It was a Sign. No doubt about it.
Sunday morning, 8:10AM, October 27, 2013. It was THE Sign.
I turn on the Channel 2 (WCBS in NYC) for the weather forecast but I get the anchorwoman talking about “senior citizen” dogs from the Manhattan ASPCA who need homes. I see two little doggies squirming in the bright TV lights. They do not look happy to be there.
Then the TV shows the mug shot of one of the dogs, a cocker spaniel called Boogie Girl …
…I know immediately. This is a Sign, from the Universe, that Boogie Girl is meant for me.
To back up a bit: I have been a proud Crazy Cat Lady all my adult life. But ever since I married Top Cat and went to live in the suburbs of Long Island in a house with a beautiful back yard, I’ve had a hankering to broaden the scope and endeepen the depths of my human existence by getting a DoG. But deciding what kind of DoG person I was — that was impossible. The DoG world has too many variables: small lap-size cuddler? Big goofy labrador or retriever? Mid-size pit bull? Super-smart poodle or shepherd? Really dumb bull dog? I had no idea.
But as soon as I see Boogie Girl on the TV I know that I am, without a doubt, a Boogie Girl kind of DoG person.
The following Wednesday, I am at the Manhattan ASPCA, meeting Boogie Girl in person:
That’s the Adoption Counselor, above, walking Boogie Girl through the Cat Room to prove that she has nothing against cats. Done deal. I make an application, give references (including a vet reference), pay the $250 adoption fee, and on November 6, 2013, I am back at the ASPCA to bring Boogie Girl home!
I took this picture (above) after I pulled the car out of traffic on First Avenue, to settle Boogie down so she wouldn’t get us killed by crawling all over the driver’s side — she was supposed to have stayed in the back seat, curled up on a blankie I’d brought for her, but I hadn’t been warned that she had probably never ridden in a car before and did not understand the protocols.
I took this picture to commemorate the very moment that I dedicated my life to her: There she is, looking at me, and in her eyes I see that she is dreading/pondering what new shit has happened to her now.
And I look back at her, ashamed that I don’t even know how to take a dog for a car ride, and I promise her, “Baby DoG, (when I don’t call her Boogie Girl I call her my Baby DoG), I may not know what I’m doing, yet, but I want you to know that I will protect you, and love you, and we’ll figure it out together in your forever home.”
Boogie Girl had already been through a lot. She was one of 4 dogs rescued from a deplorable living situation in a hotel, from an old lady who had long gone senile, and finally been evicted, so the state had come in and removed her to an assisted living facility and called the ASPCA to come get the animals. Boogie Girl had been at the ASPCA shelter for 6 months and was the third (of the 4 dogs) to be adopted.
When I met her, Boogie Girl was 17 years old. She was hard of hearing, and also a bit hard of seeing (inoperable cataracts — her heart couldn’t withstand anesthesia). In other words, she was perfect.
Boogie was 18 pounds when I got her — she was thin. Later, I figured out that if it took 6 months to get her well enough for adoption, the poor thing must have been in very bad condition when she arrived at the shelter. I figured it out because, at home with me, she was so frantic and greedy every time she ate (I think that’s called “food insecurity”) that I had to save her from herself or else she’d puke from over-eating. So that’s how I begin to parcel out her feedings to three times a day, and make her scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, and gravy; and give her spoon fulls of cat food to delicio-tize her kibble, and let’s not even start with the wet food catering (all veterinarian-approved). By the end of the Winter she had put on about five pounds and couldn’t fit into her cute little coat any more.
The ASPCA did not tell me that Boogie Girl wet her bed most nights. See that spiffy $100 bed (above) I got for her? It lasted a week. It was so big that I had to go to the laundromat in town to use the triple loader to wash it every time she, uh, piddled in her sleep, and as I was not capable of spending hours of my life going to the town laundromat three-four times a week, I knew I needed to come up with a home-based bed-washing/keep Boogie in clean beds system. Voila:
Don’t judge me for putting her in a cardboard box — I’ll explain in a minute.
