My first winter in Chicago, I was homesick and a struggling (I can admit that now) grad student. My Dad and the guy I was smitten for argued that I didn’t need a dog. I was busy, broke and surely a new city would provide for some sort of social life. It didn’t, and while I was broke as a joke, I would rather spend $12 on a bag of kibble than on an overpriced martini downtown. To me, the math was simple: A dog wasn’t frugal, but it was something my heart needed. Specifically, a pug.
I put in an application to be a foster parent with the Northern Illinois Pug Rescue and waited. A few rescues fell through, either they were placed with another family or owners changed their minds. I waited.
Then, on a snowy day in February, Ralph entered my life. I remember seeing him in the snow as the NIPRA folks brought him to me to foster from the shelter. Turns out, his previous family didn’t want him anymore, they had a baby. Literally, that was all that was on his papers- no medical history, no vaccinations, just “Owners had baby.” NIPRA and I were going to get him on track from scratch. They said he was 5, the vet estimated he was 8. Giving up a sick, 8 year old dog is sometimes a losing venture for a pug in a shelter.
Getting a pug is not a frugal venture. The breed is notorious for health problems and Ralph had everything you could imagine- a skin infection, ear infections, dry eyes and a rotten tooth. When I got him vaccinated for rabies, he literally collapsed in my arms. Since we had no medical records, we didn’t know he was allergic to the vaccine, luckily we revived him.
Since then, I graduated with my master’s degree. I left Chicago. I came back for love. We got Ralph a brother. Moving across the country twice, Ralph handled it like a champ. Having a brother, he’s still undecided on that one.
He’s always been an inquisitive, clingy little dog. He always wanted to be right where I was, whether it was an orange grove in California or trailing me around the house. I will never forget the times I’d go outside to get the mail, and since the stairs were hard for him, he’d wait there, barking if I took too long.
Now Ralph has been diagnosed with cancer. He has two large, and rapidly growing tumors on his lungs (perhaps elsewhere as well since it has metastasized, he’s developed a sizable secondary tumor before we even knew what was wrong) and it seems his time is short. I’ve had him for three years now, and it’s been an expensive few years, but my time with him has been priceless.
We’re working with the vet to keep Ralph as comfortable as possible for as long as we can. The two cancerous tumors (that we know of) are both aggressive, large and growing on his already troublesome lungs. It’s going to be a hard few weeks, but I try to comfort myself in knowing that he was given a second-chance home, a forever home with me after someone left him at a shelter. Who knows how different this story could have been otherwise.
When I adopted Ralph, I will always remember what my former-beau said about me adopting an older dog, “I worry about how you’ll be when he dies.”
In my time with Ralph, I’ve learned two things: First, when it comes to romance- a guy that’s not right for you will act like a bandaid for your pain, hiding you from your hurt, covering it up so neither will face the shame of an exposed wound. A guy that’s truly right for you insists on seeing your wounds, insisting on sharing the source of your pain, exposing it to light and air, helping it heal.
People aren’t always “right” or “wrong” (or bad people for that matter) they’re just wrong for you. I spent a lot of time trying to make that man right for me, or maybe making myself right for him and I failed miserably at it for years. I can now see that how we viewed this little pug was a barometer for larger issues we had together, I’m thankful for that lesson looking back. Years later, I found the right guy, and we can’t hide the pain or cover it up. My fiancé doesn’t worry about “how I’ll be,” instead, he grieves with me. We are wounded together and we heal, together.
Secondly, heartbreak is worth it when you know you’re going to lose something you loved. You can’t feel loss without first having love. Love and loss are two sides of the same coin. It’s worth it. You cannot grieve without first experiencing joy, death without having life, loss without love.
I needed Ralph in my life as much as he needed me. When school was tough, he reminded me “it’s time for a walk,” to get some fresh air when class and starting a social media consulting business left me feeling chained to the desk. When he got sick, I learned to manage my money better to help cover his medical costs.
Best of all, beyond providing snuggly company, he was also a great vetting tool for potential boyfriends. If a man didn’t like pugs or especially if they didn’t gracefully let me leave a date at 9pm to go check on him and walk him and insisted I go to their place or whatever self-serving rubbish they were pursuing for the evening, then they weren’t the man I was looking for. (Yes, I also conveniently used Ralph as an excuse to duck out of bad blind dates or sidestep men that were attempting to move too fast..thanks pug!)
I can frequently recall the times where I would look down at the little squished face with a greying muzzle, snoring on a pillow, and wonder, didn’t he rescue me too?
You know, I was told it was a risk to take on an 8 year old, problematic, wheezy, rescue pug and it’s going to hurt like hell to miss him, but it was worth it.
Sometimes, you think you’re rescuing a dog, and it turns out, they’ve rescued you. He has been worth every penny, and yes, every freezing cold potty break in the middle of the night. No regrets.
I will though, miss that little face waiting for me at the top of the stairs.