Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Told Myself I’d Never Do It Again

Linking up with MamaKat's pretty much world-famous Writer's Workshop today. 


She was tiny, like me. Curly brown hair, pert nose, eager to please.  She was quiet and timid; overshadowed by her vivacious big sister. And she stank.

It’s true, I’ll admit it. Despite regular bathing, my toy poodle Pookie trailed a constant stench of bodily waste and decay, especially at the end. But I get ahead of myself.

Pookie was my first pet -- I think she was presented to me when I was still in diapers. Eventually, I learned to control my bodily functions, but poor Pookie never did. She was awarded her name, our family’s term for ‘fart’, during her first days at home, because we quickly realized it would become her primary form of communication with us. Pooks were her signature party trick; her calling card; her drafty personal contribution to family conversation. From the day we met her until the day she died, she was gassy.

It got worse. Despite our halfhearted attempts to train her, throughout her life, skinny, nervous little Pookie seemed to prefer to relieve herself on my green shag rug or in the laundry room, where at least we had a linoleum floor. Inevitably, the odors, Pepe LePew-like, followed in her wake.

Still, Pookie was my dog, and I loved her unconditionally. She was my confidant and my playmate. She’d lick my tears when I was sad, and steady my breathing when I slept. I fed her and brushed her and bathed her; cleaned up after her many “accidents;” dressed her up in doll clothes; took her for walks – everything you'd expect from a girl and her pup.

Each night we’d drift off to sleep together – me: corpse-like on my back, fist balled into my hip, Pookie: wound up in the crook of my arm, resting her doll-sized poodle head on my shoulder. And each morning, I’d find my dog stone asleep at the foot of my bed as I stepped out into a reeking wet circle on the rug, or worse.

Pookie was 13 years old, and I was a delicate 16, when she began to die. She had been growing sicker for many months. Her small body was more skeletal than ever. Her fur had been falling out, and what was left clung to her frame in matted patches. Most of what she ate she vomited out. After we found a mess she’d cower in the corner, reduced to a shamed heap of small, shivering bones. Her body was literally wasting away, as bodies will do. She smelled of approaching death.

At last the day came when my parents decided to take Pookie to the vet for a lethal injection. They told me to say goodbye. In the foyer I held my dog close, cried into her sour hair one last time, and gingerly passed her to my mother. Pookie, for her part, seemed to know what was up. She didn’t complain. I’m told that she passed away even before they arrived at the vet.

I was inconsolable after Pookie died. I lashed out at friends who had teased me about the dog’s filthy habits and I cried myself to sleep for weeks. I moped around the house and wept in the bathroom at school. 

I knew that I should have been grateful that I had so many “good years” with her. I should have been happy that I’d lived to the ripe age of 16 without ever having to say goodbye to someone (something?) I loved. But the cuts ran deep. Never again, I told myself. I swore that after Pookie broke my heart I’d never again let myself get attached to a pet.

Yet time moves on, and though there are scars, wounds do heal. Now, 25 years and two kids later, I am finally opening my home to a new animal. I hope that since Pookie died, I have gained some wisdom and distance from my pain.  While I am saddened at the thought that my children will have to endure the same kind of loss that I did, I realize that caring for an animal is a character-building opportunity. It is a chance to learn how to love and care for something beyond ourselves. It teaches responsibility and generosity, patience and sharing. Sooner or later, the suffering will find us. It is how we deal with that suffering that makes us who we are. Better to have loved and lost, and all that.

If there’s one thing children teach us, it is to open ourselves to all of life's possibilities – to welcome the joy and the agony, and yes, even the stink – because in the end, our lives will be richer for it. I know this now. My kids have been lighting the way for years. I think I am finally ready to follow.

So welcome, Wolfie the cat, to your new home. Let me show you where we’ll keep the litter box…


  1. Sorry to hear of her passing. But, sounds like she gave your family lots of laughter and lightness amidst her stench. :)

    Stopping by from Mama Kat.

    1. she was pathetic indeed, but we loved her. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Aw, this is sweet and sad at the same time. Poor Pookie. It sounds like she loved you unconditionally, and you returned the favor. Dropping in from Mama Kat's!

  3. Oh man, the combination of kids and pets is hard to resist. That's how I ended up with two kittens :-)

    We used to have a motley looking poodle named Mikey. I didn't care what anyone said - he was all mine!

    1. They say poodles are 'smart' dogs. I'd hate to see what a dumb breed looks like! :)

  4. I love that you came full circle and opened your heart to a new little pet. :) We use the word "pookie" to instruct our dogs to use the bathroom while they're outside. They go on command...maybe your dog was doing the same. ;)

    1. Now you tell me! Clearly we were misusing the word. :)


If you're having trouble leaving a comment, send me an email at tammyjkleinman [at] to let me know.