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OCTOBER 1998 | VOL. 2, NO. 5


THAT"S LIFE

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MICHAEL FERREIRA, of Marlboro, MA, is a contibuting writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.

 

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Suzy: Remembering man's best friend

MICHAEL FERREIRA

I remember the first time I laid eyes on her as if it were yesterday.

Thanksgiving day 1984. My entire family was packed into the living room. Stuffed to the point of bursting after completing a tremendous meal, most of the adults were quickly falling asleep -- the effect of too much turkey.

The gigantic meal didn't slow me down one bit, after all, I was only 12-years-old. The same was true for my two brothers. While running around the house, we first spotted her through the window: a tiny little figure nervously pacing back and forth about 100 yards from the front of our house.

The ensuing conversation, as I remember it, went something like this:

"What's that down by the mailbox?"

"I don't know; some kind of animal. It kind of looks like a fox."

"Lets go see."

"You can't go see, stupid. If it's a wild animal it could bite you and you'll get rabies and get about a million shots in your stomach."

Finally, all three of us shouted in unison: "Dad!"

My dad came over, took a look and decided. "That's not a fox, it's a dog."

No sooner was the word "dog" out of his mouth before the begging began. "Can we keep it, please? Please, Please, Please. We'll take care of it, we promise!"

No answer. No "Of course." Not even a "we'll see." But the best sign of all, he never said "NO!"

That meant there was a chance. An outside chance - but still a chance.

After a while of our watching and begging to go out and see the little dog up close, my dad and uncle finally went out to see the poor animal. It had finally stopped its pacing and laid down in front of the battered and beaten mailbox -- we used it for target practice while waiting for the bus every morning.

They were cautious because the dog, even though it was small, still looked enough like a fox to warrant care.

None was needed. My dad returned carrying a little puppy no more than six months old. He placed her on the kitchen floor as we all gathered around to sneak a peek. After she got a bit acclimated to the large group, we were allowed to pet her one at a time for just a few seconds. That's all it took. Stroking that soft fur and looking into those little brown eyes was enough to make us fall in love.

We called her Suzy. Actually, my mom named her. We didn't really like the name at first, but it grew on us and for the rest of my life the name will always be associated with that little dog.

Over the coming weeks we came to find out a great many things about Suzy.

We used to say she was part collie, part shepherd and part jackrabbit because she could jump about five feet straight in the air.

I taught her to jump up and take treats from my mouth. Once, after watching an installment of "stupid pet tricks" on "Late Night with David Letterman," I taught -- or, more aptly, allowed -- Suzy to drink milk out of my mouth. We even shared ice cream cones.

Everyday for the next six years she saw me off to school with a slightly sad, but mostly happy smile on her face. With her tongue half hanging out and her head cocked to the side in a perplexed way, she seemed to be saying, "I wanna go too. I don't understand...why can't I come? I like school!" She was always there to meet me as I stepped off the bus, jumping, panting and just itching for some attention. Those were her happiest moments, I think, when someone she loved arrived home after being away, even after only a few hours.

She followed us around the neighborhood, always acting the role of tag-a-long little sister. We didn't mind. She was good company, especially when walking home through the woods late at night where a child's over active imagination makes non-existent creatures appear everywhere.

Suzy had her eccentricities too. If you scratch most dogs in just the right place on their bellies, their leg starts going a mile-a-minute as they try to scratch along. This happened with Suzy as well, but she also had a secondary habit. If you scratched just the right place on her backside, she licked the air uncontrollably and didn't stopping until you did.

Good at keeping watch, she always warned us of company as soon as they stepped into the yard. In all the years we had Suzy, she never snapped at anyone. She was a mild mannered dog, almost submissive in her mannerisms.

However, that demeanor did not come at a cheap price for Suzy. Her previous owner, whomever he was, was not a nice man. For a long time when ever you went to pet Suzy's head and moved towards her with an open hand, she wet the floor. At the sight of a newspaper she wet the floor and ran for cover. When ever she got into a car she vomited, more from fear that from car sickness. Obviously she had been abused, and quite badly.

The vet said Suzy was about six months old when we found her and eventually, over time, she came to lose those nervous habits. She finally came to realize that she was loved and had nothing to fear from her new found family. But old memories die hard and even five years after her acceptance into our home, she still batted her eyes in anticipation of a coming blow as you went to pet her head. Because love and time will heal all wounds, she out grew this as well.

Suzy received from us the greatest gift of all: a second life filled with unconditional love. She returned it ten fold, never asking for more than that and never giving any less. Suzy died last month of a stomach tumor. It hit her suddenly and she died before my parents could get her to the vet. I cried like a baby when I found out she had died.

It was hard to let go, to bury my friend of fourteen years.

All I wanted was to pet her one more time. To give her a big hug and feel her lick my face over and over. And never let go. I'm saddened more than I thought possible by this loss. Suzy was one in a million.

Simply put, I miss my dog.

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