Milk-chocolate eyes stared into mine, piercing me to my very soul. Slowly taking pieces of my heart. My search was over.
I had found the one.
I reached out my hands and lifted up the dachshund puppy from the play kennel. His name tag on his collar stated that he did not have a name. Perfect. I already knew the only name that would suit my new canine love.
“Hey, little guy,” I said softly. “How would you like to come home with me today, huh?” I smiled as he wriggled in my arms, panting up at me with what looked like a huge, goofy grin. I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked over to my dad.
“Daddy!” I exclaimed. “This one!”
I was nine years old and very grown up (I thought!). My golden locks were starting to darken, and the curls at the ends were beginning to straighten. The ever-dirty shorts and t-shirts were being put away, and the sundresses and “dressy shoes” were becoming more important. As my childhood was coming to the beginning of the end, my parents wanted me to stay young for as long as possible. Hence the puppy.
Dad signed all the paperwork, made a donation to the adoption fundraiser, and we headed home. But not before I went to the machine and had a tag engraved for my new best friend, Pippin. Yes, Pippin. As in Lord of the Rings. I was obsessed at the time, and thought that a pup with short legs should have a hobbit name. All the way home, I talked and talked to Pip, I pet his silky fur, and rubbed his belly. Pippin was my first love.
For the next six years, Pippin and I were inseparable. I would walk him twice every day, bathe him once a week, and we would play every night when I came home from school. I hardly ever went anywhere that I couldn’t bring Pippin. The dog park became my favorite place when I was old enough to take him by myself. We would run around until we were both tuckered out, then he would lap up the water I brought for him while I sipped on the tangy lemonade that my mom sent with me. We would have picnics in the park and I even had my thirteenth birthday party there, so Pip could celebrate with me. He really was my best friend.
Things began to change when I was sixteen. One day, at the dog park, we were playing frisbee fetch when this huge husky came barreling into me, knocking me to the ground. Pippin, of course, ran over and began barking like a mad man at the offending pooch.
“I am so sorry!” a young guy with dark hair and piercing blue eyes ran up and helped me to stand. “She just got really excited when she saw you throw that frisbee. I guess she thought she could play.” I called off my “vicious” guard dog. The guy looked really embarrassed as he leashed her back up, so I made sure to tell him it wasn’t a big deal.
“This happens all the time here.” I laughed a little to put him at ease. He seemed to relax a bit so I said, “I’m Katy, by the way.”
“I’m Allen. I really am sorry. Can I make it up to you? Buy you a coffee? I know there’s that place right down the street.” I agreed and off we went. Allen’s husky, Marge (I laughed too) was the biggest sweetheart, and she and Pippin were fast friends. We ordered our coffee and sat outside, talking and laughing, sharing stories about our dogs and talking about school. It turned out, we’d both be going to the same high school. He was a new student this year.
Allen and I continued to hang out the rest of that summer, and were always together, right up until graduation. We began dating our first year of college, and were set to get married as soon as we graduated. Pippin and Marge were never apart, and the four of us loved to curl up and watch cheesy dog movies together. Pippin and I still took our walks and had our one-on-one playtime. I loved that little weenie with my whole heart.
The winter before I turned twenty-two, my world began crashing down around me. Allen had a student position available for the next six months… in London. He was an architect major and that was the opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn’t let him turn it down. It was only six months, he’d be back for graduation, then we’d be married right after. He packed his things from his dorm, arranged for passage for Marge, who he was taking with him, and we spent as much time together as possible before he left.
The day after he left, I had all day to wallow in self-pity. Pippin and I were snuggled on the couch, I pet his dark fur that was now showing showing signs of his age. He was more than content to spend the rest of the week napping on my lap and giving me comfort. Pip was the only thing keeping me going while Allen was away.
I was sitting on the couch when it happened. I was holding Pip, who was sleeping as usual. His breathing became heavy and labored. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t want to accept it. I pet him and talked to him, trying to get him to open his eyes. He took in a strangled breath and looked up at me. His sad eyes reflected the years we had spent together. I remembered every single moment we had spent together. From that very first day in the pet store. I smoothed back his graying fur on his back and kissed his soft head.
“It’s okay, buddy. You’re okay.” I cooed to him. He tried to snuggle closer to me as he gasped for air. He took one last breath, and was gone. I cried soft tears at first. Then I couldn’t hold back. I wept like a baby over my best friend for what seemed like hours. Allen called, and we talked for a while. I found a place for Pip’s body to stay until I could bury him the next day.
The dog park that we loved had a special area for deceased pets, and the man in charge of the park came with me to grieve and to bury my little guy. Mom and Dad came to the burial, and I stayed with them for a week before going back to my apartment. Allen called every spare minute he had that lined up with the times here and there. I was like a zombie waking around for a month. I had lost my best friend, my first love. I really thought I would never recover. Things seemed to become routine and I began enjoying some things again. I kept going until Allen came home. We graduated, we got married. I swore I was never getting another dog for myself. Marge was ours, and any future dog would be a family dog.
Then one day, as I was waking home from work, I saw him. Big, glassy eyes stared into mine, taking pieces of my heart that I thought were buried. A little Yorkie puppy in the window of the pet shop. The little bell on the door tinkled as I walked in and knelt next to the play kennel. I lifted the pup and brought him close to my chest.
“Hey, little guy,” I said softly. “How would you like to come home with me today?”