Notes From the Janery Studio
On the day I found Charlie, I wasn’t allowed to have dogs in my rental. My apartment was the second floor of a two-story house, and my landlord and his Rottweiler lived on the first floor. (My apartment, did, however, have the most fabulous turquoise stove in its vintage 1950’s kitchen.)
And so it was that Charlie came to live at the vet hospital pending adoption.
From the moment I found her, however, I knew that she was supposed to be my dog. She had her own large cage in the boarding room, but because it was only a cage, we started to let her roam free in the back of the hospital during quiet times. She was a fast learner, eager to please, so she quickly grasped the rules and expectations. We’d set a blanket on the floor and tell her “go to your bed,” and she turned in circles before settling down onto the blanket.
Charlie quickly mastered “go to your bed.” It got to the point where we’d put a small washcloth on the ground, issue the command, and she’d obsessively circle before settling down and making her body curl up as tiny as possible in an attempt to fit on the “bed”. The word “bed” came to mean any piece of cloth or soft surface we wanted her to sit and stay on.
Despite her talent for making herself nearly invisible, Charlie couldn’t stay in the hospital forever. It wasn’t fair to her, and it was against hospital rules. I wasn’t the only hospital employee who was falling in love with her, however. When the kennels got busy for Thanksgiving, she went home to stay with Candace, who was also crazy about her. I was so worried Candace was going to adopt Charlie for herself!
We told select clients about Charlie, thinking maybe she could find a home with one of them. The man who adopted her seemed to love her.
A few weeks later, the client complained that Charlie was too aggressive towards him. He said she’d growled at him from her cage, and when he hit her to shut her up, she bit him.
I was sickened to hear that someone had hit my beloved Charlie.
We were horrified and immediately requested that he return Charlie. He happily obliged, telling us there was something wrong with Charlie.
In reality, we knew there was something wrong with him.
As winter began to creep up on us, I knew something had to change. My manager started pressuring me to take Charlie because she couldn’t live there forever. Even worse, Charlie looked so dejected when I locked her up in her cage at night, knowing she was being left behind.
I began to hunt for a pet-friendly rental, one that would accept Charlie as well as my three cats, and I finally found it – a tri-level ranch with a large fenced yard. It had been vacant for a few months and the landlords were so happy to rent it that they couldn’t have cared less if I moved in with Noah’s Ark. I could barely afford it, but I was determined to bring my dog home for good.
It snowed on moving day. Our oil furnace was broken and the toilets were frozen solid from a lack of heat, but I finally had a forever home for Charlie. That night we snuggled up together under a blanket, and nothing else mattered.
We were one block from home when I felt the tug on the leash behind me. I turned back to encourage Merlin, who sometimes stopped to sniff every blade of grass on a walk. His breathing was labored, and he looked at me with a question in his eyes.
The pups and I walked my toddler to daycare three days a week. It was a 2 mile round trip, and on Monday Merlin was exhausted at the end of the walk.
I chalked it up to old age. Merlin was losing muscle tone in his rear legs, and at times his rear legs trembled from weakness. Exercise would be good for him, and I’d make a vet appointment for him later.
But on Tuesday the problem started after less than a block.
“What’s going on buddy? Do you need to turn around?”
He turned, relief in his eyes, and walked slowly in the direction of home.
As we passed our neighbor’s house I felt Merlin slow even more. When I turned around to check on him, my world froze.
I saw my dog gasp for air, his eyes going wild as the back half of his body fell over onto the ground. His front legs skidded out in front, unable to support him.
I dropped everything, almost forgetting to kick the brake on the stroller. I fell to my knees next to Merlin, tears streaming down my face. Was my dog actually dying on the sidewalk?
For 10 minutes Merlin lay breathing but unable to move as I pet him, reassuring him.
Fortunately he finally stood and hobbled into my neighbor’s house. I had a baby in a stroller, a bouncing poodle, and I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t gotten up.
Later that morning Merlin was diagnosed with a complete AV block, a type of acute and sudden heart failure that is irreversible. The only treatment is surgical implantation of a Pacemaker.
At 14 years old, and with kidney disease and other geriatric issues, we didn’t feel that invasive surgery was the right choice. Once Merlin was stabilized, we brought him home to spend his last days with us. The doctors warned us that his heart might stop at any moment, but we didn’t mind, as long as he wasn’t in pain.
