We all know the rule. Never go to an animal shelter, dog rescue or parking lot adoption event if you don’t plan on taking a new pet home with you.
It was the day after Christmas, Moonbear and I had been living together for a year in Angelino Heights, a historic preservation islet in the middle of Echo Park in LA. We had moved in after knowing each other for all of six months, not so much because we were ready as because Moonbear was desperate to get me out of the Skid Row hotel penthouse I was living in when we met. He had appealed to my practical side, pointing out the heroin addicts in the stairways and the gang tattoos on the security guards, and he had appealed to my romantic side, asking me to move in with him by saying, we know we’re meant to be together so let’s just do it, but the space was too good to give up –an eleventh floor penthouse with wrap around windows in the middle of Downtown’s historic core, five thousand square feet that I shared with four other people. It had six hundred square foot bedrooms, a giant great room, a galley kitchen and a roof full of downtown views all to ourselves. It wasn’t until the new owners started making life miserable for the residents (whom they wanted out, of course, so they could renovate and convert to condos) that I agreed to take the plunge.
I had lived in Angelino Heights before, and just like the first time I lived there we had a drive by shooting in front of our nicely renovated triplex within the first six months of occupancy. There was a lot of gang activity all over Echo Park, and I felt less safe there than I had on Skid Row – I knew how to deal with degenerates and homeless people, but gang members, not so much. Added to this unhappiness, Moonbear and I had been engaged for six months and had been having a miserable time with the wedding plans and with each other, things at my job were not going well and we were struggling for money. And there we were on the day after Christmas at the Pasadena pound, staring at this skinny little doe eyed dog who sat staring back at us, in a room full of barking dogs she just sat there staring at us as if she was going to cry. And just like that, our whole world changed.
The three of us had fallen in love, but when we went to sign the adoption papers they wouldn’t let us take her home – she was cat aggressive, they said, and we had disclosed that we had a cat at home. We called the shelter every day after that for a week, until they finally told us that she had been picked up by a rescue outside of Santa Barbara. We called and they confirmed that the cat test had been a fluke, and that we could pick her up anytime we liked.
Nani remembered me the minute she saw me. We signed the papers and the whole hour and a half ride home, she slept with her head and as much torso as she could fit curled up into my lap. She was an almost pure Doberman with natural ears and tail, sweet and afraid of just about everything. She was six months old and had never been on a leash or been well socialized with other humans or dogs. She knew no commands but was eager to learn. And she loved each of us like neither of us had been loved before.
Every morning my husband would take her for a run through Elysian Park, and every sunset I would walk her through our little five block by five block neighborhood of restored craftsmen and Victorian houses. All of a sudden I was out and about, interacting with the neighborhood, walking every night when I would have been afraid to walk otherwise. Nani had grown quickly into a strong, fierce looking dog, and nothing scared me when I was with her. But not only did Nani protect me in my house and walking around on the streets – she was the comfort and the confidante that never judged me and never left my side. When things went from bad to worse with the wedding, when I started a new job and it was a nightmare, I would cling to her shoulders and cry into her neck, and she would curl up against me and lick my hands and try to make everything better.
Nani was the most intuitive, sensitive, loving dog I have ever met, but as much as we tried, Nani was not an easy dog. Because she had never been socialized we were starting at a deficit, and her constant anxiety was not helped by the many close calls with poorly trained pitbulls running lose in Elysian Park and the constant low flying helicopters over our house. We spent money we didn’t have on trainers and toys, spent endless time exercising her, playing with her, petting her and reassuring her. But no matter what we did, Nani just could never quite calm down.
When we moved to Eagle Rock, Nani did finally start to improve. The helicopters weren’t so bad, we had a huge yard she could play in, and we took her running around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where everyone followed leash laws.
My relationship with Nani changed as well with the move when Moonbear and I traded dog roles. Now I was the one rolling her out of bed in the morning for a run and breakfast, and starting each day like this together soon deepened our mutual understanding to a level of near telepathy. It came as no surprise to me a year later when I understood that Nani had known I was pregnant before I did. About a week before I found out I was pregnant she started acting differently around me, clingy in the way my daughter gets now when she is feeling anxious. She suddenly started regressing in her behavior on our runs and at home with me, and the more pregnant I became the worse she got. We moved again to South Pasadena (to accommodate the coming baby, of course), and this was the final break in the bond between us. I was too pregnant to run with her now, and her behavior soon worsened to the point that I could no longer even walk her by myself, I didn’t have the stability to hold onto a seventy pound Doberman determined to show that Chihuahua who’s boss. We would have to send her to stay with a friend when Moonbear left town because walks were out and even the back yard was out after she went so crazy in our new shrunken back yard one morning that she nearly broke my nose.
But we loved Nani as though she were a human being. We wanted to believe that we could make it work with her and a baby and we did our best to prepare her. But when the baby was born, and when we went home without the baby, Nani could no longer soothe me as I cried; I didn’t want to hold a dog, I wanted to hold my baby. And then the baby came home, still a tiny, fragile newborn after her week in the NICU, and Nani couldn’t handle it, and we couldn’t handle Nani not handling it, not after everything we had gone through to get our Koukla home.
Moonbear and I had made a pact during my pregnancy that with the first sign of aggressive behavior Nani showed toward the baby we would find her a new home. She went to live with a friend while we worked with the same Pasadena Pound where we had first met Nani four years earlier to find her a new (and hopefully this time forever) home.
One day when I was driving to work last week and having one of those loving, meaningful conversations with my husband, I pulled the car over because I thought I saw Nani, walking in her prancing sort of way with her ears flopping at attention and her tail curled up behind her. She was with a man not much older than Moonbear who tugged gently at her when she pulled to hard on the leash and made her stop at street corners just like we used to do. I whistled out the window, but they were already too far away to notice.
I thought about running after them, calling out her name, but I realized how disappointed I would be if it turned out not to be her. I wanted to believe that we had been meant to pass like this, that our telepathy was still getting the better of us, that I was meant to see her happy somewhere else so I could finally get my closure. And I knew also how disappointed I would be if it did turn out to be her, as though seeing her happy with someone else would invalidate the deep connection she and I had once had, as thought somehow it just wouldn’t be as special. So I got back on the phone with my husband, put my car back into gear, and finished my drive to work, sending telepathic waves of energy to my beautiful, difficult dog, wherever she was.