At the age of eight I didn't know what "exotic" meant, but it sounded fancy, so I assumed that it meant that horse I'd been pleading for wasn't going to happen any time soon.
So, when Tristan, my older brother, appeared in the book store having been visiting the pet store next door and said that he wanted to show my mother something I followed with only mild interest. If it wasn't "exotic" then what fun could it possibly be? When I arrived at the shop there was a crowd of people significantly taller than a eight year old crowded around an enclosure. I barely managed to peek through, and all I could see from my view point was a big ugly crab. I hated crabs, but it was right up my brother's alley. I assumed that was what he wanted.
Later that evening I was left with my eldest brother while, to my dismay, my parents returned to the mall with Tristan to, as I thought, get him that hideous crab.
They arrived home a few hours later and he announced that the bundle wrapped in his arms was a girl, and not a crab. Apparently the crab was a squeaky toy in a pen that contained a puppy I hadn't seen. I may not have known what "exotic" meant, but I sure knew the definition of "jealous".
I was not especially excited about the new puppy. Most eight year olds should be, but at only 18 months my senior Tristan was my biggest rival in the house hold. And here he was, walking into the house with something I didn't even think was possible. I didn't know of a single family anywhere that had TWO dogs! Had someone told me that I could get a puppy I'd have given up on the horse ages ago! To top it off, we were asked not to play with the puppy for the first day or two. My parents didn't want her to bond to anyone else but my brother, so I fumed quietly in the corner and remained determined to hate the puppy forever. Jealousy is an ugly thing.
My diary entry went something like this:
Tris got a new puppy. Now he gets all the attention when we go for walks. Did they forget that it is MY birthday this month? Her name is Tidbit. We got a nintendo 64. It is really great. It has 64 bites and the controller looks like this... (then I drew a picture of the nintendo 64 controller. I like to think this is the train of thought of a normal eight year old, but I admit that I might have been a little strange)
For those of you who were concerned about my nearly forgotten birthday, don't worry, I got my first camera that year and went snap happy on, you guessed it, Tidbit! I have stacks and stacks of photos of this puppy. Also it wasn't nearly forgotten. We got Tidbit a month before my birthday. Also, we got the N64 the previous Christmas, so I was like, 9 months behind.
As it turns out it's impossible to hate a puppy, even if she does belong to your smelly older brother. She was FUN! Tidbit was a little bundle of energy. She did zoomies around the yard and house, egged old Kelly into playing and turned him back into a young dog, and she talked, a-wooing at us when we got her excited. You could hold a whole conversation with this dog, and on several occasions we did. She played tug, she chased us and wrestled with our pant legs, and she was stinkin' cute. She was, overall, a great dog for us kids, and especially for my brother, who needed her most.
It didn't take long, after the arrival of Tidbit and the publication of 'Saving Shiloh' for me to ask for a Beagle. My parents said no. I was easily convinced that while it was possible to have two dogs in a house it was in fact still impossible to have three. I look back at that and laugh and laugh...boy was I gullible.
Future trips introduced her to sea water, waves, sea gull chasing, and pygmy goats. She met each new adventure with enthusiasm. Tidbit didn't like new dogs, she didn't like strangers, she was afraid of both. But she LOVED new places and never wanted to miss out on a hike or a trip.
She could see ghosts (we liked to joke), she was the mighty hunter of bumble bees, and the day she was attacked by three dogs while we were walking her she escaped, hid, and found her own way home before bedtime.
And then there was her hair. She was a skinny long bodied creature wrapped in a thick ball of fluff. Everywhere in the house you could see what I called "bits of Tidbit" floating about by the baseboards, sticking to socks, heads, the other dogs, and to Tristan's beard. There wasn't a meal that didn't contain a little piece of Tidbit, and when we chose new couches and carpet for the house, we did so by placing pieces of Tidbit on them to make sure they wouldn't show up too much.
When our old dog, Kelly, died at the age of sixteen I took a different kind of interest in Tidbit that I hadn't had before and I started to teach her things. I read about how to teach a dog to do things, and then I'd experiment on her. We'd practice together in the basement on an almost daily basis working on something as simple as a sit-stay. She was smart. If we had her to do all over again there would be no limits to what she would be capable of doing now that our skill as a dog owning family has so increased.
But frankly, I don't think we'd want her any other way.
Despite not liking other dogs, Tidbit welcomed my dog into the family a few months later. She was his boss through and through, but she was never unfair, she was never cruel. She grew sterner as he outgrew her and put limits on their play, which he respected, because she was never unclear. Kodi also protected her, 'herding' her away from what he perceived as danger.
Here, however, is where my part of the story gets a little sad. Over time, as she got older, Tidbit was less likely to greet me with any sort of enthusiasm. On a few occasions I'd be greeted as a stranger, and it took longer and longer for her to recognize me some days. By the time she was fourteen I was coming to the realization that the longer I stayed away the less she seemed to remember me when I came home. While she was still alive and active, my goodbye had to start here. For her comfort I started to keep my distance, and when I moved back home for a while, I continued that respect for her. If she would let me help her when she had trouble walking or navigating the slippery floors or steps of our home, I would help her. But increasingly she would refuse, growl, or snap at me. This was not because she was becoming a mean dog. By no means. Tidbit became afraid of me at times, during her final years, because she kept forgetting who I was. I understood this, and I accepted it with no hard feelings. On the rare days she'd enjoy my company and I would enjoy hers. But the truth was I was too busy, too infrequently home, and therefore too stressful on her to take a major role in her life any more.
Instead I brought her gifts.
I came home with treats and prizes from flyball tournaments and gifted Tidbit with medically approved cookies, new crate pads, and shampoo. When she struggled in the snow, I showed my brother the dog boots I like, and she could still go for her winter walks. When she started to slip on our hard floors, I bought her grippy socks and helped her put them on when they fell off. When she struggled with her medication, I told my family about pill injectors. And when she needed help keeping clean I went to the store with my mum to show her the puppy wipes. In my own way I remained connected and kind to Tidbit, even if she forgot we used to be buddies. She never lacked for love or patience in her care. She had constant company in the end. My brother was the most devoted nurse in her final days. He walked her every day, spending an hour just to get one block. If she got tired, he carried her, if she wanted to stop and sniff a bit of grass for 20 minutes, he waited. He took her on special trips in the car, so that she could hobble about in new surroundings and sniff less familiar bits of grass.
I was sad, yes, but not stricken. I said goodbye to her that morning knowing that she wouldn't be there when I got home that evening, but I was at peace with that.
My family was a different matter. The grief in the household was tangible. We had lost a very dear family member that day. But while I felt their grief in the air, I didn't feel my own.
The truth is Tidbit had given me something before she left. A gradual parting. She and I had been saying goodbye to each other for the previous two years. Her senility allowed the ties to be cut slowly, without me even noticing. She was leaving my life in the gradual way that she had come into it, charming me with her puppy attitude and overcoming my green streak. She was easing me out of the relationship she'd eased me in to. I loved her right until the end, don't ever get me wrong on that. Seventeen years is a long time for someone to be part of a person's life. Flipping through the photos of her to create this post brought both smiles and tears to my eyes, but I realized when I spoke softly and touched her gently that morning, so as not to wake her up, that my grieving period was actually coming to an end. We'd had a very long goodbye, and the sentimental part of me likes to think she intended it that way.
We scattered Tidbit's ashes a few weeks later in the backyard. Kodi and Badger were there, of course, as much members of the family as she had been. Kodi sat quietly on the deck and watched. Badger took an interest in the activities in his own way, emerging from under a bush with ashes on his nose and forehead, tracking "bits of Tidbit" back into the house with him.