An ode to Penny Lane, and good dogs everywhere
My family got Penny Lane when I was a teenager, and because I am getting older, little details escape me. What I think is that I was around 15 years old, because I know we got her after our dog Spooky was hit by a car when I was 14 years old. When Spook was hit by a car a few weeks after we moved into a new home in a new city, my heart was broken. It sounds so cliche to say, but losing Spook really did change my life. Losing Spook felt like losing a family member. He was young, it was unfair, he wasn’t always the smartest dog, and that car should have been paying more attention. Spook should have never made it that far down the street in a place he had never been before. There was a lot wrong with the situation and I blamed myself — I was the one who had the collar he should have been wearing — and I wasn’t quite ready to welcome Penny into the family. When Spook went missing that day, no one was more visibly upset than our dog August.
August Sunshine was a beautiful and rare white German Shepherd. My mom adopted him for my 12th birthday, named him something she dreamt up, and surprised me with a miniature horse sized dog that changed our whole world. August was a pretty grouchy old man dog who had random spurts of energy and excitement. He was bad dog — a runaway who never quite got over his tendency to bolt — but a bad dog that we loved. When we adopted Spook, August was not that into it. He audibly grumbled when Spook — a relatively young pup — did anything irritating or playful. But when Spook went missing, August didn’t leave the couch — head propped up on the windowsill longingly watching the outdoors — for an entire day. When August stopped looking, I knew it was bad news. We found out later that day that Spook had been killed. I didn’t handle it well, and honestly thinking of it now ignites a sadness and rage like nothing else did. He was so young.
My mom had fallen in love with Spook’s breed, a German Shorthaired Pointer, so one day (in my mother’s typical fashion), she came home with Penny Lane. Penny wasn’t quite like Spook — she was more brown to his white — and she didn’t act like him at all. She was a gorgeous puppy, very sweet, but something in me didn’t quite let me connect with her. She never seemed to love August the way he loved Spook and she certainly didn’t like me very much. The only time Penny would run up to me was when she had to sneeze, and she would make damn sure that she sneezed right on me. I didn’t have room for another dog in my heart yet, only a year or two after Spook was killed. August was enough for me, and I wasn’t able to give Penny the chance she deserved. Everyone else adored her and I begrudgingly allowed her into our family.
I went to college in the fall of 2005, about three weeks before my family would experience greater tragedy than we ever had before. We lost a very dear family member very unexpectedly and very tragically — the kind of loss that no one recovers from. My mother was going through it the worst and while we all cope in our own ways, I had never felt so lost. I was coming home from college every weekend — sometimes more — to make sure my brothers were doing okay and to make sure that our home and dogs were being properly taken care of. There was a night, and I’ll never forget it, when I was home alone, feeling very sorry for myself. My brothers were off with their friends, and I was meal prepping a giant lasagna to feed my brothers for the next week. I finally let it go. I sat on the couch and couldn’t stop crying, huge tears, body shaking hyperventilation. Though August was there too, Penny was the one to come to me. She sat next to me on the couch, forever my mom’s dog, and put her head on my lap. It made me cry more because I wanted my mother and in a way, it was like she came to me. Penny loved my mother more than any human she had ever encountered, and I guess that’s the one thing we always had in common.
I embraced Penny and when I finally got over my breakdown, I kissed her head and let her know that no one could know about our secret relationship now. I was always known for not understanding Penny’s greatness, but the truth is, no one else really understood what she did for me. I picked myself up and found my strength because of her incredible insight into my heart.
Penny was an old lady when my mom finally put her down. My mother took her girl to her favorite beach, played frisbee with her, and fed her her favorite cheeseburger beforehand. She went to meet August and Spook, the friend she never knew, full and happy and very loved. We say a lot of things when we lose a pet, but I know that to be true. I always joked that she was my mom’s favorite daughter, and I am confident that Penny knew that to be true.
Losing a pet is a very specific kind of sadness, and to all of you who know how it feels, my heart is with you. Penny Lane, you were loved and we will always miss you. Thank you for keeping our secret and making sure my reputation of being not an animal person was never tainted. We know the truth, my girl.