I’ve had dogs on and off all my life. But my relationship with dogs didn’t really begin until I was 18 years old. My good friend/roommate and I lied on the paperwork at the pound to get little black lab mix puppy sisters. And then became life with my girl Vanessa, and her puppy sister, Jordan.
Looking back, getting Vanessa was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She was my best friend. She was with me always. She taught me a lot about responsibility. She joined me on long weekend drives for hours. Sometimes we ended up at the beach, other times, we just cruised and listened to music. We went for walks, we watched TV together, we did pretty much everything together, and she went many places, and took many trips with me.
When I was in college, she was part of the family of my best friends/roommates. They took care of her like she was their own when I wasn’t there.
Vanessa was kind of a badass. She was the most loyal, loving friend I could ever ask for, but she was also my number one protector. I lived by myself a few times in my life, and she was my roommate. I was never afraid as long as she was with me. I think she took on the roll as my protector because she knew that was what was needed at that time in my life. She could be mean, she nipped at a few people in her life. Some, deserving. Others, not. She was clear when she didn’t like new people that came around.
She was at every party we ever threw in college. She just kicked back. When it was time to go to sleep, she’d follow me up to my room.
My friend and I got Vanessa and her sister Jordan together many times through the years. They always picked up where they left off, playing for hours. Such a cool sight.
If you knew Vanessa, you knew that one thing about her was, you were never able to sit back and relax and take in a waterside setting. If there was water, she was sure to find a ball or stick, and then bark relentlessly for the entire time you were there for you to throw it into the water for her to fetch. It didn’t matter if it was 10 minutes or two hours, you were going to throw the ball for her the entire time you were by the water. She was also not a good helper in the sport of fishing, as soon as you casted out your line, Vanessa was in the water to retrieve it.
When my now husband entered my life, he and Vanessa hit it off immediately. It was clear to him though, Vanessa was part of the package. No question. He fully accepted Vanessa and enjoyed her. Vanessa joined he and I on many weekend get aways. They were best buds. Still to this day he or I will break into singing a song that we had made up about and for Vanessa.
She was with us the day we found our house that we live in today. I remember her running through the then tall weeds of our acre, just smiling. She approved. Soon after we moved into our new house, Vanessa had to learn how to share. She didn’t like it at first I am sure, but she got good at it.
Vanessa had slept on my bed since the first night she came into my life. To my kids amazement when we tell this story, Vanessa slept at the foot of my husband and my bed when we moved to our house. She was known for growling at one of us if we moved her with our feet on many occasions. There came a day that Vanessa did not want to come into the house at night anymore. She made the choice to make the garage her room. Each morning I’d wake up, look outside, and there she was, jogging the perimeter of our yard, making sure everything was in order.
She was also known for her catching abilities, even as she got older. If we barbequed steak, my husband would toss a piece her direction, and there was no way it would ever hit the floor. We were camping once, and it was our entertainment for a long while to watch my husband back up further and further to throw fastballs at her and she caught every single one without moving much more than her mouth.
When I had our first child, and we took him home from the hospital, Vanessa knew life had changed indefinitely. After we got settled in the house that day, I looked out into the front yard, and Vanessa was laying down, looking into the house from the grass. I went out and called her into the backyard, she did not budge. It went on for such a time that I became annoyed for a moment, then realized, that as my first baby, she must know that something is up. After much love, she was herself again later that day. My son and Vanessa became good buds. My middle daughter loved Vanessa so much. As Vanessa became older, my daughter would bring handfuls of kibble to her in the yard and hand feed her, just to be sweet. In Vanessa’s last years, my son came up with the idea of having a birthday party for Vanessa. He was sad that she never had birthday parties like he did. We put up streamers and balloons in the backyard, and got Vanessa special bones. My son was so happy for her that day.
As the years added up, I often wondered when I would know it was time for Vanessa to leave us. There were false alarms, but never a clear cut moment. Until that day. It was a Friday. She had really slowed down exponentially in those last couple of weeks, and I had made an appointment for her to go in on that following Monday, that appointment most likely being the one where they would lay her to rest. I figured I needed one more weekend with her, just to spoil her, love her, and make sure she knew how much she meant to me. When I went out to see her in the garage later that day, she didn’t raise her head to greet me. She couldn’t. I knew it was time. I called the vet, and let them know I’d be in later that day. She was able to make it out onto the grass and that is where my family said good bye to her. I was pregnant with my third child at the time, so unfortunately she never got to meet Vanessa. My son was 5, he came outside and laid next to her and cried with me. My daughter who was almost 3, was napping during this time. When my husband came outside with her after waking her up, my son sobbed ‘Just tell her dad, just tell her about Vanessa!’ The four of us hugged and loved Vanessa, then I carried her into the car and went by myself to the vet.
It’s a horrible experience to go through, but looking back, our vet was so loving and caring in how they handled that type of situation. Vanessa had been quiet, slow moving and a little weak for the last bit of her life. So, when the vet injected the shot into her, and Vanessa growled, and moved her teeth towards the vet and the shot as if she may bite, I was secretly proud. She still had her badass spunk! Then, she farted. Those last two actions by her have always made me smile. We still tell our kids the story of driving to Tahoe in the winter with Vanessa in the backseat, windows rolled up because it was freezing, and Vanessa farting for about a 10 mile stretch. We had to freeze and roll the windows down, or else we would have suffocated from her farts. They were potent. She was known for that.
Vanessa lived to be 16 years old. She never ate fancy food, she grew up on Dog Chow. At times during my broke college days, she’d eat rice and eggs (she loved this more than Dog Chow). On a good payday, I’d buy her Pedigree. She was a healthy, very strong dog all of her life.
I like to say that Vanessa’s last gift to me was training our now 10 year old dog Zoe. I think Vanessa gave Zoe some wisdom and a calm that has been embedded in Zoe all her life.
And today, we have our two goofy dogs, Zoe and Mara. They are wonderful, funny, sweet loving dogs that wouldn’t hurt a fly. At times I wish they had a bit of Vanessa’s badass to them, because I’m pretty sure they would just let a robber in and show them where we keep any valuables we have. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
A few years after Vanessa passed away, I was at a 4th of July parade in Truckee with my parents and my family. A truck in the parade slowly went by, and there was a black lab that was hanging it’s head out looking at the crowd, and I met it’s eyes. I choked up. It was strange, that hadn’t happened to me before. My mom said ‘that reminded you of Vanessa didn’t it?’
Vanessa has been gone nine years now. Yet, my heart still fills with love when I think of her. I think I’ll always enjoy having dogs in my life, although I don’t know if I’ll ever love another dog like I loved Vanessa. Such a loyal, true thing, the love of a dog.