I knew the day would eventually come when I’d have to say goodbye to you.
But when I brought you home from the pound on that fateful day in July 2005, saying goodbye was the farthest thing from my mind. We were just getting to know each other then, and truth be told: I was a little bit afraid of you. You were wild by nature. Doggie gates couldn’t keep you contained… not by a long shot. The first time I left you home alone without the crate, I put you in the kitchen. The gate was twice your height, but you somehow met me at the front door upon my return, with the gate still in tact and upright. So, the next time I left, I hid and watched you through the window. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you scale the gate like a skilled 4-legged rock climber. You catapulted yourself onto the other side and proudly pranced around the living room. That’s when I learned how unstoppable you were.
Soon after you came home with me, I held your little furry body in front of me and asked you if you liked me. You bit me that day, with your sharp puppy teeth and I worried that you weren’t my biggest fan.
And when all the other dogs learned commands like “Sit!” “Stay!” and “Come!” in Puppy Kindergarten, you learned how not to bite and growl. Some said you were too crazy and that puppies shouldn’t act like you. But I’d already fallen in love with you, even if you hadn’t fallen in love with me yet too.
So, we worked together to break those pre-disposed aggressive tendencies. I fed you out of my hands for almost six months to counter potential food aggression. I joked that you were my little terror, and I’ll never forget dragging you around the apartment as you latched onto my ankle like a maniac most mornings while I got ready for work. Giving up on you wasn’t an option, and I had faith that you’d eventually evolve into the sweet girl I always knew you could be.
The three-year-old girl next door fell in love with you too only she couldn’t say your name quite right. She called you ‘Nilla like Vanilla, which led to ‘Nilla Bean and ultimately your forever-nickname, Nala Bean.
As time went on, you grew to be so strong. You became my protector, and you made me feel safe, especially as a single female living alone. I knew you had my back and I actually liked the fact that some people were afraid of you when we walked down the street together.
You showed me all the funny and cool tricks that were unique to you: You loved edamame and ate it like a human… popping the beans out and leaving a pile of pods. In your prime, your jaw was so strong that I could lift you off the ground when you latched onto a toy and you just wiggled in the air, refusing to let go. When you discovered how cool flashlights were, I could keep you busy for hours as you chased the beam of light. Balloons were a favorite also, and you loved to bounce them up in the air with your nose. I think your record was 20-something bounces in a row. Chasing and popping bubbles was another super fun pastime of yours.
You gave me more than a couple heart attacks when you sprinted from the house without a leash on (you were so freaking fast!), and I’ll never forget the time you came home in a cop car after one of those getaways. You crossed 54th Avenue, a really busy street here in St. Pete and I was so worried about you.
When a police officer drove by and saw me running through the neighborhood in heels, with makeup streaming down my face from tears, he initially thought I was a crazy lady. He pulled over presumably to see if I was insane, and that’s when I told him how you bolted from the house and I couldn’t find you. Then, we saw you dash through a nearby yard and the officer took off after you. A second police officer just happened to to show up and help. The three of us chased you for over an hour, all the while: you had the time of your life. You bounced, bobbed and weaved through yards and around a lake, enjoying every moment of the game. Eventually, you got tired and hopped into the backseat of the police car, and that’s how we got you home.
When I hit rock bottom with my depression, you were by my side. I hid my mental illness from everyone around me, but you saw it all, and you were there for me in a way that only you could be. Your love was exactly what I needed when I felt like the world around me was crumbling. You looked at me with those sweet brown eyes and rested your little head on my lap when I cried. You always knew how to take care of me, even when I didn’t know how to take care of myself.
You were five years old when Jim entered our lives, but you didn’t let him into your heart right away. He had to earn your trust, just like I did, and I’ll always remember the day I walked into the kitchen to witness the first belly rub you let him give you. He was so excited to have finally bonded with you, and from that day forward, you became “Daddy’s Girl.” I know you know that he loved you just as much as I did. I’ll be forever grateful for the adventures that we all shared.
When we moved into the new place, we discovered beautiful routes to take on our walks and cool places to sit and rest. You made friends in the neighborhood, like the same-age Golden Retriever who always greeted us at the fence with her toy. She’d shake the toy like crazy whenever we walked by, and you pounced in the yard, running back and forth, playing and following her movements. I know the two of you looked forward to seeing each other every day. But after your knee surgery, our walks got shorter and we stopped going by that house.
I wandered the neighborhood this morning and your friend was still there. She’s got a white face now, just like you did, and she doesn’t move nearly as fast. But she must have remembered us… because she sprinted to get her toy and met me at the fence, tail wagging, just like the good ‘ole days.
As you got older, you took up new habits… like sunbathing. When the weather was nice, you loved nothing more than to lay in the sun and roll around in the cool grass. You usually came in the house covered in dirt. Then, we’d give you a bath and you’d go crazy afterwards – running around the house, nose diving into rugs & blankets, in an effort to dry yourself off.
Your quirky, silly personality never ceased to amaze me… like how you crossed your paws, so very lady-like or how you laid sometimes, with your little legs sprawled out like a frog.
You had an uncanny way of ALWAYS photo bombing my product shoots when I took pictures for my ETSY shop. I couldn’t be mad about it though. You sat right inside my hoops and posed like a pro.
When your beautiful face started to turn gray, I began to accept the fact that you wouldn’t be with me forever. Still, I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it. I called you my little badass because you were so resilient, even as an old lady, and I joked that you defied the laws of nature.
And while you still sprinted at the end of our walks because you knew I’d praise you for it, I could tell you were slowing down. Of course, I understood this day would eventually come, but l also couldn’t bear the thought of losing you… my best friend.
But you let me know when it was time, and I had no choice but to let you go.
The carton of leftover strawberries we shared just a few short nights ago still sits in the fridge. And as I type this, my vulnerable heart ping pongs back and forth between feelings of heartbreak and gratitude. Heartbreak because you’re gone and gratitude because I had you in the first place. You would have been 14 on May 5, and even though you’re no longer here in physical form, you will live on in my heart forever. I feel so privileged that I got to be your dog mom. I love you Nala Bean.