In 1993 something truly fantastic happened. Something that changed my life forever, in the best way possible. Early one Sunday morning, near the end of February, my parents put me and my sister in our Honda Accord and we drove to Leominster, Massachusetts. Bouncing in the backseat, my sister and I (11 and 7, respectively) chattered about how our lives would never be the same again. At the time, I had no idea how accurate these claims were.
Finally, we pulled into a parking lot and stopped the car. We all sat still for about 10 seconds of silent excitement, until my dad opened the driver’s side door and set a foot down on the slush-covered pavement. My mom followed suit and my sister and I burst out of the back. Nestled a few miles from the highway was a small kennel, a converted house, if I remember correctly. My dad went in first, then my mom, then my older sister, then me. My parents stood at the front desk as my sister and I looked at the puppies in the yard out back. An apricot-colored puppy sat quietly, looking at us with young hope. A large man greeted us and how he appeared so suddenly, I’ll never know.
“Well,” he said as he shook my dad’s hand, “It’s good to meet you. Like I told you on the phone, we do have one left but if you want to see some other breeds, I’d be happy to show you. That apricot…”
“No no, we want to see her.”
The man shrugged his shoulders and disappeared into the back. He reappeared holding an eight-week old black toy poodle, not more than two pounds.
“She’s the runt of the litter,” the man informed us as he placed the puppy onto my sister’s lap. “Nobody else wants her. Her front paws turn out a little and she’s a little smaller than she should be. She could never be a show dog.”
The puppy, fast asleep in my sister’s lap, raised her head quietly and looked up at us. “I’m yours” her sweet eyes said. She yawned and settled back into my sister’s lap.
Muffin was the perfect addition to our family. She was cute and quirky, sweet and smart, loving and loony. Things that she loved: going on walks, laying in sun spots, when we loaded the dishwasher. Things that she hated: sleeping without one of us next to her (which never happened), squirrels and vacuum cleaners. We’re still not sure what her position on Christmas trees was. She seemed skeptical upon their arrival, relieved upon their disappearance but also had a wicked sweet tooth and Christmas trees meant there were one or two hanging Candy Canes in her reach at all times.
We are pretty convinced Muffin had no clue she was a dog. She was my little sister, our baby. She was much happier to be held, face-level with everybody else as we were chatting than to be sitting by our feet like some… animal. If we were watching the Sox game, Muffin would be on the couch with us. She’d take her food out of her bowl piece by piece and carry it next to our dinner table and eat with us. When we had coffee she would curl up on one of our laps as we sipped, sometimes resting her head on the kitchen table so as not to miss any of our riveting conversations.
I would talk to her every day, singing to her quite often. I’d serenade her with The Beatles and Jason Mraz and she would happily lick my cheek and settle into my arms to nap. It was our thing and we both loved it.
Muffin wasn’t a Marley. She wasn’t out of control or a handful; she was ten pounds of pure light. Everybody instantly smiled upon meeting her as she licked hello and asked for bellyrubs. She was a lovebug, a people-puppy, a bit of a good-natured troublemaker but moreso, a playful angel just looking to have fun, love and be loved.
She was full of love up until the very day we had to let her go. About a year before, age started to take its toll on her. Her eyesight began to fade and she walked around in circles, absent-mindedly. But she did so happily and curled up with us every time she had the chance. In January ’09 she turned 16 years old. She didn’t like going out for walks anymore but still enjoyed sitting outside with us. The vet assured us she was in no pain and was still living a happy, puppy life, which is really all we were concerned about. In July however, Muffin got sicker. She had stopped eating and was getting too weak to walk. She slept all day and night. She snuggled up to us but could no longer lift her head to say hello and let us know it was her time.
She slept for four hours on my belly that day, and even as I made our way into the car, she kept her face buried in my neck. The car was silent except for my whispers of “It’s okay, baby” into her ear. She shook every so often and I just held on tighter. I still remember the weight of her body on my chest. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget; and never want to.
As I sat down in the vet’s waiting room, I started to cry. My mom held me with one hand and pet Muffin with the other, our tears mixing together as they fell. I dreaded hearing our name called. How could I let them take her? How could my baby be leaving me? The vet’s assistant opened the door to Examination Room #4 and as we locked eyes, her eyes filled with tears as well. My heart broke. It shattered. It just fell apart.
I cradled Muffin’s face in my hands and I told her I loved her and that she would be my baby forever. I knew I had to say my final goodbye but I couldn’t, shaking my head and petting her sweet sweet face. As I looked at her one last time, I heard a familiar song start to play over the speakers in the Vet’s office. ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz, the song I had sung to her so many times before, filled the room as I said good bye to my puppy. I mouthed the lyrics as I watched my parents take her into the room, leaving me holding onto the towel she had been wrapped in. Tears ran down my face as I rocked to the melody. After a few minutes, without so much as a pause, I realized ‘I’m Yours’ had faded into ‘Freebird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd and I knew that our angel had finally fallen asleep. Nothing could have made saying goodbye easier, though the goodbye was sweet and fitting. But I know she’s free as a bird now and most importantly, that she’ll forever be mine.