I was 9 years old when my marmalade-striped cat Frisky was struck by a car. I do not remember whether it was my mom or my older sister who found her, still alive by the side of the road in front of our house. But whoever it was protected me from seeing her.
My mom left early that morning – Frisky stretched out in a towel-lined box on the car seat next to her – rushing to get first to the vet and then to work, for a schoolteacher cannot be late. My sister and I waited at the school bus stop, crying.
It was late in the morning when my mom called the school to say she was picking me up early. My teacher, Mrs. Dillard, tried to convince me that maybe she was just picking me up to treat me to lunch, but I knew better. I knew what had happened.
Sitting in our bright green 1977 VW Rabbit outside the elementary school, I learned of the pain that comes when a pet dies. My mom drove us the 20 minutes back to the veterinarian’s office, where they just happened to have a litter of kittens up for adoption. I picked out a wriggling, gray ball of fluff and holding her gently in my cupped hands proclaimed that her name was Fluffy. Apparently I was not one for original pet names.
Fluffy and I grew up together. She was more dog than cat in many ways. She stuck close to home, wanting to be a part of whatever was happening. She took her job of helping with the morning and evening chores quite seriously, running ahead, down the worn footpath from the house to the chicken coop in our back pasture.
She hung back warily, sitting on her favorite stump, watching while I would let the chickens out and feed them, more afraid of the chickens with their flapping wings and sharp beaks than they were of her. We would race back to the house, in a dead-on run, her a streak of gray through the grass, me flying pigtails of blond.
She would always win, gracefully leaping up onto the wooden gate, tiptoeing across to the fence post and waiting to receive a pat or two as I passed by.
The years went by, and both Fluffy and I aged, although she faster than I. I grew up and moved away to college. When I came home for the holidays, Fluffy would be there, slower and somehow grayer, preferring to laze in the sun by the side of the house than to challenge me to a race.
I was 27 and Fluffy was 18 when she died. My mom called me that afternoon while I was at work to break the news. I excused myself, went outside the building and cried.
Today I am, well, let’s just say older, and have a family of my own. Several weeks ago we adopted a rescue dog from CHEW, an amazing dog rescue organization in Gig Harbor. I wasn’t sure the timing was right; it had only been six months since the second of our two sweet old dogs had died, and our life was busy with two children and me going back to school. But then I looked into Haley’s soulful brown eyes and realized that the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Haley is a 2-year-old black Labrador mix who has had a turbulent life. What she needs more than anything is stability, family and love. We can provide her with all those things. What I did not consider until she had been home with us for a couple days is what she has to offer us.
Haley will be more than a loyal companion, a four-legged furry member of our family – she will be infused into the childhood memories of Cody and Carter. I would even suspect that, one day, the boys might not remember a time before Haley.
That is a pretty big responsibility for a slight, 35-pound lab, but I think Haley is up for the challenge.Nancy Magnusson is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. She lives with her husband and their two young sons just outside of Gig Harbor. They enjoy focusing on the simple things in life and taking the road less traveled. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.