The cats got Boogie’s $100 old bed. She now has four different little beds (on rotation; she goes through two a day) that fit nicely in my home washing machine. A friend advised me to get an indoor pen for her boudoir, so we pulled up the rug on our slate-floored den, put down two shower curtains, and circled them with a light-weight pen. The pen was never locked, and it was very flexible. It was more of a suggestion of boundaries than a hard core kennel.
We laid down newspaper on top of the shower curtains, and every night we carpeted her pen with nice clean Wee Wee pads (see above).
And after her long night’s sleep, THIS is what I have to clean up (see below) every morning:
Now, about the cardboard box: Everything I know about taking care of Boogie Girl, I learned through trial and error, and one thing I learned about Boogie is that she is a sloppy sleeper:
So, if I want to save her from sleeping head-first in her own night soil, I have to contain her in her bed somehow. And that’s why we started ordering really big stuff from Amazon just to get the box:
It works. It isn’t pretty, but it works.
Boogie Girl and I spend most of our days together in the den, but Boogie Girl’s den is a big room. It’s 350 square feet. It has 7 regular windows and one big picture window. It has two sofas, a stuffed chair, various end- and coffee-tables, and my desk. This is a picture of her, hogging up the whole left side of my office space, while I’m trying to type the Damn Garden Book:
She also comes with me upstairs when I work on stuff in my painting workroom. This is a picture of her in my work room, snoozing in a bed that was not meant for dogs:
Here’s another picture of her in amanuensis mode, in my workroom:
One thing that the ASPCA didn’t tell me, kind of an important thing, was that Boogie Girl had never been house broken. I figured it out myself after our first five days together, but I wasn’t going to traumatize her with training at this point in her life. This is her happy retirement. So I try to manage her tendency to answer the call of nature inside the house by walking her four or five times a day — Dear Readers, I must confess: having to trot her to the same neighbors’ trash cans four or five times a day so she can sniff every last bit of discarded rotten food gets tiring. Crazy tiring. And gross. But who am I to deprive Boogie of such pleasure?
Once upon a time, Boogie Girl found a chicken bone in the middle of a street around the corner. I took it away from her, of course, because it was disgusting, and for WEEKS afterwards, we had to make a detour to go to that same exact spot, and sniff around for a chicken bone that might have magically re-appeared. WEEKS. And yes, to make up for my guilty conscience about that chicken bone, I put baked chicken on her dinner rotation.
Boogie Girl is, in short, needy, picky, and a handful. She’s also a bit smelly, but she is dignified, brave, and gentle.
Because Boogie Girl had so many care-taking requirements, Top Cat and I had to stop traveling to week-end get-away destinations. And every place else.
I cart Boogie Girl off to the vet as frequently as I take her to the groomer — at least every six weeks. New dog mom, old dog, nutty amount of love … I panic about her health a lot, and I am happy to hand over a couple of two to seven hundred dollars just to be re-assured that she’s not going anywhere, no matter how heavenly, any time soon.
Even with me watching over her, Boogie Girl has managed to crap in every room of the house. TWICE. Every room. Rooms that have carpet, rooms that have oriental rugs, rooms that have hardwood, and rooms that have tile floors.
I have stepped in it, in bare feet, only once. And once in stocking feet.
I’m telling you all this so you will know that Boogie Girl thoroughly up-ended my cat-lady life and household. I’m telling you all this so you’ll know that from the first day we were together, my life had to be all about Boogie Girl, and I’m absolutely fine with it, and I’m telling you all this because from Day One my heart was Boogie’s and will always be hers. I’m telling you this because I only had her for nine months, two weeks, and a day, and I miss every time consuming, exhausting, totally boring dog walking, garbage can sniffing, laundry doing, cleaning up-aftering, sloppy sleeping, wolf eating, dinner-making, bed-making, panic-making, never-off-my-mind second.
Boogie Girl was not a cuddly dog, but she and I had a deal. When her time came, she would be at home, with me, Top Cat, and a kind, soft-spoken vet. I would make her a feast of her favorite people-food treat (baked broccoli casserole with bread crumbs and garlic), she would scarf it down, and she would let me carry her to the den. She would finally let me hold her in my lap, and wrap my arms around her, and tell her what a beautiful wonderful lovable DoG she was, and keep smooching her silly head, while the vet put her worn out little soul gently to sleep.
