Let me tell you about a dog named Emmy Lou.
Here in Mexico some say you die three deaths. The first is when your body stops working. The second is when you are returned to the earth. The third, and most definitive, is when there is no one left alive to remember you.
So I write this with the hope that Emmy Lou will make her way into the memory of a few more people, since she died her first death August 29, 2016 at 7:52 a.m. and died her second death later that same day. I desperately, and likely foolishly, hope she never meets her third.
I first saw Emmy on October 14th, 2006 in the empty parking lot of a Chattanooga animal control facility lit only by my car headlights. At the time she was called Asia, but on the way home to Nashville I decided “Emmy Lou” seemed like a better fit as she lay curled in a tight spiral in my back seat. When I found her, she was second in line to be euthanized, and had been badly beaten up by her kennelmate. Her left ear was torn and bleeding and stayed just a little crooked for the rest of her life. She was so dirty I couldn’t even see her tiger stripes and she hid behind the legs of the animal control worker holding her leash, her eyes wide with fear. The man was overwhelmed, and desperate to save just one of the dogs condemned at the facility. The truth was, I hadn’t even come for Emmy initially, but the other dog (number one on the “kill” list) had hated Rory. Desperate to make sure I didn’t leave without a little soul in tow, the man brought Emmy out. I could see in his eyes that it killed him that she was still there. As we stood in the parking lot her sad story tumbled out: dumped on the streets for two months, and left in the shelter for three more, her former owners had been notified where she was and knew what that meant, and had never come for her. She wasn’t even a year old and had already been through so much. It was clear she knew she’d been abandoned.
Despite barely being able to see her black outline in the darkness, I saw a glint of light in her huge, brown, curious, and kind eyes. Her entire disposition changed when Rory trundled up and they met like old friends. It’s safe to say that Emmy is the only other dog that Rory ever really loved, and I think that sums her essence up well. I knew then that if I didn’t take this dirty, black, fearful little pup, no one ever would, and a little light in the world would be forever extinguished.
Once home, Emmy quickly set about destroying everything she could find in my apartment, putting her outsized strength to good use in service of her then-severe separation anxiety. During the first few weeks while I was out during the day she successively destroyed a printer, a floor lamp, a set of curtains, a cellphone and two kennels. Despite her tenacious nature when I was gone, she was scared to even eat in my presence and wouldn’t be in the same room as me for almost a week. She had clearly been abused by whomever had abandoned her in Chattanooga, and that fear was obscuring her inner light. I eventually taught her to recognize her new name and sit (and stay!) for her dinner. She, in turn, came to trust me completely, finally turning into velcro in the shape of a dog, refusing to be more than a few feet from my side at any time.
The OG goofball.
Originally, I took her in as a foster with the intention of finding her a new forever home, but unsurprisingly as I spent more time with her, I never was able to find anyone who I thought was good enough for her. I’m still not sure I was ever fully worthy of her either (or that anyone really was, for that matter), but I did my best to earn the trust, loyalty and unconditional love she gave so abundantly. Of course, it’s easy to feel flawed and undeserving when you compare yourself to a dog like Emmy. After six months of pretending that I could ever give Emmy away to a new home, I met Steph, and after some initial jealousy (on Emmy’s part) Emmy formed an inextricable bond with her. Just like that, Steph had become Emmy’s human, and we knew she was never going to live with anyone else.
She LOVED wearing clothes.
Emmy’s goofy spirit, kindness and gentle nature (unless, of course, you were a cat, squirrel or bird) belied her intense intelligence. We did her the disservice of believing that she was a bit of a dummy until she summarily proved us wrong on many, many occasions. Her gaze, even until her last breath, was alert and profound, always conveying an enormous range of emotion and expression, and her giant, brown eyes were more beautiful than any gemstone. In many ways she was the prototypical dog: vigilant, loyal, playful, obedient, and loving.
But she was so much more. She was a friend, and a constant companion. Never content to be out of sight of her people, she was always waiting with a toy in her mouth when we came home. She was a glutton of the highest order: the very definition of a bottomless pit. She was an intense snuggler and a lover of all things soft and would sleep on our clothes or belongings when she couldn’t have us in the flesh. She never met a stranger and never, ever forgot someone who gave her a treat. She was a courser with a bottomless appetite for chasing prey. She was a being of pure light and joy.
Then one day we noticed that she had changed. Just a little, but it was noticeable. She had less of an appetite. She was less social. She seemed more tired. I wasn’t too worried, not about our little tank. Even when we were told that she was feeling bad because she had cancer, I never really stopped believing that she was indestructible. She was the strongest dog I had ever known by a mile, with endless energy and enthusiasm. Surely she was eternal. Sure, she had cancer, but if any dog would beat it, if any dog could surpass the odds, it would be Emmy. When she started her chemotherapy, things went much as I expected: she got so much better! Feeling great, looking good and acting like her old self again, she responded to the treatment better than we could have hoped. Her doctor was very optimistic, and for a while I even believed she might beat it, maybe even for good. But eventually her numbers inexplicably dropped and the chemo had to be suspended. Her numbers dropped further still, despite all our efforts, and as the days without treatment passed the cancer crept back in.
