Twenty six years ago today, I made the move to adopt my first pet. I wanted a puppy. From a shelter. My mom happened to call a local shelter after she learned I planned to drive more than an hour to one of the more popular places. Well, at the local shelter, she learned about a shih-tzu who had been there for one day short of two months. The dog was five years old.
I reminded her that I wanted a puppy, not a five year old. Thing is, when the shelter told her this dog had already been in their care for one day short of two months, they also told her dogs who are not adopted by the two-month period are put down. Healthy, young, happy or otherwise. This was not a no-kill shelter.
The five year old shih-tzu had only hours left to live unless someone got over there and signed her out.
My mom, my sister, my grandmother and I piled into the car and hightailed it over. High-tailed was the shih-tzu the moment she saw us. It was as if she knew we were there to rescue her from imminent death.
The shelter didn’t know anything about her except her age and that she seemed like a purebred shih-tzu. They said she was found wandering the streets and, from her appearance, had been out and about for at least several weeks. This was March 20th. That means this little one had suffered the worst winter weather with few chances to find food or even water instead of ice. But she survived and happily came home with me where I immediately gave her a bath and a haircut.
She must have been treated well with her family, with baths and other pampering, because she lifted her chin, turned this way and that, closed her eyes and seemed to bask in her day at the spa.
Her name was Tiffy. She became my constant companion, my sounding board, my cuddle queen, my full heart.
I knew nothing about dogs before her because I’d never been able to have a pet – allergies, partly. House rules, mostly.
But Tiffy taught me what I needed to know. She was patient and understanding. Never seeming to forget what nearly happened to her and never – ever – letting me forget that she was not only grateful but more than worth the effort.
Tiffy lived to the ripe old dog age of 117, which is only 16 human years. I had her for 11 of those years and my life was enriched because of that time with her. Because of her. I’ll never forget that precious beauty. I’ll never forget her prima donna stubbornness nor her unconditional adoration. I’ll never forget how she waited to have her hat and coat put on before we went for a walk, nor how she’d run and bark at dangers in her sleep. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me with love when I carried her out of that shelter, nor how she looked at me with bittersweet thanks, years later, when I helped put an end to the suffering of her cancer-riddled body.
I’ve rescued other animals since then. I’ve adopted, fostered and adopted out kittens and cats. I have six cats now in my house, and I love each of them more than I can ever express. But there will never be another to fill my heart and soul like Tiffy.
Tell me about your first pet. Who was he or she? What do you remember most, what made you smile, what melted your heart?