Morgan almost never became our family dog. Nancy had her heart set on a black and brown furball that kept running into the sides of the cardboard box the half a dozen shih tzu puppies had been placed in. It was a dark evening outside of Rockford, Illinois, and my sister and I had finally convinced my parents to do the unthinkable: buy us a dog.
Nancy’s heart melted when we presented the puppy who would become a fifth member of our family: a floppy runt we would call Morgan.
Nearly 17 years later, my mom is sitting on the bed, staring off into space. I popped my head into her bedroom and ask if she’s ok. “Yeah…” she replies, voice wavering. “I’m just going to miss the sound of her little paws on the linoleum.”
Three hours later, we carried Morgan’s old lady body on her death march towards the car. Our first family dog was going to the Puppy Heaven in the sky, where she could run with all of her doggie buddies on a Cheerio-filled stomach.
Grow thick anodyne flowers
The anticipation of Christmas has always gotten to my sister, Margaret, and me. We discovered all of Nancy’s hiding places for our American Girl Doll gear before the ages of 10 and 7, respectively, and it didn’t take us long to find the correlation between Santa’s handwriting and our own mother’s. When something was out of stock, we got a Sunday Saver clipping of it in a box, making Christmas a week-long event.
There was no baby puppy waiting under Nancy’s prized Christmas Tree when the clock struck 7a.m. and Don’s bacon was already frying. Morgan would not be delivered until she’d been six weeks with her mother, making her arrival date December 28th, 1995.
Morgie Baby wasn’t the typical dog who chewed on your shoes and ran to greet you at the door: nothing was more important to her than her walks and her naps. She was so small, she could jump up on my dad’s hip while she was still a puppy and stake her claim. We had lots of ups and downs – failing puppy kindergarten, forgetting where to go to the toilet – and my mother even threatened to give her away when we would “forget” to walk her.
“Morgie, I never wanted to give you away, don’t listen to your sister.” My mom’s head was right next to Morgan’s. The vet had just given her the medicine that would put her half to sleep, giving us some time to say goodbye. We’d spent the morning talking about Morgan memories as if we were pulling the machine’s plug on a loved one.
Not a week before, my mom had called me while at camp to tell me that she and my dad had made the decision to let her go. At nearly 17, she was blind, deaf and really confused, spending the entire day next to her food bowl so she wouldn’t get stepped on. My mom gingerly picked her up so I could learn how to properly hold her and pet her, and they’d long given up taking her for walks, instead just cleaning up after her messes in the house.
Morgan always sensed I was leaving when she bumped into my luggage, strategically placed as close to the front door as possible. The pre-flight routine was always the same: “Ok, Morgie, gimme a kiss!” Morgan would sniff my cheek and then readjust on her ratty pillow, something that came with us from Rockford and had a place on the couch where the midmorning sun would reach her. It’s like she knew, and I always had the fear of never seeing her again creep into my heart. Even coaxing from family members never yielded so much as a single puppy kiss.
It’s alright; I’ve always been her least favorite.
As the vet came in to administer the shot that would stop her little puppy heart, I cried. Saying goodbye to Morgan was something I’d become accustomed to during the five years I’d leave on a flight. In a way, I felt like this would put to rest my feelings of anxiety about going away for so long, even as I watch my family get older. Stoic has never been my thing, so we all were teary as the vet let us have ten minutes with her before collecting her little body.
“Morgan, now you’re up running with Teddy and your cousin Scooter and Quinceman in Doggy Heaven,” my mom cooed as she stroked her paws, something Morgan hated. It got me thinking about my own slice of Heaven and what might be on the other side. Red velvet cupcakes, for sure, and my dad’s potato salad.
A week later, we’re still getting used to not having Morgan around. I would normally walk in right away and open the living room door to let her out; there’s no one using the backyard toilet anymore. My mom finally tossed out her ratty pillow that we brought with us from our house in Rockford, not being able to look at it anymore. Her food bowls are packed up and stowed away in the back of a closet.
We went to my grandparent’s house after we put her down. My cousins’ dog, Scooter, had to be put down earlier in the year, too, and my grandma told us that Aunt Doreen was still torn up about it.
“Well, we’re going to get another dog,” my mom affirmed, “Probably another shih tzu.” Having taught English for the last five years, I knew that using “going to” in the future was much more probable than using “will.”
I congratulated her on that usage and added, “She could never be as great as Morgan, but we’ll love her all the same.” Plus, we’ve got a whole lot of cans of wet dog food to go through.