Most of the day and night, I'm okay. I am a really busy person, so my mind doesn't get caught up in tangles of thought when I need to get stuff done. But I keep having these bursts of remembrance and it is just. so. hard.
People without pets just don't get it. Your dog dies and you move on. You just get another dog. It's not a person dying, after all.
But this was my baby.
This was the puppy who, almost 16 years ago, I picked out from the Newark Shelter. The weekend after we closed on our house, I NEEDED A DOG. We went to a few places to look at rescues and finally ended up in Newark. Not a pleasant place, and definitely a kill-shelter. When we got there, they were bringing in a passel of pit bulls, one pregnant, and the woman at the desk gave the people holding the leashes the signal - hand across the throat. Put them down.
So when we walked among the cages, with the roar of cooped-up dogs surrounding us, I was looking for someone to save. My first love at the shelter was a 6-week-old German Shepherd. It was tiny and adorable and sick. But it couldn't be adopted for a few more weeks and I couldn't wait. So we kept looking.
We came upon a cage filled with 4 dogs. Three of them were big, and they were aggressively trying to get our attention. The fourth was under the mass of the other dogs, trying to check us out but getting nipped and pushed back at every turn. I made eye contact with the little guy, and that was that. He was mine. We had him taken out of the cage and he was shy and sweet and nervous. He was also full of scars from who-knows-what and he had gum stuck in his matted fur. He was my boy.
The tag on the cage said that he was a "Black Lab Mix" - which, I didn't realize, was code for a pit bull mutt. I just saw his sweet face and kind demeanor and I had to take him home.
My husband was not so sure. He did not grow up with a dog and thought we should get settled in the house for more than 2 days before bringing a dog home. I would hear nothing of it. We took him home that day, after a stop at Petco to have him groomed (he stank) and at my parents's house to show him off. My mom freaked out that I was bringing a pit bull into my house (and, despite her being totally in love with him, she still, to the end, had a hard time telling people he was a pittie).
We name him Gypsy, as we will not conform to your gendered name expectations. Boys are gypsies too, was my answer when people questioned his moniker. He was manly enough to deal with a girly name anyway, haters.
Day one, day two, day three...all is well. He is not quite as manly as we had expected. He is sweet and all that, but he does not bark. He chirps. Like a bird. Our friends mock us for having the one and only chirping pit bull in the world. I street-fight them to defend Gypsy's honor.
Suddenly, he starts getting mean. I think he got comfortable. He realized he now has a nice house and all the food and treats and toys he can handle. He is not living on the rough and tumble Newark streets any longer. He comes out of his shell, and he is kind of a dick.
But he is only mean to me. Me, the one who saved him from sure death. Me, the one who catered to his every whim. Me, the one who took him running in the park. This dog was trying to eat my face. I didn't know what to do. My mom was in a panic - "you need to get rid of him! He is going to murder you in your sleep!" No. He is my baby and I said I was going to save him and that's exactly what I am going to do, whether I have a face left or not.
I got scared though. This was one strong dog. He was hard to fight off. I counted the minutes till my husband got home so he could control this dogmonster. Finally, I got a trainer, who taught me in 3.5 minutes that it was all my fault and that this was not an evil dog; I was just a bad human.
Dogs are pack animals, and Gypsy thought I was beneath him in the pack. I was basically too nice to him. When he wanted to sit on the couch, I'd move so he could have my spot. When he wanted a treat, I gave him 10. Once I stopped being a dog's doormat, my sweet puppy was back and he never left me after that.
Oh, and she also tried to teach him to walk on the leash, proclaiming it to be a simple thing. He never did learn that trick - he was always just so happy to be outside going for a walk that he didn't care if he walked in circles. He just wanted to be out there.
For the next 15-and-some-odd years, he was my loyal companion. He was waiting at the window when I pulled up to the house. He sat outside the bathroom door and waited for me every time I peed. He curled up on the couch next to me and chilled. Now don't get me wrong. This was not a lovey-dovey kind of dog. He didn't cuddle. But he was a sweetheart and he loved us.
