Pets can be the anchor in a Navy family that moves not only from coast to coast in America but around the globe. My husband and I brought home our baby parrot when we’d been married two years, and for the next five years he was our practice infant. We spoiled him and moved him from Florida to California to Alabama to Washington State to Tennessee and back to Washington. He came to Italy and Belgium with us. When we found out we were moving to Russia for two years we were saddened to have to leave him behind, but grateful for the dear friends who are fostering him until our return. The twelve-week-old baby parrot is now 22 years old and loves to torture his foster family.
We adopted our first dog, Shadow, while in Memphis. I rescued her from the unkempt backyard of a lawyer in a very nice part of town. Animal abuse and neglect knows no socio-economic borders.
Shadow quickly became part of the family and joined us on our moving adventures. She came to Moscow with us at age 10, and I had some fears about her making the full two years here but she’d been so strong and healthy to date (save for the usual lab-mix issues of skin, allergies, and eating whatever she could find wherever she found it).
She stood guard at our apartment window when the President came to town and watched the First Lady’s motorcade go by.
Shadow gave the kids comfort when Daddy had to go far away for months on end, defending our freedom. The Christmas Eve that it was just the kids and I on Whidbey Island, WA, Shadow provided the comic relief needed by taking off with wrapping paper as I tried to valiantly to play Mom, Dad and Santa while the kids slept and my husband prepared his squadron for wartime a world away.
Shadow was the Gandhi of dogs. Little kids flocked to her as did adults who’d say “I’m not a dog person but Shadow’s different.”
So it was with great sorrow that the kids and I returned from our vacation/smoke evacuation this summer to find an emaciated dog that’d barely made it through the record-breaking heat and debilitating smoke. Our housekeeper took wonderful care of her, so I knew it was something more than just the rough summer. Within days we knew our beloved dog had cancer and there was no going back.
Making the decision to put a pet down is heart-wrenching. Shadow went to heaven in my arms, in our apartment (they come to the home for such events in Russia). I knew I’d never love a dog as I’d loved Shadow. The kids and my husband where equally distraught but each of us showed it in different ways. Our vet gently suggested there are so many dogs that need homes in Moscow, but I didn’t want to hear about that. Not yet.
As we grieved Shadow the house seemed so empty. The grieving brought us all together and we were able to laugh over the silly things she’d done. What I’ll remember most of all is Shadow’s strength. She could have let go while we were gone but she didn’t. She waited until we came back and could say good-bye to her properly.
Within a month I had that “feeling” that there was another dog waiting for us. Nothing tangible, but those of us who have adopted pets know the deal.
I wanted another lab-mix female. But when I showed up at a local shelter the puppy fitting this description all but ignored me. A male German Shepherd mix puppy kept leaping up on my lap and kissing my face. The mastermind behind Moscow Animals rescue, Barb Spiers, snapped a few photos. I held the boy puppy’s sisters, but they weren’t interested in me either.
I left the rescue apartment and as I walked the streets of Moscow I had an incredible feeling of peace settle over me. I figured it was just my husband’s telepathic relief that I wasn’t bringing a new puppy home on impulse.
Over the next few days the puppy wouldn’t let go of my thoughts.
“He’s going to be a regal dog, like Shadow. He’s the one for us.” I told my husband this and he quietly acquiesced to my need for a new pet in our home.
I’m a woman of a certain age with children preparing to leave the nest. It’s a sad, exhilarating, scary time.
Yet instead of getting a new sports car or plastic surgery, I got a puppy. And for today, it’s just what not only I need but our family needs. Instead of allowing a lump to grow in my throat each time I watch my eldest walk into the room, knowing he’ll be at college less than a year from now (if we both survive the application process), we toss the ball back and forth and play with Misha.
My daughter and I giggle over how the men of the family lavish oodles of praise and “touchy-feely” cuddles on the new dog.
I’m still grieving Shadow’s loss. I feel her, see her face around the corners of the apartment. But I can’t help feeling that somehow she brought us Misha.
For this last year that we have both of our chicks in the nest, an unlikely new family member is helping us to continue to bond and love each other through the inevitable changes. Misha, our native Russian dog.