Tuesday would have been 18th birthday of my First True Canine Love. (There has not yet been a second, for the record, though I'm still dreaming of a shepherdish mutt in my future...) She came into my life the spring of my sixth grade year, not an otherwise happy time. My family was moving (houses, not towns) and my best friend (and first proper crush, ahem) had just moved out of state and... well, I was a total mess, socially, as all this girl/puberty stuff started catching up with me. Anyway, along came this awesome puppy, who became mostly my responsibility. She had stitches on her chin from an unfortunate encounter with another dog early in life (she was scrappy like that) and I would put a cream on it each evening and sing her to sleep. In the morning I woke up early and threw a ball for her as long as I could before school. She was instantly the love of my life.
She was a smart, funny dog. A wicked escape artist who could dig under anything, who would wriggle her way through any hole, and who would wander out through any open door. She swam like a champion and we dog-paddled side-by-side every summer of my adolescence. Cocky like me, she would actually chase after flying birds, and one winter almost got herself killed that way, launching herself into a fast-moving little ocean channel in pursuit of a seagull. She went under, as I tore after her, but before I got there she'd regained some footing and pulled herself out. She was tough as nails, in her way.
We walked hundreds of miles together during my high school years, along the edge of the roads of the little town where I grew up. She was never really well-trained--I think she was too smart and willful for that--but we understood each other. I remember the sense of calm companionship we had, three or four miles into a properly long walk, both of us having worked out the restlessness and settled into an even stride. Those walks are a series of happy memories from an otherwise very difficult time.
She slept in my bed or next to it just about every night. FG was not always happy about this, nor about her tendency to lick my face and attempt licking FG's face as well. It never bothered me, though.
I missed her like crazy when I went to college--I didn't live at home again, since I moved in with FG immediately after my freshman year, and so I didn't live with my dog again, either. I called in sick when she was dying, got on the first train I could out of New York and went to be with her. I spent her last night sleeping next to her on the floor, listening to her struggle to get enough air into her lungs, and I held her as she died the next day, euthanized by one of the vets I'd worked for in high school.
I still miss her. She was sassy and awesome and one of the best friends I've ever had. She had this look of confidence that I used to joke was her way of saying, "I'm the best damn dog YOU'LL ever have." And you know, I think she was right.
Best Damn Dog (1991-2004) (with half-sister in the background)