When True Jersey Kid was born, we were nervous about how he would be with her. I mean, he was a pit bull and they eat babies, right? My mom, in particular, was sure we were going to have to get rid of Gypsy because he was going to murder the baby's face. Well, TJK was born, we brought her home, Gypsy sniffed her and then went and laid down. Did not care about this alien in his house. And the truth was: When people told me that my dog might not get along with my baby, my answer was always that the baby would have to be the one to go because I knew and loved my puppy and this baby was a stranger. Luckily, that decision never had to be made.
Gypsy loved to go the park and was horrendous on the leash. He would pull me around the park like I was a rag doll, and he would have that pit bull smile on while he did it. This terrified people and when they saw us coming, they would hide their little chi-chi dogs while he dragged me past them. He wouldn't have hurt a fly though. He truly just wanted to play with everyone - dog, cat, bird, human, whatever - and was very exuberant about it. His exuberance came off as aggression, which was really okay with me because no one messed with me when I was with him. His playful craziness came off as homicidal, and that kept me safe. So while he wasn't a protective dog, per se, he did protect me in his own way.
I was walking Gypsy around the neighborhood when he was maybe 8 months old, just taking a stroll around my development. This man is sitting in his driveway on a lawn chair (do people do that everywhere or just the Italians in Jersey?) and he saw me coming and basically freaked out. Ran at me. Got on the ground. Had my dog all up on him and did not care. Then finally talked to me: Can you wait here a minute? I have to get my wife, she will love this dog so much. He looks like our dog who just passed away.
So this guy runs in the house and he and his wife bolt back out. She ignores me and rolls around on the sidewalk with Gyspy, who is totally cool with it. They tell me all about their dog, with tears in their eyes, and we kind of become besties. Then, a few weeks later, they come to a BBQ at my house. The guy pulls me aside and offers me $1000 for my dog. I look at him like he's insane, for several reasons:
- I paid $100 for this dog and got $50 back when I had him fixed. So this is a $50 street dog.
- You can go to the shelter on any given day and get a pit bull for $100 with a $50 rebate for fixing; why do you want to pay $1000 for mine?
- Um, you freak, this is my baby and you know that and do you think for one minute I would sell him to you for any amount?
I am very protective of my dog, and I will not have him disparaged in any way.
So we start hanging out with Diddy, who is a co-worker of my husband's and also Patsy Darling's boyfriend. He is annoying when he drinks and we fight all the time (not any more, but we did back then).
I'm pouring tequila shots for us all and as we are doing the shots, of course Gypsy is right underfoot. Some tequila gets spilled on him. Diddy starts yelling that my dog is 50 Cent. He is all shot up.
I get furious because in my drunken state, I am assuming that because my dog is black and is from Newark, Diddy is calling him a thug. This becomes an ongoing joke, and Gypsy comes upon another of his nicknames: 50 Cent.
We go to CT every year for Thanksgiving and 4th of July. In 2004, TJK was going up to CT for her first Thanksgiving. She was 11 months old. We leave Gypsy home, with a friend of ours staying at the house to watch him.
We get home on Sunday and of course, Gypsy bounds for the door when we get there and greets us as his long lost family (which we are). As soon as she sees him, TJK says her very first word: Gypsy. She pronounces it "Gypy" which becomes another of his nicknames.
My kid did not say Mama or Dada or No for her first word. She called her dog. For some strange reason, this was always a source of pride for me.
There are a thousand stories I could tell about Gypsy Lou, and I may come back at times to add them when they come to mind.
This is a dog who was so loved. So loved that for the past 2+ years, he has been peeing in the house due to kidney disease, and we just cleaned up after him every day, sometimes multiple times a day. So loved that again due to kidney disease, he got up 2-3 times a night for the past several years and we had to get up with him and let him out (okay, so Hubby did most of that). So loved that even though he had been sick for a couple of years and wasn't himself and walked sideways and had several strokes...I couldn't let him go. I still saw a spark in him, that spark of a puppy who still wants to run and greet you even though his legs won't take him any more.
I can't talk yet about the whole process of saying good bye. I'm going to leave this here and just say that every word has been typed with tears in my eyes.
Miss and love you, LouLou.