I originally wrote and posted this blog a little over three years ago. It felt fitting to re-post it as a tribute to an old friend we lost this week.
January 24, 2013
I am currently living with a Star of the Week. Truth be told, he is the Star of My Every Week but recognition from mom doesn’t carry the kind of perks that Star of the Week at school in second grade brings…like having your teacher’s permission to bring your giant, old black Labrador retriever to school for Show and Tell.
“Mom, she said I can bring Stitch on Friday.”
“I don’t know, honey. There are 'no dogs allowed' signs all over campus.”
“Julia brought her chameleon.”
“Chameleons are different from big dogs. Has anyone ever brought a dog?”
“Yes, Audrey brought her dog. It was big and it’s only one.”
Nicky knows the difference between puppy behavior and the behavior of our stately, soon-to-be ten-year old, pure bread, retired, show dog. Yes, I am bragging about a dog that I didn’t even train. The fact of the matter is we adopted Stitch at the end of his career when he was 17 months old.
“Was her dog as big as Stitch?” I had to ask.
“Yes. Definitely as big as Stitch.”
“Yes. Definitely as big as Stitch.”
I’m not calling my Nicky a liar but a tall-tale-teller if it means getting what he wants, absolutely.
“Alright, honey. I’ll send your teacher an email to confirm what time on Friday. And I’ll get Stitch groomed for his big appearance.”
“Thanks, Mommy. I am so excited. I know they will looove Stitch.”
Stitch visited the groomer the preceding Tuesday. When I went to pick him up, she asked if he’d been more lethargic lately, if he was drinking less water. I said I hadn’t noticed any behavior changes and we always give him a healthy amount of water mixed in his food bowl, a bowl that he continues to leave pristine after what feels like no more than 15 seconds of power consumption. This, in addition to regularly refilling his water bowls.
“Well, his coat has changed and he has lost weight since last time,” she continued.
“He was just here in the beginning of December. And he’s been getting the same food plus treats and more fruit lately.”
“When is the last time he went to the vet?”
“He just went for a check-up and boosters in October.” I was probably too defensive about Stitch’s health.
“Well, next time you go in, ask them to do a blood panel for thyroid. I’m worried about his thyroid.”
I could feel my chest tighten. Fortunately, I had Jeff with me. As we walked out the door of the groomer, he gave his typical, first response to anything he disagrees with:
“She’s full of shit. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Whether Jeff’s response was born of a genuine belief that our crazy groomer who talks openly about having fleas because she sleeps with her flea-ridden dogs really is full of shit – or – like me, Jeff felt his chest tighten at the thought of our Stitch beginning to show physical signs of aging, I don’t know.
When we arrived home, I gave Stitch a treat, filled all three of his water bowls and returned to my desk to get lost in work.
Nicky’s grand, Star of the Week finale came yesterday. I followed his teacher’s email instructions:
Bring him five minutes before school lets out.
I felt I was running late because that’s how I seem to perpetually live my life so Stitch and I parked the car and hurried to Nicky’s classroom door. Of course Stitch had to stop and sniff and relieve himself several times, but fortunately the latter was done “outside the school gates”.
The classroom door was open when we arrived, both out of breath. I caught his teacher’s eye and she came to the door.
“We just started a lesson so it will be a couple minutes.”
Soon Nicky was at the door, all smiles.
“Is it time, honey? Did your teacher say it’s time to bring Stitch in?”
The kids seemed to be packing up.
“Let me ask.” Nicky bolted into the class and back in seconds. “It’s time!”
We shared Stitch’s retractable leash handle as we walked to the front of the class. The kids were already getting loud and a little rambunctious.
“Nick, do you want to tell everyone about Stitch?” I asked.
“No, you tell them.” He was quick to reply.
I began to search my brain for where I would start…where I could start…
ME: Nick’s dad and I adopted Stitch when he was 17 months old because we couldn’t get pregnant, and the following month the IVF worked! We were expecting Nick AND Vince! Stitch is our good luck charm…
CLASS: Mrs. Pieri, what’s IVF?
ME: The first time I heard Stitch bark was when a stranger came to our door right after Nick and his brother were born. He was protecting us.
CLASS: Protecting you from what, Mrs. Pieri?
That won’t work.
ME: I have the best pictures of Nick and his brother putting stickers on Stitch when they were maybe 18 mos old. Stitch just laid there and let Nick have fun stickering him up. Stitch has always been such a good dog; such a wise soul.
I started, “When Nick and his brother were really little…” My voice caught. I could feel the tears coming.
“What mommy?” Nicky looked up at me, wanting me to continue. None of the other kids seemed to notice or care as rambunctiousness had turned to chaos when Stitch sniffed lord knows what under a cluster of desks and scurried between legs and under chairs.
I smiled down at Nicky.
“What do you think they want to know?” I managed.
“They can ask questions,” Nicky decided.
“Ok. Does anyone have any questions about Stitch?” I asked as I pulled Stitch out from under the cluster of desks.
The hands slowly went up and at the same time, Stitch began to sniff his way over to another cluster of desks, his back and the top of his head covered in second graders’ little hands.
“How old is Stitch?”
“Did you name him?”
“Does he bite?”
And my personal favorite:
“Um...um…um…I think I forgot.”
Soon the final bell rang and there Stitch and I stood alone but together, quickly forgotten, even by Nicky who had moved on to conspiring with his brother for an after-school play date.
I never considered myself a “dog person”, though I did grow up in a household with one or more dogs at any given time. All I can say and say with a great deal of certainty is that Stitch has given me; my family; and countless children in my home, on walks and at the park; more than most human beings I know.
And he just keeps giving.
An excerpt from an essay entitled My Three Wishes written by a now fifth grade Nicky just last month:
Second, helping my dog Stitch have a happy, healthy rest of his life would be all that my family would really want. Changing the house so it’s easier for him to go in and outside would be a great start. Also, giving him love and affection throughout his tough times would surely make him feel better. Hopefully, my other dog Butter will make him feel better. Getting better prescriptions and medications will help Stitch have less pain. Maybe I can ask my Dad to help me install some ramps around the house. Knowing my dog, he’s always happy but I know sometimes he needs help.
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