2003 marked a definitive change in my life. I returned to college, effectively abandoning a potential career in journalism to pursue English, effectively changing my focus to fiction writing. That was also the year that my ex-wife told me that she wanted to adopt Tippie after finding her in an Ames animal shelter.
Tippie always had this ability to make herself look smaller than she was. There were times, even recently, when she would seem tiny and vulnerable, curled in a small ball in the corner of her bead. That is how I remember her in the animal shelter that first day, sitting on the concrete pad inside her cage, looking up at us with these eyes that always seemed slightly worried. She was so timid and so quiet.
The second day, that changed entirely. Tippie was an adult when we adopted her, probably two or three years old. She had two owners prior, one for a very short time. That turnover seemed to make her anxious. Every time one of us would leave the apartment, she would get upset and bark until we were out of sight. In the last several months, she had stopped barking. She had stopped doing much of anything other than lying in one of her beds and watching us.
Tippie proved to be too smart for her own good. When we tried to train her, we quickly discovered that she already knew sit, lay down, stay. We added roll over, but she got so used to the pattern that she would start rolling around on the floor, doing dog somersaults as soon as the treat came out. She was an escape artist and loved to get out where she could run. Tippie was part Italian Greyhound and could really run. She loved the chase, to race anything, but rarely knew what to do when she caught it. There were several times when she took off and I wondered if I would ever be able to find her again, but she always came back. A couple of weeks ago, she wandered off, her back legs having lost the ability to run or jump, or even get up on the couch where she often sat watch from the upstairs window, guarding her domain like a dedicated watchman. I found her after three hours, cold and lost. I’d nearly given up then.
She would test her limits on a near-daily basis. One day, when I got locked out of the house, she saw me on the patio outside the kitchen. In an attempt to goad me to coming inside, she jumped up on the table and laid right in the center, taunting me. She had a war with Sara over the trashcans. If there was a trashcan available, she would dump it over, if only to pull out the liner. She would eat chocolate if she could get to it, and would never show ill-effects. She wasn’t always a good dog. She listened when she wanted to listen and rebelled when she wanted to rebel. She was almost more cat than dog sometimes. But she was a nice dog, and she was there through many changes in our lives, whether she was with me or my ex-wife.
This morning, Sara and I took Tippie to the vet. She hasn’t been eating much. She’d lost a third of her body weight in the last couple of months. She was in obvious pain while walking. Her breathing had become erratic. When the doctor walked in, it was obvious the diagnosis wouldn’t be good. After blood draws and chest x-rays, we learned that the time had come to say goodbye. Her body was shutting down and there was nothing we could do about it.
It has been twelve years since I made that change from Journalism to English, since I decided that, for better or for worse, I was a writer. Tippie was there through all of it, often curled up in a tiny ball just a few feet away from where I sat typing story after story. It will be strange to continue my career without her, to finish Very Dangerous People for NaNoWriMo and then push through to the next project.
The house will be too silent, slightly colder at night without her sleeping nearby. I will miss my dog very much, as I know she will be missed by others. Just as she had the ability to make body so tiny, she had an equally prevalent ability to make her presence incredibly large.