|Mia at our apartment in Chinatown. Washington, D.C.|
I grew up in a house with over-affectionate, lick-lick-lick German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. When I was dating a very hot Baylor girl (who is now my wife), she expressed that she wanted me to meet her dog. Sure. I would have followed her anywhere.
Mia came into her parent's house in Texas as a part of a pack of animals that included Oliver "who has a weird eye condition" and Suzy "who's totally blind, by the way." They ran for an overflowing dish of food. Mia, a Cocker Spaniel, managed to nudge her way in between the two other huge dogs to eat. My girlfriend (Mimi) invited Mia over and Mia was very excited to see her. Mia took one sniff of me, stared for a moment and then ran back to her dish. I felt slightly snubbed. No licks?
"She likes you," Mimi said.
"I couldn't tell."
"Oh, she scared to death of guys. At least she came up to you."
Almost six years after our initial meeting, I held Mia in my arms at Friendship Animal Hospital as our vet euthanized her. And I held her long after her heart had stopped and the vet had left. I cradled her head which was covered in the tumor that would have strangled her painfully within weeks, if we didn't put her down gently.
Now our house is emptier in her absence. The garbage stays in the can. The tennis balls are packed up in a small bag. No one barks when I go to take a shower. There are no new mystery stains on our couch.
When Mimi and I got married and moved into our first apartment, Mia came as a package deal. The war for control of the house started very quickly. For the first several months of our marriage, I worked as a youth director at a small church and then at night, I worked as a copy editor for a small local weekly newspaper. I typically had some time in between the two to go home for an hour or so. One day I returned home to find the garbage strewn throughout the kitchen. Mia had eaten some of the trash, which made her sick, and so she vomited in our bedroom. When I got home, she'd forgotten about it and was chewing on aluminum foil on our bed. She jumped off, respectfully, when I got home. I yelled at her for making such a mess. Mia got scared and peed on the floor.
|Mia and the ball.|
At other times, I would be at home resting and watching television on a set that's smaller than most computer screens nowadays, and Mia would bring me a tennis ball. Mia was well-known for her love of tennis balls. She liked to chase them. She liked to catch them. She liked to hold them in her mouth. In absence of all these, she liked to lay and look at them. And she would stare at you, intently, when she dropped a tennis ball off at your feet. One particular evening, Mimi and I were watching the first season of LOST ("what?! That guy wasn't on the roster? He wasn't on the plane!!") when Mia dropped a ball off by our feet. Mia stared at us for sometime, clearly not sensing that we were engaged. So she pushed it against our feet.
|I held the ball behind me for this picture. |
Thus the intense expression.
"Mia!" Mimi and I scolded in chorus.
She stared down at the ball and barked. I caved. I bent down, picked up the ball and threw it across the house. She chased it frantically. In a matter of moments, Mia returned, ball in mouth and rolled it at my feet.
She barked again. And again I caved. This time the ball got stuck under our turtle tank. Mia stamped around angrily, barked and howled. Now thoroughly annoyed, I stomped over, grabbed her by the nose and yelled at her to not bark. She got scared and peed the carpet again. The next morning, the Neighborhood Association (an evil Florida organization meant to inflict evil on 20-something renters) came by the house and reminded me that my pet deposit doesn't cover noise pollution.
Some changes came. Mimi got a job at the Palm Beach Post. Then I got a job at the Palm Beach Post too, so we moved to downtown West Palm Beach (where we dealt with a less stern, but equally evil Neighborhood Association). And my parents, who lived locally, got divorced after 27 years of marriage.
|Mimi and Mia at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.|
In a more productive reaction to the great sadness in my life, I spent many afternoons pounding away at my fantasy novel hoping pipe-dreams of getting it published (Getting read! New York Times Bestseller List! Famous!) and Mia would come sit with her head on my feet as I worked.
Around that time, Mimi decided that Mia wasn't getting enough exercise. I proposed the "Greg and Mia" running team. I needed to get in shape; Mia needed to get in shape. It sounded good in proposal and worked out less well in practice. Mia would drag me the first 0.1 of a mile. Then I would drag Mia behind me the remaining 0.9 of a mile.
Mia got a bad case of fleas. We gave her Frontline. I bombed the house. We went to a dog park, she got fleas again and we bombed the house again. The fleas stopped staying on Mia but managed to persevere the two bombs. Our landlord got foreclosed on, we got evicted. I left the remaining fleas in the house. Mia never had a problem with it again.
Mia became a part of my work. When I worked at the church, I would take Mia to Sunday School sometimes and she would lay in my office, brightening the lives of six-year-olds who were not thrilled about "goin' ta school on the WEEKEND!" and teenagers who were only borderline conscious. And she'd come visit at the end of youth group, at times interrupting me at key moments as the students shouted excitedly "Mia!" at the sight of her.
|Mia and me during the first Washington Snowpocolypse |
in December 2009. Washington, D.C.
There were more changes. I got into graduate school at Georgetown University and landed a job at the Washington Journalism Center. We moved to Washington, D.C. At the Washington Journalism Center, Mimi and I would hold a Spaghetti Night for my college students every semester and Mia was typically the hit of the party. She presided like tenured faculty. My students, who were home sick for their own dogs, often offered to come over on the weekends and walk Mia or dog sit. Last semester, my student Alaina brought Mia a set of squeaky tennis balls which she played with until the end.
We went on a lot of trips. I didn't like to leave Mia at home unless it was absolutely necessary. Guilt, I guess. So Mia came on road trips. We hid her in laundry baskets and sneaked her into hotels. We pretended it was the first time we'd committed the crime when Mia would bark in our absence and people complained. "She's never done that before. So sorry." We would bring chips and snacks for our trips and Mia would eat some while we were focused on driving.
|Mia at Christmas. You can see the small blister that became|
a tumor on her right lip. At Live Oak, FL.
We thought about chemo. The doctor said it probably wouldn't work and later diagnosed Mia with a second type of cancer. Eventually, we were told, the cancer was going to make it impossible for her to eat or breathe. We waited and hoped it wouldn't happen. But we noticed that she began to lay down under air vents and she got winded very quickly when we played ball. At the end, she could only breathe by panting. The doctors and techs cried when they saw her on the schedule.
Mia brought light into our life at a time we needed it most. I don't know how we would have survived the pain and all the changes of our lives without her as a constant in our lives.