How does one measure a life?
How do we record the comings and goings as the pages turn faster and faster?
Moments stand out, feeding the senses. Perhaps it is as simple as walking past a certain restaurant on a winter's day as the smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the air. Images capture places once so familiar and now no longer there. Each life has its markers, literally and figuratively, many of mine coincide with the lives of precious pets.
I was one of those children who desperately wanted a pet but whose circumstance and parental apprehension didn't permit it. Each time I brought home a stray, it would be gone before I knew it, disappearing without a word and never to be mentioned again.
Dogs, cats, even a little canary named Vladimir drifted away. And yet I remember them all clearly.
And when it was time to live on my own, a cat named Sabina co-habituated with me in Hollywood and later back in New Jersey. She was long and furry with a sweet and loving nature. Sadly, this time it was I, the adventurer, who left my little friend for greener pastures, to this day remaining guilty for her abandonment.
Several years later and one income tax refund richer, my then-boyfriend and I went to a pet shop in Manhattan and purchased a little German short-haired pointer puppy I named Orlando after one of my favorite works of Virginia Woolf. Sad to say, the puppy store was actually a puppy mill and, thus, a breeding ground for distemper; little Orlando never had a chance to survive.
Distraught, I was left with a contract stipulating a new dog would replace the old if for some reason the purchased pup died during its first year.
Having lost all faith in pet shop puppies, my brother and boyfriend took a drive to New Jersey where the puppy mill had its kennel, which is not to say it was any less disease ridden. What they brought back, to my surprise, and put in a Christmas stocking, was a little fawn-colored pug. At first glance, I was convinced my new little creature was a miniature monkey.
At last, the breed meets its person! Now, pugs have been around a long, long, time and hold second place for most popular breed after the golden retriever on the American Kennel Club's list of most popular dogs. This jump to the top of the list is no doubt in part based on the little black pug that found its way into the hearts of America in the "Men in Black' films.
Sadly, to say these precious little snorers are not appropriate for all owners, especially those looking for a dog.
What, you may say, not a dog? Well, yes! These little smush-faced aristocrats, as I found out in the 16 years I was owned by Pudgier and the last 11 Abby has ruled the roost, are stubborn and cannot happily be far from their person. If given the chance, pugs will eat themselves into obesity as they did in their last surge of popularity in the Victorian era.
And have I mentioned the difficult-to-train pug would prefer not to brave the elements when natures call on a snowy day? Thus, those of you parents with children, unless of the "Eloise at the Plaza" variety, had best look otherwise in the canine kingdom.
It is sad to note, after that immediate surge in popularity, many defenseless pugs are popping up at shelters and with organizations that specialize in adoption. These abandoned and generally over-bred animals may need extensive emotional rehabilitation before they are ready to meet their new persons.
And certainly this is not to infer pugs are the only breed of dog that is purchased on a whim: emotional dog buying and discarding is an epidemic.
By the time my first pug took up residence, I was ready.
Believe me, we lived a rambunctious and dynamic life. She traveled with me to Europe on a luxury liner and in the air. She was lost twice, on the train tracks under Olympic Stadium in Berlin and in San Francisco where she was dog-napped, until I found her later living with a family and eating chocolate to her heart's content.
She went to bars in Paris and was given lots to drink, never had her teeth cleaned and died in my arms at the old age of 16 in Greenwich Village, content and peaceful. My notorious canine was written about in books in both German and English as the world's most obnoxious dog. She lives on in my memory and my heart as simply awesome.
That was a dog! This was my life at the time, now tamer by comparison. My present dog family is trusted and loving companions often seen on the streets of Lambertville.
It is essential to think long and hard before deciding to take in an animal, especially if it is done ostensibly for the children. Although there are exceptions, the responsibility for a pet will best be taken by elders. Take heed, companion animals - cats, rabbits, birds, etc. - are dependable, loyal and true friends.
But hold back and do not be an emotional purchaser of any pet. The shelters are overcrowded, the volunteers exhausted, and, sadly, each day another pet faces an uncertain future.
Yes, we will remember our lives along with the lives of our dogs - when the time is right for ownership. Until then, a stuffed toy or volunteering at a local shelter should do just fine.