In my novel Billy’s Bones, I based Tom’s dog, Shadow, on my own dog, Kumar. In Violated, Derek’s quiet, aging dog was also based upon one of my dogs — Lady. This is her story.
When I graduated from college, I eventually found myself living by myself out in a cabin in the woods of Nelson, NH. I had a job and a car, but not much of a social life. It was damned lonely.
So I decided to get a dog. I went to the local shelter and played with several of the dogs there over the span of a few weeks, but I couldn’t find the one I was looking for. I needed an older dog, medium-sized, who wasn’t too hyper, thanks to the fact that my landlady’s mother was 80 and afraid of big dogs.
Then one day I walked into the shelter and there was a new dog out front. They hadn’t even finished her paperwork yet. But she had the biggest, most soulful eyes I’d ever seen, and I fell in love with her immediately.
Lady was at least six when I got her, though we suspected the owner lied and she might be older. She’d been left out in a dog pen with other dogs her entire life, so I had to house train her. Fortunately, she caught on quickly. She also had this weird habit of taking her dog kibble out of the bowl and trying to press it into the wooden floor, scraping all around it with her nose as if she were burying it and hiding it from anyone who might try to steal it from her.
She was very docile and quiet. I wasn’t even sure she knew how to bark, until one morning the landlady opened the door of my cabin and walked in without asking permission. Lady was sleeping on my bed with me, and she immediately leapt to her feet, standing over me and barking ferociously to defend me. (Good girl!)
It’s hard to describe how much I adored her, this little dog I could scoop up in my arms and cuddle like a baby. She was a bit big for that, but she put up with it.
When I moved in with a boyfriend for a while, things went downhill for her. He didn’t like dogs. While he wasn’t abusive to her, he largely ignored her, and when she still had the occasional accident inside, he yelled at her — which usually made her crouch down and pee more. She was no longer allowed on the bed, so I had to buy her a dog bed.
Ultimately, that human relationship would break up, and I’d realize I should never have given in as much as I had. I should never have let my girl be yelled at. I should have fought to keep her on the bed, at my side where she wanted to be. She was my best girl, and she stuck with me through some of the hardest times of my life.
But one night, when my ex and I were having yet another of the arguments that marked the end of our relationship, there was a storm going on outside. When I came out of the bedroom, I asked one of the house guests we had where Lady was. She was terrified of storms. And he told me she’d been running around looking like she had to pee, so he’d let her out.
She hadn’t needed to pee. She’d been panic-stricken. Out in the storm, she panicked and bolted and disappeared into the night.
After a week of searching the neighborhood, calling her name, and putting up “Lost Dog” signs, I woke one night in the wee hours of the morning with a sense that I needed to go to the front door. I went into the kitchen and opened the door to find Lady sitting on the porch. I was ecstatic that she’d found her way back to me. The next day, I emailed everybody I knew to let them know.
But I was celebrating too soon.
A couple of days later, she started coughing. While she’d been wandering around out in the cold, rainy September nights, she’d caught pneumonia. I took her to the vet — who I’m convinced to this day was incompetent, for a number of reasons — and eventually she ended up on oxygen.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, while everyone else watched the bombing of the World Trade Center in horror, I was barely aware of it. Because Lady was dying. I saw her on my lunch break from work, and she looked awful. Her lips were blue, and she was gasping for breath. I held it together as best I could and went out to get something to eat. While I was out, the vet called and told me she’d died. And I hadn’t been there.
I fell apart. I couldn’t go back to work. I was a wreck for weeks — months. To this day, I still can’t think of that day without crying. I’m crying now.
It was ten years before I could bring myself to get another dog. Lady had been irreplaceable. She was my girl.
The best girl in the world.