Noel and I didn't have a special relationship in the beginning. I didn't really want another dog when she arrived in our home. She was actually afraid of me. We could tell that she had had a hard life before coming to our home. She was severely underweight and malnourished. Much of her fur was missing and she had scabs over her body. She had recently birthed puppies. And she was in a shelter which euthanized dogs after 60 days. She had a lot of quirks: she didn't like to go into rooms if the ceiling fan or television were turned on. Even up until the time of her death she avoided our central hallway like it was a lava floor.
I really didn't have room in my heart for another dog. But, since she was a member of the family, I did want her to be 'comfortable.' She of course needed food, water, a nice bed, and pets. She needed comfort. 'Comfortable' became my code word for loved.
She was a smart dog. She learned quickly that she was in a safe space and that we were her pack. She knew where home was, where she was loved.
There were two things that made me realize she knew she was safe with us. She loved to sit in the front yard and soak up the sun. We don't have a fence out front, yet, she never once ran away. She knew her boundaries. She would wander next door to visit her dear friends, Sheryl, Mike, and Bailey. We'd usually have to coax her to return.
And every once in a while, she'd play rough with me. She'd run figure eights in the yard, making pig-like noises, and charging at me only to veer off at the last second. Sometimes she'd bite at my cuffs and snarl, all in play. That playtime filled my heart with joy, because I knew she was comfortable with me. She knew that I wouldn't harm her in anger.
She came a long way.
Sadly, she started having seizures early this month. She responded to the meds at first, but they made her woozy and somewhat "less" Noel-like, but she still had a good quality of life. We were hopeful, but the vet cautioned us. After some x-rays he felt Noel had cancer, and that there was probably a link. It was likely the cancer had spread to her brain and that was the underlying cause of the seizures.
Noel died last Friday. One of my best friends, companions, and our family member who deeply needed our care, is gone.
My heart is broken. Noel saved my life, and I have always felt indebted to her. A life debt. I couldn't live up to my end of the bargain.
FROM NAPKIN NOTES – CHAPTER 2
I lost sight of her again. I was running, but she was faster. I had to stay on the path, but she was darting through the trees and the underbrush. I could not keep up. The path was too twisted and uneven. I was running up, down, left, and right on the dirt. The afternoon sun was beating down on me through the golden and red leaves. My wife and neighbors were well behind me, but we were all yelling her name. I was doing my best to run ahead, but I was already short of breath. I was scared. She hadn’t been on her own like this, with so much freedom. I had to keep her within eyesight.
We were camping, an activity I didn’t particularly enjoy. On a hike with our friends, our dog Noël had dashed off in pursuit of something and was nowhere to be seen. We had rescued her less than a year before. Noël had been in a local pet shelter for fifty-nine days. This nearby county shelter was not a “no kill” shelter, and after sixty days, the animals were euthanized. She was saved from that fate by FLAG (For the Love of Animals in Goochland), a local animal rescue group. Noël barely looked like a dog when we met her. She was just fur and bones. The fur she did have was patchy and sparse.
Noël had clearly been on her own for some time. She was skittish around most ¬people and appeared to be deathly afraid of me. Lissa and Emma were certain: Noël was the dog we had to save.
I didn’t want a new dog in our home. Lucy was my dog. I had chosen her and loved my German Shepherd–Rottweiler mix for thirteen years. Lucy had died just four months before Lissa and Emma ambushed me with rescue dog pictures. I was still grieving and didn’t want to have room in my heart for another pet.
I continued running even though my lungs felt like they might explode. Bailey, the neighbors’ golden retriever, was keeping up with Noël, and I could just see a yellow ball of fur up ahead. All I could hope was that Noël wasn’t that far in front of her.
Finally, I saw the dogs slow, some smell halting their joy run. I was able to catch up and put the leash back on Noël. I let out a huge sigh of relief, thankful that the rest of our weekend wouldn’t be spent wandering the wilderness, hoping to somehow bring Noël home.
Our neighbors, Mike and Sheryl Bourdeau, had invited us camping, one last getaway before the cold of autumn set in. At least it was camping in a cabin and not in tents. I could handle staying in a cabin much easier than sleeping on the ground. We were celebrating Sheryl’s birthday, and that night Mike had a fantastic dinner of steaks planned. We toasted the birthday girl with red wine and ate gourmet cupcakes. We played games and thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company. The evening came to a close too quickly. As I was preparing for bed, I needed to use the bathroom. As I stood peeing, I watched in shock. My urine was sangria red.
I couldn’t begin to think what was causing this. There was no pain. There was no other indication that something was wrong with me. I commenced freaking out.
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