since she already said they wouldn't be making a decision for another month or so, What about this one? and she repeated what I just said. But you can come see him again in a couple of weeks. Okay.
TWO WEEKS LATER:
I was distressed to find out the puppy had a cold. Will he be all right? I asked, sounding about six years old.
Sure, we just need to watch him. She asked if I would help her take his temperature. Oh, I wasn't looking forward to this. I hate causing the slightest discomfort to anyone and now I had to hold him while she took his temperature.
After that was over, I petted him for awhile, and again, she said I could come back in another couple of weeks. I said I didn't think so. I didn't want my heart to be broken … that's what I said but it was in reality too late for that. And I asked her to call me when she made a decision.
In the meantime, I had a slightly more complicated problem. No dogs were allowed in the building. But the building was owned by my brother-in-laws. We asked them. They said no. I called one of their wives who I felt especially close to. Everyone in their right mind would call this a coincidence, but it made my heart flutter a little when I first learned Zacky had three brothers and three sisters. So did Jerry.
Anyway, this particular sister-in-law had stood up for me before in a few minor battles, but none like this. Sure enough, she came through for me. Now came the wait. What if after all this I didn't get the puppy? The breeder had asked, Maybe you'd like another one of these puppies. She had even asked me to hold one. I didn't want to but I didn't want to be a total jerk. Absolutely not, they were just your average, ordinary, well, dog. No, I wanted the one with the turquoise ribbon or none.
TWO AND ONE-HALF WEEKS LATER:
There was a message on my machine. We just wanted to let you know we feel you'll give the puppy a good home and, and that's all I needed to hear. I was ecstatic, literally jumping up and down. A word about my husband: he had many positive qualities, but one in particular was so endearing: he got a kick out of me. Here he was, so very ill, smiling and so happy for me. It was so sweet and so touching.
OUR FIRST DAY WITH ZACKY:
We live in L.A. and it was a very hot day. We had a top floor apartment with a loft upstairs which led to a roof which we could enjoy. Except that the temperature on the roof was ten degrees hotter than the main apartment floor which was always hot because it was near the roof! I put ice cubes in Zacky's water bowl and we went up.
Before we went outside, I took him to the bathroom and weighed him. Six pounds! I didn't know something could have a heartbeat weigh that little.
I put a towel down so his body would have some protection. After a few minutes, he stood up and put all four feet in his water bowl! Right then I knew I had a smart dog.
Every minute spent with Zacky was great. He was such a novelty to us both. One night my husband and I had shut the TV off. He was in his favorite chair, reading, and I was on the couch resting. All of a sudden we hear something come barreling down the stairs. We both smiled.
Three months went by like nothing. We took Zacky to Marina del Rey to see the boats and the ducks (he could have cared less!), we took him to the park after he got all his shots, and we took up out for breakfast outdoors. We had someone to play with who made us chuckle and that was a good thing.
And then one day, suddenly, Jerry had a severe downturn. We had to bring in a hospital bed, though we both fought it at first.
It was clear he was dying.
We had round the clock nurses but we needed hospice, too. I needed hospice. I completely fell apart. It's one thing to have someone ill; it's another watching a loved one die. At first, I wasn't aware what was happening to Zacky, but one night I noticed that he seemed depressed. And I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to let that happen. So I sat down on the floor and he sat right, and I mean right, next to me. A pin couldn't have gotten between us, and he did that every time I sat next to him and it made me laugh. I'd say, Couldn't you get a little closer? And then I'd make him laugh. And pretty soon he was a changed dog. I'm glad I saw the change and nipped it in the bud.
SIX MONTHS LATER:
Zacky and I started our new lives. I moved us back to the Marina where Jerry and I had originally lived, into a one-bedroom condo overlooking the man-made Marina and Pacific Ocean. The view was spectacular. And the light beamed in so bright I thought I was going to have to wear sunglasses inside my own apartment.
Before moving in, we had to be there for the phone man, and here in Los Angeles, you have to be available for 8-10 hours for that phone man to arrive. Zacky wasn't yet housebroken. But lo and behold, from that first say, as we sat side-by-side waiting for the phone man, with occasional quick runs downstairs, he never went in the condo. I was amazed.
