Fifteen years ago, our son, Jeremy, entered our home carrying a small, soft, brindle ball of fur. Someone had given him a puppy. Today, I reflect on how that tiny little animal changed our lives forever. She didn’t stay tiny, of course. She grew in size and filled our lives with love. Jeremy gave her a beautiful name, Natalie.
We never really knew for sure what kind of dog Natalie was. My husband always said she was “Heinz 57”. But, we knew she was the best kind. She was the kind that loves you unconditionally. The kind that greets you happily at the door, carrying a stuffed toy just for you. The kind that always wants to be near you, following you from room to room. The kind that always makes you smile, when you see the loving sparkle in her eyes.
Natalie lived with us for fifteen years. But, she remained Jeremy’s dog. When Jeremy moved out on his own, he couldn’t take Natalie with him, so she stayed with us. But, Jeremy always had a special place in her heart. Whenever she saw him, there was a particular light in her eyes; a look of devotion reserved just for him. When Jeremy was around, Natalie wanted to be near him. Oh, she loved us too! She let us know that every day. But, Jeremy was clearly her favorite.
Natalie was such a cute puppy! Her ears were droopy when she first came to live with us. When her ears first began to stand up, they touched each other in a point above her head. For a while, we called her “cone head”. She loved stuffed animals. We called them her “babies”. She carried her babies around with her everywhere she went. She had a basketful of them. At the end of the day, I would walk through the house collecting her babies, and returning them to the basket until tomorrow. As we would enter the house, she would always greet us. If she didn’t have a toy with her, she would run to her basket, and then return to bring us a baby. At Christmas, she always got some new babies. She loved to stick her face in the gift bag, and pull out her new babies. The ones with squeakers were her favorite, though the squeaker rarely lasted long. She never outgrew her love for her babies.
Natalie loved, loved, loved to go to the park. No matter how discreet we were in discussing a trip to the park, somehow she always knew what we were saying! She would get excited and run to get her leash. When we got near the park, she could hardly contain herself. She couldn’t wait to get out of the car and chase her little red ball. She would race to fetch that ball for as long as we would continue throwing it. Unfortunately, when she was eight years old, while chasing her beloved ball, she tore a ligament in her knee. She had to have surgery to repair the injured knee. After that, our trips to the park no longer included throwing the little red ball. The doctor said that she wasn’t allowed to run fast anymore, because her knees were damaged from years of chasing that ball. It broke my heart to see her searching our hands for that little red ball every time we got to the park. Eventually she accepted this, as dogs tend to accept the limitations put upon them by the people they love. But, Natalie still loved taking walks in the park and greeting the other dogs and people, even when she was very old.
The last couple of years have been hard for Natalie. The Arthritis in her knees and elbows became severe. She needed lots of medication to help with the pain. Even though she was uncomfortable, she was tough. She still wanted to take a walk every night. She still loved going to the park. She still greeted us every day with a loving look and a wagging tail. During this last year, it has been hard for her bring one of her babies to us when we came home. So, she didn’t always do that. But, sometimes she would make the effort, and bring a baby when one of us walked in the door. I know she did it, because she wanted us to know that she still loved us, just as much we I loved her.
Natalie has left us now. We miss our sweet girl so much! This week, she went to heaven to wait for us there. When I get there, I hope she will run to greet me happily carrying her baby, or maybe a little red ball.