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The ad in the newspaper read, “Red and blonde peek-a-poo, non-shedding, female, 8 months, 5 lbs., housebroken.”
My son has red hair and my daughter is a blonde. The dog would blend in perfectly.
They had begged for a dog for years, but I resisted. My schedule as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune (coupled with their after-school activities) was not conducive to training a puppy. I refused to acquire an animal that would simply live in a crate. But when my husband took a job in Michigan and I resigned to become “a trailing spouse,” the possibility of a pet got better.
My only requirement was size: I watched women in my neighborhood exercising large animals in the snow. Their chapped, wind-burned cheeks flamed red above their woolen scarfs. ( I watched from the comfort of my heated house and decided to buy a dog who would hate the cold weather as much as I did.)
I called the number in the newspaper and learned her name was “Mindy” but we quickly changed it to “Dixie,” in honor of our roots. We knew we would return to the South one day and we did – a decade later. However, when I left with the fluffy little dog, her bed and toys, the previous owners neglected to mention the true reason they were selling her: An aggressive personality disorder.
Turns out the dog I bought for my children didn’t really like children at all. To be precise, she didn’t like anybody.
We found ourselves explaining the baring of her teeth to house guests in veiled terms, such as, “Look, she’s smiling at you.” Undaunted, we hired a pet psychologist, who recommended we run our house like boot camp: Any affection must be earned by the dog and only expressed as a reward for positive behavior.
Fortunately our veterinarian had another solution – better living through chemistry. Dixie got her “Happy Pill” every day and our lives improved. Originally developed as a birth control pill, vets later discovered an added benefit: It eliminated both aggression and anxiety. (I never explained this to my husband as I felt certain he would suggest that I take the medication, too.)
Her saving grace was that Dixie loved me. According to justdogbreeds.com, the Pekingese “can be protective of his owner to the point of being possessive. He will need to be trained so that this protective instinct does not turn into aggression.”
Clearly, I should have researched the breed sooner. But on the plus side, Dixie was a lap warmer extraordinaire. My worst winter days were spent watching the snow fall with a cup of coffee in one hand and a dog in my lap.
In addition, she was a terrific traveler. She loved our car trips back to Florida and particularly enjoyed the biscuits from Cracker Barrel. We’d park the car in a shady spot and glance back to see her sprawled like some kind of furry “Dashboard Jesus,” watching until we returned.
Our children grew up and when our son reached 6 feet tall, Dixie mysteriously came to adore him. She also adored warm weather, and while she hated being lowered into the icy waters of Lake Michigan in her life jacket, she loved running along the beach at Cayo Costa State Park, wrestling with our son in the sand.
He left for college, just as his older sister had done. On more than one occasion when I couldn’t find Dixie, I’d see her pop out from under one of their beds, sniffing and searching for her siblings. I was grateful to have her company – the only child who never asked me for a car or to go to Mexico for Spring Break. She never wanted Prada boots or to study abroad.
My husband and I moved back to Florida in 2007 and, like us, Dixie was happy to retire to the Sunshine State. She developed a gastrointestinal disorder that recently prompted a limited prescription diet, topped with two steroid pills each week. Her gait is a bit wobbly now, due to three compressed discs in her back. Or perhaps it’s due to having vision in only one eye, since a cataract claimed the other. Still, at 16 years old, she eats with gusto and loves to be held like a baby in my arms, wrapped in an afghan, on her back.
Some days I return from running errands to find her curled up on my pillow. Her body appears frighteningly still and I hold my own breath, ignoring the searing pain in my gut that is as real as any knife wound. In those moments I whisper, “No, no, no, please – not today,” as though my uttering the words aloud might prevent the inevitable from happening.
Then her chest rises and falls, her eyes open and she sees me (with the good one) and her tail thumps a slow greeting. My own breathing resumes with a sense of relief and I remind myself that old age is not for sissies, indeed. I kiss her head and offer a prayer of thanks that she is with me for another day.
Occasionally I call my children, too, and thank them for begging me to get a dog.