I lost one of my dogs today to cancer. He'd battled lymphoma for nine months. A brave little soul, he never complained, never caused problems. He went out as he had lived, with a calm acceptance, and a look of peace on his sweet face.
Twelve years ago, I had lost one of my elderly pair of dogs, and the other was grieving herself to death. So I got on the internet and started researching dog breeders. I knew I wanted shih tzus, sweet lap dogs, affectionate and loving.
In April of that year, I lost my little elderly female. So I contacted some of the breeders and found one who had a litter due that month. Sure enough, the litter was born on April 21st - San Jacinto Day in Texas. I reserved a pair - one male and one female. The litter had four pups, 2 males and 2 females.
I watched them grow on the website until they were three months old and ready to come home with me. The other little male, named "Godzilla" by the breeder's young daughter, was odd-looking, not as pretty as the other pups. When it came time to pick up my two beautiful Tzus, the breeder contacted me and asked me if I knew of anyone who might want the other male. Nobody wanted him. She couldn't give him away because of the way he looked. He won my heart and I said I'd take him.
They were in Baton Rouge, La. I was in Austin, TX. So with a friend along as puppy wrangler, I drove to Louisiana and picked up my crew.
I had already named them, according to my pop culture leanings. The pretty black male I named "Ming the Merciless" from the villain in "Flash Gordon." The beautiful blonde female I named "Miss Myrna Loy" after a movie star from the golden age of Hollywood. And believe me, you'd better call her "Miss Myrna" or you get attitude! The second male I named "Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog" from a childhood favorite cartoon of mine. He was to be called "Sparky" after Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz, who went by that nickname.
The trip home was hilarious...I was ever thankful my friend had come with me. I don't think I could have made that trip without her. They were a handful. It got worse when they got home. Ming immediately began stripping the leaves off any plants he could reach. Myrna ran hysterically all over inspecting everything. And Sparky immediately fled behind the washer. I was in for an incredible adventure. The Mod Squad, one white, one black, one blond - was born.
Sparky always knew he was different. At times it made him sad, at times he was angry. When they got groomed and Ming and Myrna got bows in their little topknots, Sparky would pull the bows off within thirty minutes of coming home.
But Sparky had compassion, often a result of feeling the pain of being different. One time when we were out walking, a mother walked by with her little girl. The child was about three years old. She did not talk and had a problem walking. She squealed and petted Ming and Myrna. They accepted her adoration as their due and trotted off on their leashes to explore.
The little girl wobbled on her unsteady legs and sat down abruptly on the hard sidewalk. She began to cry. Sparky walked to her and put one of his forelegs on her leg, looking her right in the eye. The mother's eyes filled with tears. "That's a special dog," she said, watching the pair's silent communication.
"He knows what it is to be different," I said. "He understands."
But he had the last laugh. When they were about three years old, the breeder contacted me and told me she had learned something from a more experienced shih tzu breeder. Apparently when a smooth faced shih tzu was born in imperial China, the dog was given to the Emperor as his special pet. It was seen as a most auspicious omen. Sparky was a smooth faced shih tzu. The breeder asked if he had been neutered, which he had. Apparently, a smooth faced shih tzu could fetch very high prices due to the history. A pop star had recently paid $4,000. for one. I got a bargain.
Sparky was my lap dog, my sweetest companion. Oh don't get me wrong, Ming and Myrna like a bit of lap time too, but they are ready to get down in a few minutes. Ming goes about his business of being the vigilant alpha. Myrna goes about her business of being full of herself and knowing she's the smartest dog in the place.
There's a beautiful poem about the Rainbow Bridge, where all the passed pets wait in fields of flowers until their owners come along to claim them. I like to think of Sparky sleeping peacefully there lying in the sun.
To those of you who think animals have no souls, I challenge you to look into the eyes of a dog. You'll see their soul shining forth. If you don't, you are not looking with your heart.
Sparky looked at me with those eyes today and I knew it was time. It was hard, but I cannot regret doing it. He's soaring free now, free of pain, unhampered by his failing body.
Thank you, little one, for nearly twelve years of love and companionship. I will miss you.
"Goodnight Sweet Prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."