When I was driving home from work tonight, that Elton John song I've heard a million times came on, the one that goes, "I hope you don't mind/that I've put down in words/how wonderful life is while you're in the world." For the first time in 40 years of listening to that song, I cried a little.
Sue me. I'm having my dog put to sleep the day after tomorrow.
Tallulah's not any sort of fancy breed. She's a medium-size yellow mutt that I found on a busy two-lane road in rural North Carolina eight years ago. I was on my way to a job interview in Raleigh when I saw her sitting the way she always does, with her front feet turned inward, calmly watching the cars go by.
"Was that a …? Oh, no," I said, turning my car around. She was three months old, and probably belonged to someone in one of the trailers off in the distance. But none of those trailers had a fenced in yard, and she was left to wander to the road. Plus, she was so skinny. I could feel her little bones while I held her to my interview outfit, her puppy tail slapping against my "I'm a professional" blouse. She was the size of a child's portion of meatloaf.
I saw the sun shine through her gold eyelashes, and there it was, the second time I'd ever fallen in love at first sight. I canceled the interview and drove her home. I had never owned a dog before or, for that matter, stolen one.
In the eight years I've had Tallulah, we've moved three times, lived with two men, one other dog and nine cats. These last eight years have been full of changes, running the gamut from euphoria to the depths of misery. Through my divorce, job loss and the beginning and ending of another relationship, Tallulah has sat next to me stoically, her feet turned inward.
She's never been a terribly demonstrative or excitable creature. She's never once licked my face like dogs do in commercials. Her passions are limited. If she were in Playboy magazine, her turn-ons would be running and food.
You get her in a dog park and she whips around like the wind. You get out some food—any food—and she'll stare a hole through your soul, never blinking, eyes intent until she unleashes her final weapon: the paw of insistence. Her paw gets heavier and heavier on your leg until you finally relent and share.
Other than that, she pretty much always kept it cool. New people, new cats, new houses: She was one of those Easter Island statues about it all.
That's why it upset me when she started shaking. I'd moved in with my boyfriend, whom I loved to distraction. We loved hard and we fought harder. I've never had fights like that with anyone, and it was in the middle of one that I saw Tallulah shaking. Mortified, I rushed to her, and held her until she stopped.
After that, she became the emotional police. You know how some dogs can sense when someone's gonna have a seizure? Tallulah sensed when the mood changed between me and my boyfriend. She'd come into the room, groan, and place the paw of insistence on one of us. That usually made us laugh, but if a fight erupted, she'd shake again.
We started letting her out when we fought, so she'd be less traumatized. But one night, I was storming to my car after an argument and she jumped in the front seat with me, like, "Let's get the hell out of here." So we left—together.
It took me a few months to realize that she knew what I didn't: that being in a volatile relationship was unacceptable. It wasn't fair to me, or to the boyfriend, and it certainly wasn't fair to Tallulah. That dog saved me from staying in something that was bad for me, something I'd have stayed in a lot longer because I was ridiculously in love.
It was right after we moved out that she got really sick. She started urinating in the house, and one night this aloof dog climbed on top of me and made me hold her all night while she slept.
Tallulah has bladder cancer, and it's not survivable. Sometimes I blame myself: Did I somehow change her cells with the stress of my relationship?
People kept telling me that when it's time to let her go, she'll tell me. But I don't want her to have to tell me. I don't want it to get so bad that she stops eating or walking or enjoying life.
So the day after tomorrow, she's having liver for breakfast, a long run at the dog park if she's able, a walk with my friends in the afternoon, and at 4 o'clock, the vet's coming over and Tallulah will be put to sleep on my bed. Or the forbidden couch. She can go wherever the hell she wants.
I hope I'm doing right by her, the way she's done by me. When it's over, I plan to scatter some of her ashes on our well-worn walking route, and I want to take a little to the place I found her eight years ago, her puppy feet turned in.
I'll always be glad I met you, Tallulah. Thank you for saving me. And I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world.