One winter day, over a decade ago, I called and left a hilarious message on my mom and stepdad’s answering machine. “Hi Mom. Hi Rod. Just wondered if you wanted a Scottie puppy. Anitra has a friend with a puppy who needs to find a new home.” This was hilarious because all through high school, Nathan and I asked our mom to get us a puppy. She would have a grocery list on the fridge and we would add to it: “Get puppy food for our new puppy” or “Don’t forget to buy a puppy.”
I was shocked when Rod returned my call: “Sure. We’ll take the puppy.”
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. It was my mom: “We DO NOT want the puppy.”
Ten minutes passed. The phone rang. Mom again: “Okay. What kind of puppy is it? A scottie? We looked at pictures. I guess we need the number of the people with the puppy.”
The next day, I went to Walmart and bought a dog crate, then went to a house to pick up my parents’ new puppy. Turns out the puppy had been a Christmas present for a 2 year old. She didn’t like being licked and nibbled on. “Here. You can have my puppy,” she told me, handing this squirmy, blurry black ball of fur to me. She then tried to get in my car with me. “No, sweetie. You’re staying with us,” her parents told her.
I met Mom and Rod at a gas station to pass off the puppy. “Good luck?” I said to Mom. She muttered something about not believing they were doing this.
Shortly after adopting a puppy, Rod had a bout with lymphoma. He was sick. The last thing any sick person or caretaker of a sick person needs is an enthusiastic, wind up toy Scottie puppy to deal with. Yet, somehow it worked. As Rod recovered from being sick, the puppy was his motivator to get better. No dog was more loved than Rodney Ruppert’s scottish terrier. She would bark at him, sitting in his comfy recliner. He would move to the couch so she could sit in the chair. He walked slowly and sat on the porch, surveying the neighborhood. She had time to smell to every tree and bark at passing bicyclists. The nightly ritual included a trip to the park to chase the geese back into the lake. She would get her dog food dinner, followed by a few extra pieces afterwards “for dessert.”
Three years later, Rod passed away from complications with his lymphoma. He was survived by his kids, my mom, my brother and I, and a very upset Scottish terrier. Rod’s dog had become my mom’s dog. The ritual of going to the park was replaced with a trip out to the cemetery. Niki’s bossiness towards geese was replaced with her scolding the gophers. She would run around (respectfully, of course) before hopping back in the car for our quick trip through the Dairy Queen drive thru. Mom made us order vanilla cones instead of twist so that Niki wouldn’t get sick from chocolate when we handed her the bottom of our ice cream cone.
Niki was the best dog. She tolerated a Darth Vader costume (because we gave her treats)
and loved her bumblebee outfit (again with the treats) and frequently yelled at the neighborhood squirrels to “stay off of our lawn!”
Niki also taught my brother’s dog how to bark. Sweet, quiet Miles was so confused about what the ruckus was with all the barking. Then one day, he joined in. He’s been barking since
In February, Mom sold her house and moved into an apartment. We all wondered how Niki would take the move. Her neighborhood and rituals had changed, but other things had changed, too. She wasn’t well. She was obviously in pain. Mostly though, she stopped eating. The little black dog who would run circles around the table if there was even a hint of food, showed no interest in food.
Call me crazy, but I think Niki knew it was the end. Maybe she knew Mom was entering a new phase in life and didn’t need a dog as much anymore. It was just her time. Though it might not be theologically true, part of me hopes she found Rod and is howling along with his harmonica.
Thanks for the memories, little black dog. Thanks for taking care of Rod and for Mom.