(Written June 17, 2020)
It had been six months or so since our sweet Beagle/Jack Russell mix, Pepper, had left us. Cancer. We had gathered around him, loved on him, and then watched the merciful drug put him into an everlasting sleep. We wept – the whole family. We grieved, each in his own way, and then we took a break. A dog break.
Too soon. Not yet. Nope, not quite ready. And then, when we couldn’t stand it anymore, we toured the shelters and the pounds. Dozens of dogs, but not one we felt was “just right” for us. We were beginning to think that there just wasn’t a dog that was the right match.
Then on January 12, 2008, one day after my birthday, we visited the Nashville SPCA shelter. We looked at lab mixes, big dogs, medium-size dogs, and even some little dogs. We even “test drove” a couple. But they weren’t the least bit interested in us. There just wasn’t any chemistry – no spark.
We were on the way out, thinking we had seen them all, when I noticed a little hallway with a few more “dog rooms.” “Rosie, I don’t think we’ve looked down this one…” The first two rooms were “more of the same.” The last room on the left was empty. My heart sank. Then I looked to the right. And there she was. Looking at me like I was her long lost friend – tail almost wagging off. Just sitting there. “Rosie, come look at this one. She’s really cute!” “Cute?” Rosie responded when she saw her, “She’s darling!!”
A little ragamuffin strawberry blond ball of furry fluff, she was as different from our beagle/Jack Russell as she could possibly be. With a stripe of white that started at the top of her head, and went right down her face onto her chest. And a cute little black button nose.
We took her for a test walk and she was absolutely smitten with us – and we with her. It was a perfect match! The people at the shelter suggested we grab a bite to eat while they got her ready to go. We went to a little Chinese restaurant around the corner – a favorite of mine. We had a wonderful, excited, joyful lunch, ending with – what else? – fortune cookies. Rosie opened hers first. “A new friend will come your way today.” We smiled knowingly. That was certainly true. Then I opened mine. “This week, follow purple for happiness.” We shrugged and smiled. Fortune cookies. Sometimes they seemed suspiciously accurate. Other times, just nonsense.
Not that we look to Oriental confectionary pastry for the truth in life. But sometimes it’s funny “how much the cookies know.”
We went back to the shelter where they had her papers all ready and we checked her out. She was ours! We were just walking out the door, when the lady who had been helping us shouted, “WAIT! I forgot something.” Hmm. Okay. A moment later she reappeared. “She was wearing this little coat when she was brought in.” We took the coat and smiled. PURPLE! Having prayed for God’s help with this process, it was nice to get a couple of little “winks” from Him. We felt very peaceful about our choice, and very excited!
Our sweet new friend made herself right at home. She apparently found our house, our yard, everything to her liking, and settled right in.
Her name was Mesa – which is a great name if you’re in Arizona. But I wanted to name her something that would reflect the fact that we were no longer Yankees who had migrated to the south. We had become southerners and our dog was a Nashville native. I came up with Dixie Belle, and Rosie was okay with it.
At first, it seemed as though Dixie would be a “daddy’s girl.” She was a little mean and resistant to Rosie’s attempts to get her to “warm up” to her. But once Rosie started taking her on walks, all of that quickly vanished. Rosie was the hero of the house.
Not much of a walker, myself, I taught her a number of “parlor tricks” which she loved to perform in front of guests. Rosie took her to obedience classes, and taught her basic commands like, “sit, lie down, and stay.” She truly became one of the family, and never wanted to be more than a few feet from one of us. A real “people dog.” Dixie loved our boys, especially Chris, who would get down on the floor and play with her. He spent a little time with her every time he came over.
I grew tired of talking to her in what sounded like military commands, and so, at some point, I just switched to talking to her in a normal conversational style. Just “conversing” with her. Gradually, she got used to what I was saying and came to understand exactly what I wanted her to do from that kind of instruction. I would say something like, “Dixie (she would look at me intently when she heard her name), I think Mark is a little uncomfortable with you right up against him. Would you please get down off the couch and find somewhere else in the room to lie down?” She would quietly get down from the couch, find an open space in the room, and lie down. My friends were amazed.
She loved the walks, and at one time, Rosie was walking six or seven miles a day! Dixie was right there with her, loving every minute of it. They made quite the pair. Going through the park, or past Belmont University, people would stop her and talk about how cute she was. She loved that.
Our boys had grown up and moved out (and sometimes back, and then out again) before we got her. She always loved it when they would visit and made them feel special. She understood that they were part of her “pack.” They would play with her and she loved that. I think she loved Christmas best of all, since most of the time we were all together again.
And then Christopher became a dad. And now there was Willow. Dixie had a sister – howbeit a human one. From the beginning, Dixie and Willow were fast friends, and were never far apart. They loved each other, and hung out all the time. Wherever Willow was, whether inside or out, there you would find Dixie too. We called them sisters. When Willow was around, Dixie stuck very close to her most all the time.
Like Pepper before her, Dixie was a “leash-only” dog, except in the fenced-in back yard. If she could get a break, she’d be gone like the wind, and off to explore the wide, wide, world. She was NOT street-smart or traffic-aware, and we had a few close calls. But she was so friendly and sweet, she would go right up to people and they would call us and hold her for us.
Dixie loved food (any kind), routine, doggie puzzles (with food inside), playing with her people, doing tricks, chasing squirrels and rabbits, and finding a sunbeam to sleep in. She had a mischievous streak a mile wide, and was an opportunist. She would grab any food she could reach in the kitchen, and loved to steal and eat paper (including money) and cardboard. But she was gentle, loving, and affectionate. Well, mostly. She was an aggressive “greeter” at the door, and attacked it like a junkyard dog if someone knocked. (And don’t get me started on the mailman!) But once we had let them in, and they were “inside” guests, she welcomed them and considered them family.
This year, Dixie turned 13 (91 in dog years) and became more of a “cranky old lady” than ever before. She barked at everyone and everything that crossed her field of vision, and started ignoring lifelong “boundaries” that she had always obeyed before. It was as if she was saying, “I’ve had enough of this stuff. From this point on, I’m not taking any crap!” She turned deaf about a year ago, and developed cataracts. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.
Last night she started having frequent seizures and seemed like she was in some pain. Today we took her to a lovely emergency pet hospital and found out that this was her last day. We said our last goodbyes and loved her on her way.
And now the house is very quiet. And lonely. And we grieve and ponder this marvelous gift that God so graciously entrusted to us. And the non-judgmental unconditional love and friendship that she brought into our lives. We’re so glad that Chris and Willow dropped by just a couple of days ago, and we brought her out on the porch on her leash to visit with them. When she went back inside, Willow quietly said, “Goodbye, Sister!”
One day another dog will make itself at home in our house. Our family. But not yet. Too soon. For now, we will take a dog break and treasure Dixie’s memory. Thank you, Dixie.