I never really stopped believing that she might be okay until the very end. Even once we’d made the hard decision, and picked a date to end her struggle while she maintained some dignity and was still, at least mentally, the Emmy we loved, I still believed she might somehow rally. That she might put her indomitable strength to purpose once more and give us time to find a solution this problem with no answer. In my heart of hearts I knew this was a false hope, but I couldn’t let myself acknowledge that something as foul as cancer could ever conquer our Emmy, she was just too strong for that, and I was far too fragile to believe otherwise.
Emmy on her last full day with us.
We filled her penultimate day with all the things she loved. She got to eat pizza by the slice, go to the beach, chase birds, ride in the car, meet her neighborhood dog friends, and eat fresh breadrolls. I took lots of pictures of her out of fear that I might not have enough already. So many sparks of her old self were still there. Her eyes were alert and that same shade of deep hazelnut, as beautiful as they ever were. She was still our Emmy, but she was so tired. After a decadent dinner of bread, peanut butter and chicken livers she seemed satisfied, and would eat no more. I think we all knew this was her last meal, and she’d saved just enough room to enjoy it.
That night we went to sleep and as we turned out the lights, to my astonishment, she jumped up on the bed (an act considerably harder for her than even four days earlier) and flopped down next to me one last time. In the days after the cancer had begun to resurface with more strength, she’d steadily shied away from physical contact more and more, where once keeping her off the bed was difficult, it was now hard to keep her there. Her canine instincts to hide her illness were warring with her innate desire to be physically close to us at all times. She was present, but distant, and while we understood, it still broke our hearts a little. But, that last night, she heaved a great, contented sigh as she rolled over and snuggled into my chest and let out her familiar cacophony of contented snorts and snores. Steph said she was saying goodbye to me, and I honestly believe that’s true.
In retrospect it became clear that she’d used the very last reserve of her once bottomless strength to join me on the bed, just to be close one more time. Even in the end she just wanted to give love, and it was more important to her than anything else she might save her strength for.
At 4:30 the next morning Emmy gently woke Steph up to tell her that the end was near. Emmy had jumped down from the bed earlier in the night and wanted back up, but lacked the strength to do so on her own. Still, she patiently asked for permission (and, now at the end, help) to come back up, as was her early morning habit, despite being so suddenly frail. She couldn’t swallow easily, was struggling to walk and was having trouble breathing, and yet there she stood, waiting to be noticed. In a matter of hours since the previous night her condition had completely deteriorated, much more than we ever would have guessed, and finally we knew, without doubt, that this was the end. We found ourselves counting the minutes until the vet opened and we could release her from her struggle. In a final, bitter, irony, after all we’d been through, we found ourselves at the end cursing too much time instead of too little.
So, here’s to the dog that once ate a quart of pineapple in under 10 seconds. To the dog that was always, always the fastest runner at the park and loved nothing more than to outrun any challenger. The dog that loved to wear clothes, that hated cats, loved to lick butter wrappers and stole bread from the fish. To the dog that loved the water but hated to swim, who had a fear of heights and loved to eat garbage. Here’s to the dog that never had an ugly thought, never gave up and will never be as good in our memory as she was in life. Here’s to you, Emmy.
Steph likes to think that as Emmy exhaled her last breath on this earth, she was off running. Somewhere, somehow, the fastest dog we’d ever seen was off on the longest chase of her life. I think that sounds pretty nice.
Even if you’ve never met her, I’d ask you to keep her in your heart, if only for a moment here and there, and let her spirit keep running just a little longer.
I love you always, my good, good girl.
Emmy Lou. Emmy. Emmers. Embers. Bur. Moo Bear. Mooey. Moof. Moofey. Moosie. Smooch. Squish. Puppy Splat. Moo-tato. Moo-taco. Fart-tato. Flart. Boo. Boo Bear. Burtie. Bur-tato. Burrito. Bush Torpedo. Bear-tato. Pup-tato. Cinnebur. Stink-tato. Bumber. Bember. Brember. Tiger dog. Baby Bear. Baby Girl. Bitty Moo. Sweet Pea. Sweet Potato. Sweet Poo-tato. Sweetheart. Fru. Frusey. Fru-tato. Frutabega. Fru Bat. Frubacca. Mootabega. Frutatta. Fatso. Fatty. Fur Bear. Mooeesha. Pig Bear. Moo Pig Bear. Piggers. Lil’ Pig. Lil’ Boo. Lil’ Fatty. Lil’ Dummy. Fartso. Fat Baby. Bumble Pig. Muppet Bear. Girl Dog. Stink Bear. Stink Potato. Buddha Belly. Buddha Baby. Burtaqua. Stinkerbelle. Stink Pig. Juice Booty. Booty. Boot. Bert. Berty Baby. Berty Bear. Black Bear. Black Bean. Butter Bean. Frujole Negra. Snorelock. Baby Bear. Snoozy Bear. Brindle Bear. Brindle Pig. Dog 2. Stealth Licker. Crotchcadile. Mufalatta. Stinktapus. Moorito. Fatty Lumpkins. Pancita. Gordita. Little Love.