27: Little White Dog

27: Little White Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Little White Dog

Fun fact: Dogs have forty-two teeth: two pairs of canine teeth, six pairs of incisors, and the rest are molars.

“Should we even be thinking about getting a dog right now?” I asked my eager fiancé as we drove to the shelter that hot July morning. “The wedding’s nearly five months away, and we still have so much to do for that and the house. I still have to move, and you’ll be alone with the dog most of that time. Then we’re headed to Hawaii, and we’ll have to find someone to dog-sit. It would be easier if we waited until after Christmas, or even spring.”

Stephen hadn’t grown up with dogs as I had, and I had a feeling he didn’t really understand the amount of work they could be.

“That’s exactly why we should get a dog,” he countered. “I’ll be alone until you move, so I’ll be lonely. Dogs relieve stress, so it will actually help with all the things we have to do. It’ll help us relax, you know? I’ve already looked at the shelter online and made a list of dogs that would be good.”

A half-hour later, I closed the door of the small-dog room, muffling the high-pitched cacophony our presence had set off. I crossed to the desk, staffed by a volunteer. “Could we meet that little white dog, please?” I asked. “The one in the bottom corner by the door.”

She looked at me blankly, trying to pull the dog’s information from memory. I persisted. “It looks like she only has one eye.”

That one eye had locked on mine as Stephen left the room, passing a message: “I am your dog. I don’t like this noise any more than he does. Let’s get this show on the road.”

“Oh, oh, Chippewa,” she said. “Yes, I’ll get someone to bring her out to you.”

We sat at a picnic table in the dusty driveway of the shelter, watching our little white dog walk out to us. The shelter said she was a Beagle-Lab mix. Her ears and tail turned out to be biscuit-colored now that I saw them in the light.

The shelter worker handed me the lead, and Stephen patted the bench. The little white dog knew what that meant. She hopped up and sat between us, drinking in the attention. Not only was her left eye atrophied, but her teeth were mostly nubs.

Now that she was in the fresh air with us, the little white dog was cheerful and energetic. She raced to the end of the driveway and back, Stephen trotting beside her to keep up.

“She’s probably at least ten,” I said. “She has one eye and bad teeth. What are those bumps on her face and head?”

Stephen leaned down and patted her gently. “Buckshot, I think.” He looked disgusted. “Someone shot her in the face. That’s probably what happened to her eye.”

Our own eyes met. “It doesn’t matter,” one of us said. “This is our dog.”

It’s a cliché to say that the dog rescued us, but it’s true. We renamed her “Hildy,” short for Hildegard, a name Stephen had chosen for a dog years before. We bought her everything an old dog could want. We took her to the vet, who ran a panel of tests and sent us home with pills for her thyroid disorder and a heart condition and told us she probably didn’t hear well. He also said her tiny nubs of teeth were weakened by poor nutrition and ground down by attempts to gnaw on hard things like rocks and cans to fill her hungry tummy. They also could have been ground down if she had been kept in a cage by a puppy-mill operator.

We took her back later that year for minor surgery to remove the buckshot that was drifting close to her good eye.

Meanwhile, our newlywed dreams fell apart. Our wedding was beautiful, but afterward we were alone in a small town in the Midwest, seven hundred miles away from family and friends and our East Coast homes. We were young, we were miserable, and we blamed each other.

But Hildy united us. She loved both of us, and we both loved her. We were stuck together and forced to make our marriage work because neither of us was willing to leave her. Hildy was our constant, our friend even when we were not friends to each other.

At last, three years after we adopted Hildy, we were able to move, not home to the East Coast, but at least to a city that was more our speed, and into jobs that were a better fit. We rented a small house that Hildy loved because she could sit in one place and see most of it. There weren’t any stairs to challenge her arthritis. She loved going for short walks four times a day around the block, and people in the neighborhood came to recognize her and us. Despite her new diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, it was a happy year for all of us. Stephen and I found our way back to the relationship we had had before, the one we were now so glad we hadn’t given up on.

In June, a year after our move, Hildy’s health declined sharply. Her vet suspected bone cancer. Despite her illness, she was cheerful until the last walk she took into the emergency vet clinic early on a Sunday morning, when it was time to let her go. The night before, we lay on the floor beside her bed, petting her and trying to tell her what she meant to us.

“You saved us,” I whispered. “You saved our marriage. Thank you so much. Thank you for loving us when we couldn’t love each other. We love you, little white dog.”

After Hildy died, I started writing again, something I had given up on in those dark, mostly miserable years when I felt my life had gone horribly wrong in every way except for the little white dog at my feet. I felt Hildy would want me to.

My first novel was published four years after Hildy’s death, two weeks after the birth of our first child.

The dedication reads, “In memory of Hildy, who saved my life in the wilderness.”

~Courtney McKinney-Whitaker

More stories from our partners