Friday, February 8, 2013

Dogs: Ambassadors of Love

In the late 90s, I bought a sweet little 1920s canyon bungalow in Mt. Washington, an old Los Angeles suburb. Shortly after moving into it, I realized that I was living in an entirely family neighborhood and was likely the only single person for blocks. It was a nice, but I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t immediately connect with the community and I somewhat morbidly used to wonder if I fell down a ravine while on one of my daily walks with my dog, Andy, how long it would be before anyone noticed I was missing.

We lived on Glenalbyn and hiked up to the top of Mt. Washington every day

Andy, like most of my dogs, was a foundling. Before buying the house, I had lived for three years in the mountain community of Big Bear, California. Early one Monday morning, when I was walking around the lake, this long-legged puppy joined me and wouldn’t leave. I believe he’d been left behind at a nearby camp site that had been packed with people over the weekend: either intentionally or because he’d wandered off and got lost. I spent two weeks trying to find his owner; then happily called him my own.

He grew to be 100 pounds of sweet-natured goofiness. I’m not sure what he was, but he likely had some Labrador or even Newfoundland in him. His fur was long and silky and shed water like the proverbial duck’s back, and had a thick undercoat. He loved swimming in the lake and the rolling around in the snow.

Andy was swimmer and was known to come out of Big Bear Lake with a fish!

We went through some tough times in that cabin. One day when playing in the snow, his leg went down a gopher hole and sustained a terrible injury. He had to have two operations to repair the ligaments in his knee and was in a cast for months. I know he was in pain a lot of the time so I took the mattress off my bed and slept cuddled up with him on the floor. 

Later, when his leg was mended but my heart was broken, he’d jump on the bed, circle a couple of times, and then curl up next to me. I wasn’t sleeping very well back then and whenever I opened my eyes, he’d be gazing at me with his big, soulful eyes.

When we moved back to town, I knew Andy missed being out in the wilds so I took him for very long walks every day all over the neighborhood. One day, a little boy playing behind a fence struck up a conversation with me. I heard is mother call out through a window to ask who he was talking to. “It’s that lady with the nice black dog,” he said. I realized then that I actually was not as invisible in the neighborhood as I thought. People were aware of me, but probably more so of Andy. Things got rapidly better after that and I became close with my neighbors and made many friends in the area. A lot of it had to do with Andy. He was so pretty and so sociable that people would stop to pet him and talk to me.

Then after I’d lived in that house for about nine years and Andy was around thirteen, he got cancer. By the time it was diagnosed, the tumor on his pericardium was big and growing rapidly. The vet told me he only had weeks before it grew so large that it would stop his heart from beating. About six weeks later, he keeled over panting and couldn’t get up. My neighbors on either side came over and made a stretcher from a blanket and carried him to my car. Another came with me to the vet and stayed with me until Andy gave one last big gasp; his heart, big as it was, was no match for the cancer.  

Andy had so many friends that I couldn’t stand the idea of having to tell the story over and over. So I pasted a picture of him on some card and put a little note on saying he was gone. Then I tied it to my front gate. By the next day, I had a “Princess Di” situation going on! Kids brought handmade cards with sweet messages in crayon and stuck them on the gate. People left flowers and notes for me. Someone even stuck a bottle of wine through the fence, another a tin of homemade cookies. Andy truly had been an emissary of love.

Now, years later, I moved to my current home in Mineral de Pozos, with Andy’s successor, my little dog Henry

Henry at home in Mexico

Things were different here. I felt immediately at home and assimilated into the community very quickly. But there are the odd occasions when I still feel like the new girl. Then one day last week I met some friends for a drink at Pozos’ new swanky hotel, Casa Diamante. Since I hadn’t been there before, the assistant manger offered to show me around. As we were touring the impressive rooms and gardens, I started to tell him that I lived in Pozos. “Oh, I know,” he said. “I see you walking your little dog when I’m driving to work every day.”

Welcome to the hood.

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