On College and Pets

I carry a small, black notebook with me wherever I go. I have done this for a few years now. Thinking myself a writer, I thought it would be helpful to have a place to write down any ideas or inspirations that come my way, so that, when I need an idea, I can shake it and see what falls out. Over the years, going to college and such, I have used this notebook at varying degrees. I would write in it every day, or go for a week without even opening it. The beginning of my second-to-last semester of college was one of these. I hadn’t opened the notebook for two or three weeks.

While sitting in class a few days ago, I opened it to jot down a quick note. Upon flipping through the pages, a small black hair fell out onto my desk. I sat in my chair and stared at it, rapidly overwhelmed by emotion. The hair belonged to my dog Bella, who passed away from cancer a month ago today (December 17, 2013). She was eight years old. 

I received Bella, a Boston terrier, for my thirteenth birthday. It had been eight years since my family had owned a dog, and neither of my parents was particularly keen on the idea. This isn’t because they don’t like dogs; it’s actually the opposite. We had to give our previous dog, Charlie, away. My parents were both greatly affected by this, and were not too eager to get attached to another animal. After much insistence, however, they gave in.

For the next few years, Bella became a member of the family. I always claimed that she was my dog, since I had asked for her and named her, but she belonged to the family. She slept with my parents every night. She was one of my best friends.

When I moved away from home for college in June 2012, I had a really hard time with the idea of leaving my childhood home, my parents, and Bella behind. I was moving in with a group of my greatest high school friends, and I was thrilled, but I knew that it would be a big change. I don’t like change. Every time I came by after I moved, Bella seemed to be upset with me, like I betrayed her in moving away. She would eventually warm up after I was there for a while, but it was difficult at first.

Shortly after I moved, in August, my fiancĂ©e (then girlfriend) Tayler bought a dog of her own. She lived in the same complex as me, but in a different apartment, with a group of five girls. I was initially very upset, because I knew that we would be living together soon and she didn’t ask me before buying the pup. I told her as much. Driving home from work in Murray, I said, “No matter how much I end up loving this dog, I don’t support your decision to get one.” That may sound harsh, but I had good reason for saying so. We’re in college, we’re gone a lot, and a dog needs companionship, exercise, etc. Also, I wasn’t excited for the dog to be raised by so many different people; I was worried that she wouldn’t know who was in charge.

I did end up loving the dog. Chalupa, nickname Lu, is a puggle (half pug, half beagle) and although she can be a real pain, she’s a very affectionate little mutt. The downside to this was that Bella would be even more jealous when I came to visit. Boston terriers are famously sensitive dogs. They are very aware of their owners’ emotions and respond accordingly. They’re also fairly territorial, and Bella didn’t like the idea of being replaced. We brought Lu by the house fairly often, so the two dogs could get acquainted, and that seemed to help quite a bit, but I think Bella realized that I was really moved away; I would only be coming home to visit.

Months went by like this. After I went to Europe to study abroad for six weeks, I was expecting Bella to be very standoffish when I got home. On the contrary, she was excited to see me. This didn’t really comfort me, though, because it showed me that she saw me as a visitor, not as a resident who’d been away.

When my mom called me and told me that Bella had cancer, I wept like I was losing a sibling. In a way, I was. I went to visit that day, and Bella was lying on the couch, nearly motionless aside from the rise-and-fall of her breathing, the light flick of her tail when she saw me. I spent most of the day with her and my parents. We all cried.

When she passed, I was devastated. However, I felt that there was much more to my emotions. It wasn’t until that hair drifted out of my notebook that I realized the impact of Bella’s passing. Her sickness and death represented the final step into my adulthood. Although I’ll always stay closely connected to my parents, they don’t have to take care of me like a child anymore. I don’t have a bed at the house; all of my furniture has been moved to my apartment. With Bella’s departure, I am officially moved out. I’m engaged, I have my own place, and my own dog, whom I love very much. I’m grounded. I’m attached.

I didn’t want to get a new dog, I didn’t want to lose my old one, and I didn’t want to grow up. As is the case with many things in life, however, you have to take what you’re given and do your best with it. I’m doing that, now. I still call my parent’s house “home,” and I wonder when that will go, as well. All things must fade, eventually. I won’t worry about it; I’ll just let life happen. It will do so whether I let it or not. For now, I’ll just keep writing in my notebook, and waiting for something to fall out. 

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