“Is it possible Merlin was misdiagnosed?”
I was on the phone with the cardiologist who treated Merlin on that fateful day in February. Merlin’s fainting spells had subsided and he was excited to walk around one square block with me occasionally. He was doing so well that we questioned the accuracy of his diagnosis.
The cardiologist assured me that Merlin did, in fact, have the fatal heart condition – he was just one of the lucky ones who can get several good months with his “backup generator.”
Merlin did have other issues starting, such as worsening kidney disease and incontinence, but we were thankful to be getting extra time with him.
Four months after Merlin collapsed on our morning walk, we took him on his final visit to the HOPE center. He had stopped eating and was having too many attacks of heavy, labored breathing. They happened even when he was sleeping.
We entered the all-too-familiar room where we’d said goodbye to Charlie and Doctor Pepper. We sat with Merlin on the floor as the doctor explained the procedure.
But she didn’t have to. We knew the drill.
As the doctor injected the first liquid, a sedative, I squished my eyes closed and ran my hand over Merlin’s bony head. The pink liquid that followed would stop his heart, and even though it was a gift to end his suffering, it still felt like I was betraying him.
The tears made rivers down my cheeks, and, just like with his siblings before him, I fantasized about snatching him away and running out of there before it was too late.
But I didn’t. And soon the doctor soon said “he’s gone” as she listened for a heartbeat one last time.
The Day After
I found peace as I collected the photos of Merlin’s life. I had forgotten what a vibrant, energetic, shiny-coated dog he was. I had forgotten that yes, he did in fact play with Amber the Poodle when we adopted her 3 years ago. I had forgotten that he used to follow me around the house with enthusiasm, rather than laying on beds looking forlorn all day.
It feels like the end of an era.
Merlin and Charlie were the pups that found me during my confused college years, walked with me over many bumps in the road, and eventually inspired me to launch my business.
But when I close my eyes and picture Merlin, it’s not the listless, gray-haired dog of the last few months.
It’s my angel puppy with the blue and brown eyes, cocked head, and happy ears. His epic head tilt will forever symbolize his enthusiastic approach to our adventurous life.
If you'd like to read more about my pet adventures, here's the story of how I found Merlin, my Christmas puppy.
The pack of puppies stepped out in front of my car, oblivious to any danger. The big black and tan leader of the pack watched warily as my car slowed to a stop. I looked at Charlie in the back seat of my car, herself a former stray from this very neighborhood, and suddenly I was opening the door, climbing out, and cautiously approaching the pack of dogs.
It was a rainy day in March, and I was driving through the neighborhood where I’d found Charlie. When I’d lived there, it wasn’t unusual to see a dog roaming the street. I never knew which were strays and which just had irresponsible owners. One pair of strays was so street-savvy that animal control had been unable to catch them for years.
On this day, though, the motley pack of dogs seemed frozen in place as I exited the car and began to approach. I was slightly unnerved by the intense gaze of the Rottweiler. He didn’t trust me, and I didn’t trust him.
But before I could get too close to the pack, a small black and white puppy broke away and came up to me, and as I knelt down to him he wriggled right into my lap. When he cocked his head and looked up at me with one blue and one brown eye, and I was gone.
I didn’t need another dog. I had three cats and two dogs, and I was working several jobs while finishing my last semester of college.
As the black and white puppy cuddled in my lap, the rain began to fall harder.
I scooped up the puppy and stood there, unsure what to do. What if this was someone’s puppy? I wrestled with my conscience, thinking that anyone letting their puppy run loose in the city shouldn’t have a dog. Then I saw an old man sitting under his covered front porch, watching me with what I’m sure was wry amusement.
I can only imagine what he was thinking….
I waved and said hello, and then I wondered if the puppies were his. Never too shy to talk to strangers, I approached and asked him about the sweet boy who was now wriggling in my arms and licking delicate kisses on my face.
The puppies were indeed strays, born on Christmas to a white German Shepherd down the street. I knew that dog. I’d driven by her house many times, my heart breaking each time I saw her on a short metal chain in a patch of dirt, with only a decaying dog house for shelter. I’d also seen her running free in the neighborhood, but I don’t know if it’s because she escaped or the owners let her off the chain to roam.
