Last Friday would have been her 7th birthday. I've never been one to celebrate canine birthdays (even I know when to draw the line!), but on Friday morning I awoke with a vivid image of what Olivia must have looked like as a greyhound puppy, and what a hard life she would face for the next four years, not as a pet, but as a commodity: a race dog.
That hard life came to an end when, at age 3 1/2, she was retired and I adopted her. However, I've documented how Olivia didn't adapt easily to being a household pet. She didn't know how to receive love or affection. Didn't know how to react to other breeds or how to share her space. During several walks, she lunged at passing small white dogs (her particular bug-a-boo), inciting one angry owner to scream at me in a thick French accent, "Zees is a horrible dog dat ees worse dan zee pitbull!" More than once Olivia bared her teeth when I got too close to her pillow or growled when I tried to remove something she shouldn't be eating. One time she snapped so close to my face I swore she shaved the peach fuzz off my cheek.
And during our first year together, I often wondered just what had I gotten myself into? Sure, I would continue to feed her. Walk her. Care for her. But would I ever really love her?
Of course we all know the answer. Eventually Olivia came to realize that an extended arm didn't mean she was going to be smacked, but instead be stroked.Passing dogs wouldn't attack, but just sniff. Slowly, Olivia transformed from a frightened, wary dog into my loving, happy girl who bounced with sheer joy at the mere sight of me. On walks, she came to greet strangers with a wagging tail, nuzzling nose, and happy trot, expecting them to love her as I did.
The big orthopedic pillow that she once fiercely protected with a threatening growl soon became "our" pillow. Every single night I'd lay near her side and she would immediately get up, circle three times, then lay back down and spoon against me, draping her head over my shoulder so I could rub her neck, scratch her ears, and kiss her needle nose. While watching TV that's what I would do, giving my lovely 'Livvy all the love and attention she had missed during her first three years of her life. It saddens me that after such a rocky beginning, she knew love for such a brief time.
But my dear friend Deb said that what happened to Olivia was destined before she ever even entered my life, and if I have faith in the Divine, the decision was made that, "This dog gets to spend some time with Eileen." What mattered was the part of her life she spent with me was as good as it could possibly get and to consider the happiness we shared in our short time together. Deb's words slowed my tears and warmed my heart.
"Any dog that lives with you has won the lottery," she continued. Perhaps, but I'm the one who feels like the winner. Because each canine spirit that graces my life expands my heart and finds new depths of love that I didn't know existed. I never thought I could love another dog as much as I did Elvis.
My sweet Olivia proved me wrong.