If This Is My Biggest Mistake…

What did I know about raising a dog? I grew up with a turtle.

The turtle, which for some reason that escapes memory was called Oscar, lasted two days. Its successor, creatively dubbed Oscar 2, vanished on day three only to be rediscovered a room away and under the television.  Apparently, as far as my mom was concerned, my sister and I had used up our pet quota. Never again did we have a pet – of any kind.

Years later when I married and had my first child, I imagined the picture-perfect family – one with a white picket fence and a dog in the yard.

“Don’t do it,” my mother-in-law warned. “Dogs are like having another child – worse.” Despite her experience-laced comments, I wasn’t about to let her prove me wrong. I could do this. Seriously, how hard could it be to own a dog?

I never considered that our child was only one-and-a-half – a full-fledged, energetic, curious toddler. Or that we had just built a house on a plot of land that was thick and rich in lush mud. Or that it was mid-December – glacially cold and two hectic weeks before Christmas. Or that even the breeder suggested we get an adult dog and not a puppy given the fact that we both worked and had a small child. What did she know? She couldn’t even control the puppy’s grandfather – long past infantile cuteness – who chumped on a glass Christmas ornament while we were signing the papers. Who understood DNA back then?

So we did it. We bought a big, whopping golden retriever puppy with paws the size of sandwich plates. Did you know a puppy’s paw is an indicator of its growth potential?

It pains me even to this day to admit our getting a puppy at that point in our lives was a mistake. But it was. Maggie ate everything in sight – except dog food.  Gone were the adorable porcelain salt and pepper shakers someone sent as a Christmas present. And the $22 filet – styrafoam, plastic and all – that we were about to put on the grill. She pooped indiscriminately – the muddy backyard, dining room carpet – no difference.  She competed with my daughter for our attention. All day in a crate while my husband and I both worked became her bedtime. All night in the house while my husband I both slept became her daytime.

Surrendering, we advertised for a couple without small children and who had access to lots of ground for roaming. They could have pure-bred Maggie for free. They came. She went. I was horribly sad. Two years later I bought my kids Ralph.

He was a red eared slider. A turtle.



When my kids were very young and just beginning to like reading I introduced them to my favorite comic book series, Archie. Veronica, Betty and Jughead quickly became familiar to our family. While others filled their kids’ Christmas stockings with toys, we filled ours with Archie digests. Instead of a decorative bin of magazines or other suitable reading material in our bathroom, we kept a basket of Archie comics.

So it stood to reason that when we adopted our kitten 17 years ago, we’d name him Archie.

Those of you who know us, know Archie, a handsome, champagne colored Persian cat with striking amber eyes. He sits regally atop the backs of couches or lies snoozing on your lap. At night he obediently walks into the laundry room, his room, and climbs into his bed. He comes to me even when I tweak his name, calling him Archibald, Barch, Baldy. He is the perfect pet.

Sadly, this past Thursday, Archie, the exquisite old guy with the sweet disposition, passed away in his sleep. After an emergency hospitalization and some tests, it is thought that he died of a brain event, like a stroke. We took him home from the hospital Wednesday and put him in his bed. He couldn’t walk or lift his head but we were happy he was home. During the night, Archie died.

Grieving for our pet is expected and understood. But it has occurred to me belatedly that losing Archie results in other losses as well. We’ll miss our vet, Karen Gates, for example, who has taken care of Archie for the past 17 years, and my cat, Ashes, before. And our groomer, Brian Gusz of Curbside Grooming, who has primped Archie since taking over his father’s business some 12 years ago. Both Dr. Gates and Brian, who make house calls, do so because angelic Archie wasn’t always so well behaved.

As an adolescent he hated being placed in the carrier, apparently sensing the visit was almost certainly ending at the veterinarian’s office. So we found a vet who came to the house. With Archie’s long, silky coat easily matting, he also needed to be groomed with the frequency of a dog. Nightmarish experiences were routine with groomers both onsite and ones who traveled to our house. One groomer actually quit on Archie in the middle of clipping him, by ringing my doorbell and saying he could do no more. I saw Archie looking at me from the window of the groomer’s truck, his paws on the ledge. Poor Archie. He looked like Simba after a night on the town.

After that, we tried everything; muzzling him, even having Dr. Gates sedate him, so he could be groomed. Finally, Brian came to the rescue. Instantaneously, Brian developed a bond with Archie, gone were the leather muzzle and any need for sedation. In fact, Archie went willingly into Brian’s arms.

I will miss Archie terribly. But I am grateful to have had him a part of my family’s life for so long – in pet years – and for the wonderful people he introduced us to.


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