And that’s exactly what happened. Boogie Girl died of congestive heart failure on the night of August 26, 2014.
I could’nt sleep that night: The vet had taken Boogie to Westchester, to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, to be cremated, and the house was suffocating me with her absence. I was haunting myself for not having done every thing perfectly for her. Mostly, I couldn’t sleep that night because I never wanted to wake up in the morning and not have a Boogie Butt wiggling with happiness to see me.
But I was too exhausted to resist a few hours’ sleep, and then it was the next day. First thing, I made a frantic call to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester to say I had to see my Boogie Girl one last time, could they give me a one last viewing, please please please? They said Of course. I went limp with relief.
Then I gathered up Boogie’s cans of wet food and big bag of dry, and her purple harness that she used for 7 days, and I took them to the local county animal shelter. Seeing a stranger hold Boogie’s old harness made me cry. So I went home and drank tea and passed a very numb day.
(I held onto her beds until October, literally held onto them. I held and inhaled and said my Boogie’s name, until it got cold and I thought of the little dogs who might not have cozy beds of their own and I made another trip back to the county animal shelter.)
And the next day, there I was driving up and down Central Park Avenue, hyperventilating and still to able to breathe, in heart-attack mode, seeing black spots in front of my eyes, because I was lost in goddam Westchester.
Imagine that you are a 40-ish guy, sitting at your desk at Scarsdale Ford, on a perfectly average, normal Thursday morning. Suddenly, a wild-eyed lady storms into your showroom, clutches her head, and says, “I’m lost and I’m going to faint.” She’s talking kind of loud and can’t catch her breath. She drops herself down in the seat front of your desk and, hands trembling, she hands you a sweaty, crumpled piece of paper with the address of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery on it, and she before she bursts into tears she says, “I have to see my dog one last time and I can’t find her.”
She keeps saying, “I have to see her, I have to see her. And I’m lost!!”
You take a moment to figure out that what’s happening isn’t a prank. Then you dial the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. You tell them that there’s a woman having a nervous breakdown in your office because she’s worried that they are going to go ahead with the scheduled cremation because she hasn’t arrived on time and you think she’s a no-show but the truth is that she’s going crazy from being lost [in goddam Westchester] for the last 40 minutes. You write down directions, you hang up the phone, you turn to the weeping lady, and very calmly and slowly, you say:
“You’re only half a mile away. The entrance is hidden on a side street. Go here, turn left here, turn the corner there. You’ll be at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in ten minutes. Don’t worry. They’ve still got your dog and they won’t start without you.” The woman still looks bat-shit crazy, but her crying is quieter now and she lifts herself up from the chair in front of your desk. She says, “Thank you so much. I was so afraid I’d never get to see her again, and I have to see her one last time.”
Then you say, “Can I give you a hug? I’ve been through it too and I know what you’re feeling.” So you give the lady a hug, and she starts crying again, and she sobs, “I miss her so much!”
The lady turns, and leaves the building. Two days later you get a card in the mail, addressed to “Kind Person Who Helped Me Find the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery”. The crazy lady tells you her name, tells you that Boogie Girl was the name of her dog, apologizes for barging in on your work day, assures you that she is not usually that much of a nut job, and thanks you profoundly and humbly for your humanity.
And that’s how I finally arrived at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.
I sat with Boogie for a quarter hour. She was laying in a little bed with white satin sheets and her head was on a white satin pillow. I clipped some locks of hair from her silly little head.
I saw her all the way to the door of the crematorium, and then I turned away. I walked around the cemetery for an hour. The cemetery is a beautiful place.
then I collected her ashes, and drove home without incident.
Every time I sit at this desk, Boogie Girl is right in front of me, in a flowered tin box.
People ask me if there’s a big difference between cats and DoGs, and I say, “And how.”
People ask me if it was kind of stupid to adopt a senior citizen dog to be my first DoG ever, and I say, “I was probably in a little over my head.” And I also say, “I hope I made her happy.”
People have asked me if it was worth the effort and expense and heartbreak to care for an old DoG that you only know for such a short time, and I say, “I don’t know any other way of having a DoG.”
People ask me if I’ll ever get another DoG, and I say, “I’m on the lookout.”
All I need is a Sign.