The rain was pouring down now, soaking me and the puppy as the old man talked to me from his covered porch. After I learned the full story, I snuggled my Christmas puppy close as he licked my hands, and walked back to the car.
It would take me a few days to settle on just the right name for Merlin, the black and white puppy with the one magical blue eye.
I was recently featured over at the fabulous design blog Cuckoo4Design in the "Living Pretty With Your Pets" series. I was honored that Julia included me - she has an incredible eye for interior design, and has a huge heart for adopting cats.
I shared a story I've never shared before, the story of how I came to adopt 5 very important pets in my life: Charlie, Merlin, Aretha, Doctor, and Amber.
For a peek at the pets behind Janery, click the photo below to check it out!
“Lucy! Come here girl. Luuuuucyyy!”
I’ll never forget the first time I met a street dog named Lucy.
Hairless and emaciated, she came running down the hill out of the housing projects, happy to answer the call of the woman who’d been feeding her scraps off and on for a year.
“I named her Lucy because she’s a real sweet dog.”
I watched her run to the woman who called her, amazed that this homeless street dog managed to be so obedient and sweet, despite her near-starving condition. Discarded hypodermic needles and broken glass littered the corner where I was standing, and I’m pretty sure the exchange going on across the street was a drug deal. In my eagerness to help a stray dog, I didn’t care.
I was standing behind an abandoned building on a rough street in Richmond’s south side. I'd pulled over and parked after almost running over a tiny little stray dog, the size of a lap dog, who'd run right in front of my car. But now I'd given up trying to catch that scrappy little stray.
The woman was telling me there was no hope, that scrappy dog had eluded animal control officers for years. As we talked, I explained that I worked at a vet hospital and with rescue groups, and wanted to help the dog I’d almost run over. The woman - I never did get her name - said there was a really sweet stray that needed my help more. She'd named her Lucy.
“I would’ve kept Lucy, but they don’t let us have pets here."
“Here” was the Bainbridge Public Housing development, a nondescript group of white cinder block apartments on a hill near 28th Street. The woman explained that she fed Lucy kitchen scraps whenever she had them.
“Lucy just had puppies, but they died because she couldn’t get that sac off them in time. It was really sad to watch.”
It broke my heart to hear this. How upsetting must it be to a mama dog? I'll admit I wondered why the woman didn’t help save the puppies, but with age comes understanding. I now know that different people have different comfort levels and what seemed like an easy task to me, a veterinary technician, was probably not to others.
And when you’re living in public housing, trying to put food on the table for your children as this woman described to me, saving puppies may not be high on your priority list.
"Thank you for taking her. She'll make a real good pet for someone."
The woman cared deeply for Lucy; I saw it in her eyes and her body language as she longingly said goodbye to the dog. Lucy climbed happily into the back seat of my old Volvo.
As I drove Lucy to my vet hospital, she suddenly vomited. Oh, the smell was horrible. I had half-digested onions and pieces of bread all over my back seat. (Considering that onions are toxic to dogs, it’s a good thing she got carsick.)
I brought Lucy into the hospital and began to bathe her. My coworker came up and asked what we should name her, since we already had a mean, old cat named Lucy living there.
“Who are the other female characters in Peanuts?”
This dog wasn't a Patty. Nor was she a Sally. I massaged the flea shampoo into the dog’s hairless skin, thinking of names. Her ribs were poking out, her hip bones almost breaking through her skin, and yet she was obediently standing in the tub, obedient but hating every second of it.
She needed a special name, one that was strong but playful. A name that other female dogs wouldn’t have. And then it came to me:
"Let's name her Charlie."
Epilogue: Charlie came home to live with me, endured surgeries for bullets and eye removal and many other ailments, but through it all she was happy and stoic.
I said goodbye to Charlie on Christmas Day of 2013, after a valiant battle with cancer. I held her head in my hands, pressed my forehead against hers and silently cried as she took her last breath. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. She gave me an amazing 10 years of her life, and inspired the launch of this very business, Janery.
I will forever remain thankful to the woman who helped this incredible dog find me and become my best friend.