Dulcinea.

One thing I really get a kick out of is the goofy national holiday. From Blueberry Popsicle Day to International Talk Like A Pirate Day (both celebrated in the month of September), I really dig the desire to make each day just a little more special.

The second Sunday in September is National Pet Memorial Day. With the 9/11 ten-year anniversary and Grandparent’s Day competing for attention, I can imagine Pet Memorial Day isn’t going to get a big turn out.

But it did give me cause to think on my own departed pets. There was my hamster, Frisky, who passed back in third grade, and then a couple dwarf hamsters that mysteriously perished when left in my father’s care while I was on a summer vacation, and a handful of fish. I definitely shed a tear upon the loss of my first fish won at a carnival, and Frisky’s passing choked me up a little as well, but nothing prepared me for what happened to Dulcinea. Nothing in the loss of former pets would have indicated to me that losing her would break me. I didn’t even think it possible.

When I was doing missions down in Piedras Negras, one of my tasks was to pick up an elderly woman who had been injured in the flood of April 2004. Though it was several months after the inundation, her shoulder had never been quite right. I drove into her neighborhood and got out of my pickup to greet her. Her granddaughter was with her as was a very small brown puppy that this elderly lady kept kind of kicking with her foot to get out of the way. Maybe it wasn’t an all-out kicking, but it was a little more than a nudge. I asked the granddaughter if this was her dog. They said it wasn’t. It just kept hanging around. It didn’t belong to anyone.

I took the woman to her appointment and brought her home again but later that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about that dog. She was surely a mutt, but little, like a dachshund or terrier. Our ministry had a vet clinic—maybe I could go back and get the dog and bring it to the vet.

I got what I needed—the director’s permission to go out hunting the dog, and a male staff member to accompany me. Certain that this dog was carrying any number of parasites we took a big sheet as well. It was evening now—we had to hurry if we would find her before dark.

I went back to the house where the grandmother lived, but no dog. We parked the truck and went on foot. We walked the neighborhood with our eyes to the ground looking for a little ball of brown under a bush or digging near a trash bag. There was nothing. The dog could be anywhere. We started interrupting families sitting on their porches to ask them if they had seen this dog.

Finally someone had. They pointed us in the direction of a house down the street. We took off. And there she was, sitting on their front stoop, just laying there. We walked up to the front door to talk to the family. I asked if this was their dog. It wasn’t, it was just hanging around. Okay, well, were they planning to make it their dog?  Not really, no. In that case could I take her? Whatever.

Wrapped in the sheet, my girl spent the night in my bathtub, completely covered in mange, until I could get her to the clinic first thing in the morning.

It was suggested by my co-rescuer that she be called “Dulcinea” after Don Quixote’s ladylove. I loved it.

After a full week with the missionary vet and some more time with the local Mexican vet, this dog was spruced up. And there was another thing. After much persuasion, I got parental clearance to bring her home as a present for Sister C’s 10th birthday. I knew how much she ached for her own dog and Dulcinea was it—I knew C. would love and care for this dog wholeheartedly. I was taking her home.

I could have wet myself I was so excited to give her to C. I carried her on the plane in her little doggy bag and when I got back to Minneapolis, I presented the surprise.

There is a very strange and scary thing about love at first sight. Your emotions take off before your head can catch up. In spite of yourself, and your better judgment, and your internal signals warning you to avoid vulnerability at all costs, you are given completely to something or someone else. You didn’t plan it and you certainly can’t explain it. Dulcinea was like that.

We fell hard for her—every one of us. C dressed her up and put beads around her neck, I carried her through Target in my purse, we delighted in her and her dogginess. I tell you, that dog was the feckin sheesh and I don’t even like dogs.

But about two weeks later, our little ladylove wasn’t doing so hot. As I sat with her at Starbucks on a cool summer night, waiting for C to get out of her music lesson, her breathing was labored. She seemed exhausted, she had no spunk. When C got out, we decided this dog needed to see a vet. As it was after hours and this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill suburban dog, we took her to the University of Minnesota vet clinic. And we waited.

Then they came to get me and I went back into the examining room…alone. They explained. It was fluid around her heart. She was dying. They were sorry.

Okay. Okay. We’ll take her home. The family will want to see her and say good-bye (everybody loved her so much by then).

No. She is dying now. It would not be advisable to take her out of the clinic.

You mean…?

Yes.

I walked back to the waiting room where C sat waiting for me. Burned into my mind forever is the image of her receiving that news, the way her ten-year-old hands went to her eyes to catch her tears, and the remarkable display of courage that followed. I would still give anything to remove her from the pain of those moments. Everything about it was so wrong.

We prayed, we said goodbye, we went home.

And as my thirty-year old hands go to my face to wipe my tears, I remember that dog and the delightful month I had with her. There’s never been another like her. So for National Pet Memorial Day established by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Cremoratories (IAPC), Dulcinea, I salute you.

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