Zacky gave me many gifts, but the greatest gift was that by having a dog, that meant part of my job was to play with him. That he was born to play. The concept delighted me. My upbringing was fun sometimes, but I was always terrified underneath. This is a story about Zacky so I won't go into details here, but the idea that I could play and that that was all right, necessary in fact, was just the most wonderful thing to me.
And he was a very funny dog. I didn't know dogs could be funny. He was always where I didn't expect him, and he loved to play tricks on me. Honestly, most of the time I felt I had a human living with me. And I'd talk to him like a human. And we'd play ‘hide and seek' the way I did with my first dog, Rusty. But Zacky couldn't find me worth his soul. He'd be one foot from me and couldn't see me sticking out behind the bathroom door. That amazed me, too.
Then I'd try the closet, but leave the closet door open. He still couldn't find me!
And then I'd sing and play the piano and I kept looking at him to see if he'd sing, like Rusty. I looked once. Nothing. I looked twice. He fell asleep! The dog was brilliant but he wasn't musical.
That strangers delighted in Zacky warmed my heart. Zack would speed up his tail wag whenever we were about to approach people. It could be one person. He didn't care. He just loved people. When someone walked by, he wagged his tail and stared at them until they would finally respond. They would be so utterly taken with the fact that his goal was to engage with them, and many times someone would say, He just made my day. They'd always ask many questions about him his name, complimenting his hair cut (yes, the groomer did a good job, but it was really Gods work), asking what kind of dog he was. And finally, theyd ask if he was a Schnauzer? Airedale? Id say, No, hes a Wheaten Terrier, and Zacky would wag proudly, definitely recognizing the words Wheaten Terrier, and thus knowing without question that he was being talked about and enjoying it thoroughly.
I took him with me everywhere I possibly could. We got groomed; on the same day. I'd drop him at the groomers and Id go get my hair cut. He went to the bank with me and tried to charm the pants off all the female customers (yet he liked men, as well). We'd stop for a frozen yogart at the health food store. He'd stay outside, secured by a chair leg, as I dashed inside. Id get us a scoop and give him some of it.
Zacky and I were together for 12 years and 4 months. I adored him. He gave me such tremendous joy and I tried to make him happy in any way I could.
After he died this year, May 6, 2008, I was inconsolable. If I could have died with him, I would have. He was everything to me.
I tried to find a pet-loss group but there were none that I could find in Los Angeles.
I went to the book store and came across Dr. Sifes Pet-Loss book, and through it learned of his online pet loss group. I dont know what I would have done if I hadnt found his group. Although it was online, it was like talking in person. The counselors were so kind, so understanding, so accepting of whatever I said or thought. It is a gift Dr. Sife has given all of us pet lovers and people grieving the loss of their pets. For several weeks, it was the only thing I had to look forward to that hour where I could sign in and talk about my beloved Zacky. Sometimes I could even laugh, recalling just a few of his antics described in this story.
There are many people with pets where I live. They all knew Zacky, and some knew his name but never knew mine, but that was fine with me.
Several months after Zacky died, I'd run into one or another of my neighbors. Somehow Zacky came up. I told them how I missed him. You may think you know the impression youre giving to people, but you really don't know for sure until it is reflected back to you. One man said, You [and Zacky] were one. That is exactly how I felt. A girlfriend said, You got such a great response from him and he from you. You two were a real pair. Another girlfriend was shocked by the news, You were so in love with that dog.
As long as I live, I will never forget him. I will never stop wishing he was still here with me. I gave him a million hugs but a million more would never be enough.
Though I hope maybe one day to get another Wheaten puppy, I don't know if it will be possible for so many reasons. I don't know how I could love it and not constantly think of Zacky. But I suspect that if and when I'm ready to have another loving relationship with a pet, I will get some advice from a few good friends who have gone through this, because to enjoy a pet's very unique and precious gifts of boundless love and limitless joy is worth anything.
Lynn Rosenberg, after losing her husband Jerry, to skin cancer, decided to create, design and manufacture beautiful UV sun umbrellas, and UV hats, website: http://www.soleilchic.com, to try and help others avoid her husband's fate. Her dog, Zacky, helped her heal from the loss of her husband, and go on to live a joyous life with her beloved pet, until he, too, died of cancer.
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