Some eight years ago I first met the small black gentle and quirky creature who would eventually become one of the greatest loves of my life.
Earlier that week I had spoken on the phone with a delightful woman named Isabella who rescued dogs and kept them all in her midtown home, including some twenty-five on the day I first visited. A mutual friend had referred me to her after I had mentioned that I was in the market for a rescue.
Entering Isabella’s house was a shock to the system. I stepped through the front door and was immediately bum-rushed by an enormous pack of dogs of all sizes and breeds. It had been raining all day and their flopping, excited paws bathed me in mud. Numerous tongues soaked my face and head. A huge Rottweiler slammed head-first into my crotch.
After a few minutes of this overwhelming greeting, and Isabella’s accompanying laughter, she mercifully tossed assorted bones and chew toys into other rooms, and the chaotic canine cloud moved in response. I fell into one her camping chairs – one of a handful of dog-restructured pieces of furniture in her house -- and surveyed my now-tattered clothing and marked-up skin, still reeling from the welcoming committee.
Isabella began giving me details about the various dogs; their names, their history, their personality types. While she was speaking, out of the corner of my left eye I spotted a small, skinny black dog plopped on top of Isabella’s heavily damaged sofa. Even from across the room I could tell that this dog had beautiful brown eyes, along with a seemingly cat-like inclination to relax on top of the sofa as opposed to the sofa seats. Just as we met eyes, she jumped down from her perch and trotted over to me.
At first, she was tentative. She sniffed my hands and feet while her tail wagged. Isabella said, “She wants to get to know you, but she is a little wary.” Then something surprising happened. The dog jumped up into my lap, with her face towards me, and we were nearly snout to nose.
Isabella exclaimed, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen her do that.”
I rubbed her sides, head, and tummy as Isabella told me about this dog, who was appropriately named Ebony. The story went that Ebony had been thrown from a moving car when she was just a puppy, and one of Isabella’s friends just happened to witness it. She pulled over and collected baby Ebony and brought her to Isabella. The story broke my heart; I couldn’t imagine someone hurting this cute little dog with the gorgeous eyes.
“But I have to tell you, she’s mine,” Isabella said. “She’s not one of the dogs up for adoption. She’s really my favorite.”
We met a few days later at a leash-free dog park in Cobb County. Isabella brought her canine menagerie and let them run loose. I watched Ebony sprint with the pack, darting in and out and having a grand time, with no idea that her life was about to change. After a while, we gathered the dogs and went to the nearest pet store, where I purchased a dog bed and dog toys. Then it was time.
We pulled Ebony from Isabella’s Range Rover and placed her in my car. Isabella and the pack sped away, and I was alone with my new baby girl. She was not happy. As Isabella’s car faded from sight, Ebony began whining and shifting in her seat, overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. I tried to console her as I sped toward my apartment, but she trampled, scuffed and cried as we moved down the highway.
Upon entering my apartment, Ebony squatted and peed on the carpet. She was so scared and stressed. On that first night together we both slept on the floor of my living room. I moved as close to her as she would allow and stroked her thin black fur, and her anxiety finally receded at 3 a.m. and she went to sleep.
It took a few days, but we gradually found a rhythm. She accepted that I loved her, that I was going to be her new Daddy, and that I was going to spoil her rotten. Which I did. I took to calling her “Miss Hays”, to taking her everywhere with me, to feeding her from my plate, to rubbing her tummy non-stop, to constantly telling her how much I loved her. We shared my bed at night; her with her back to me, expecting the constant tummy-rubbing which compelled her to sleep; me, her slave in affection, doing whatever I needed to do to make her comfortable.
As the days and months passed, we became inseparable.
Within an hour she was euthanized, and I was hysterical. Self-control, decorum, pride … they all failed me. I sobbed uncontrollably and embraced Ebony’s lifeless body, not knowing how I was going to be able to put one foot in front of the other, much less live a life without her. My heart and soul were crushed. I was dizzy with shock.
For the next two days, I could barely get out of bed. The future seemed bleak. My best friend, my baby girl, was gone. There was now a huge, seemingly all-encompassing void in my life.
Then something miraculous happened. On the morning of the third day, I woke to the most comforting and amazing feeling of peace and love. I felt Ebony’s presence. I sensed that she was there with me, giving me solace, spurring me to think only of the joy she brought and the wonderful times we had together. It was the most serene, exquisite, prodigious sensation, rising first in my chest and then moving into my mind and soul like smoke curling into the atmosphere. My girl was consoling her Daddy again.
There are still moments of sorrow and grief. So many things trigger memories of her. She was etched into every facet of my life and they all suffer from her absence. Sometimes the sense of loss brings tears, but mostly now my thoughts of her bring joy, laughter, love and thankfulness that I had the privilege of being her Daddy for eight wonderful years.
And in those thick-of-night moments when I wake from a troubled sleep or nightmare, my initial inclination is still to reach for her. Remembering that she is gone, my eyes do not well in tears, nor does my mouth deliver a smile. Instead, I’m instilled with only one, certain, bedrock truth that I will carry to my grave.
I miss my little girl. How I miss my little girl.