She was the best dog in the whole world.
I know. Everyone probably thinks that about his or her dog. But mine really was. And if you ever spent any time with her, she might have convinced you.
I have always loved dogs. And I think they like me too – most of them, anyway. When I was growing up we had an Irish Setter, Kelly. She adored my father, knew my mother was the one who really took care of her, and seemed ok with my sister and me. We got her when I was four, and she died when I was 17, doing a nice job filling the house with dog the entire time we were growing up.
College and the years immediately after weren’t the time to have a dog. Too transient. Apartment living and frequent moving. But when I returned to my hometown to settle down, I was on the prowl for a dog. A dog, not a puppy. I had moved in with my mom, and started a new job, and training a puppy wasn’t in the master plan. Thus began Wendy’s Dog Quest. I read the classified ads. Visited the animal shelters. I wasn’t in a hurry. I wanted to find my dog, who I knew was out there.
One day in December 1996, I picked up Peddler’s Post.
“Collie – female, 2 years old, spayed. 260.555.1212”
That was it, that was all it said. But I swear, when I read that ad, I thought to myself “this is it, that’s my dog”. Two years old was perfect. I’ve always liked collies. Good size, nice & fluffy. Who wouldn’t want someone like Lassie around to save the day? I called the number and spoke to the man (Cleo) who was running the ad. He wasn’t around much to take care of her. He wanted to find a better situation for her.
My dad and boyfriend (now ex-husband) and I drove out to the town where he lived to check things out. The dog that greeted us as we got out of the car was nice enough, but where was the collie? This dog looked like maybe someone in her family tree lived next door to a collie at one point, but calling her a collie was a stretch. But apparently this was the dog we had come to meet: Sylvia. She lived outdoors; I wanted an inside dog. Hmm…wonder how that would fly. She was filthy. A little…not skittish, exactly. Uncertain, maybe. Wary. We gave her a dog biscuit and she took it, but she simply held it in her mouth and kept an eye on things. Was this my dog? “She has friendly eyes,” my dad said.
Cleo told me I could take her, and if it didn’t work out I could bring her back. He’d rather keep looking for the right home for her. Seemed pretty risk free. What the hell, let’s give it a try. I was about to leave town for the holidays, so I arranged to come get her when I returned on New Year’s Eve.
Cleo cried when I came to take her away. I felt horrible. But the truth was, he was saving her life. (We’ll get to that.) And he gave me a bag of kibble. Told me she didn’t really like it, but that what she did like was a little hamburger fried up with some garlic salt. Well sure! No wonder she wasn’t eating the kibble – the dog’s not stupid! (A statement repeated often over the next 11+ years.)
I took her home to Mom’s, but she was a mess. Beyond dirty. Incredibly thick coat of fur since she’d been living outside. And I had no idea what she would do when I took her in the house. So for the first couple of nights we confined her to the garage or the kitchen, until I could get her groomed, and determine if she was housebroken. Mom was a total sport. She never said a word about this previously outdoor dog moving into her house. And you know what? She didn’t have to worry about a thing. We used to joke that when Sylvia came into the house she checked it out and thought to herself, “Heat? Carpet? Hey, I’m doing whatever it takes to keep this gig going.” And in the blink of an eye, she became an indoor dog. The end.
Some friends came over a day or two later for a game day, and were among the first to fall under Sylvia’s charms. They didn’t object to the shocking pink lipstick in her fur (still hadn’t been to the groomer). And Miss Sylvia Dog was making herself right at home. We loaded our plates with pizza and returned to the living room. A few minutes later, Sylvia strutted in with a slice of pizza dangling from her teeth. You could almost hear her saying, “Hey guys! I’m having some too!” I don’t actually know how she got it since she wasn’t the tallest of dogs, but that was the first and last time she ever took food that wasn’t hers. She didn’t need to be told things twice; smart as a whip, she learned lessons the first time.
A trip to the groomer transformed her. My friend Joe B., who was one of the only people to see her in the “before” state, commented that he never knew a bath could make such a difference. She was beautiful. And soft as all get-out.
About that Cleo saving Sylvia’s life by finding a new home for her thing. I was devastated to discover from the vet that Sylvia had heartworm. This little creature had already stolen my heart and she was going to die. I was relieved to learn that it’s not fatal, but the treatment is difficult, similar to doggie chemo. Our first three months together were stressful, and Sylvia was terrified of the vet her entire life. But other than scary vet visits, what followed were 11+ years of love and happiness.
Syl-beast was crafty, wily, and stubborn. She was gun-shy, which translated to fear of any loud bang (like, say, a car door slamming), having had firecrackers thrown at her as a puppy (according to Cleo). (Two parentheticals in one sentence. Sometimes I amaze even myself.) She had adorably expressive eyebrows. She was an excellent judge of character. She was skittish about having her tail touched, because it had been broken. She didn’t stick her head out the car window, but liked to just rest the tip of her nose at the edge of the glass. Take in more smells, maybe? She was a finicky eater, and sometimes refused to eat until you sat on the floor and fed her by hand. She peed like a boy dog, lifting her leg to mark trees. She loved to play “chase”, and had awesome fake-out moves. She left dog fur tumbleweeds all over the wood floors. She loved her people, including her extended family of dog-sitting friends. She loved water, not in a jump in and swim way, but in a wade in up to her belly way. She would chomp her teeth in your face in the weirdest, non-aggressive, just making noise kind of way. She loved getting into teeny, tiny spaces, like under or behind a piece of furniture. She loved ice cream. She wouldn’t eat pretzels. During thunderstorms, she tried to sleep on my head.
And she was soft. The softest dog ever. Seriously. People told me that All The Time. A stranger asked one day if she could pet her, then immediately turned to her husband and said, “You have to pet this dog, I can’t believe how soft she is.”
Later in life Sylvia would come to work with me on a fairly regular basis, and she worked her magic there, too. The landlord turned a blind eye to my flagrant lease violation. Jerry the Mailman would get down on the floor to play and hug when she was in the office. Even Mark the FedEx Guy, who was afraid of dogs, would inquire about Sylvia’s welfare. Sales reps from vendors asked about her if she wasn’t present the day they came to call.
And though she lived a long, happy, mostly healthy life, the day came when we lost her: March 25, 2008. It was awful and one of the worst days ever, and I spent two years grieving heavily, but we’re not going to talk about that. Because today is a celebration of Syl-beast. I declared that for all time March 25 shall be Sylvia Day, when we remember the sweet, funny dog who wrapped all who met her around her paw. I was blown away by the number of kind, loving emails and cards I received from friends and family when she died. I reread them all this week, and selected two of my favorite comments to share.
“She was such a sweet dog and a great friend. I’ll miss her too.”
“We all miss her and know if there is a doggie heaven (where the streets are paved with steak and small animals run in slow motion), she’s there.”
I also found a thank you from Animal Care and Control. I had forgotten this, but apparently I donated all her toys that were in good condition. As fate would have it, I received a donation request in the mail last week from Animal Care & Control, the shelter where I found Ruby, my current loving companion and best dog in the world. It seemed appropriate to send them a gift in honor of the Sylvie Girl, so I did.
Happy Sylvia Day. Go hug your fur babies.