Today you are 15. I still remember the day I brought you home from the rescue in my 2004 Honda Civic. It was May 1, 2006, and you were just a year old. I put you on a blue blanket in the passenger’s seat, looked over at you and said, “I need you to be patient with me because you’re my first dog and I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. But no matter what, I promise to give you the best life.”
I opened the door to our 850 sq. foot apartment and the first thing you did was mark your territory. The next thing you did was eat. Then you hid in a corner behind the living room chair. You were shaking and scared. The rescue forewarned me that you were badly abused by your prior owners and I had to speak to you in a low, gentle voice. It took months for you to learn to trust that I wouldn’t hurt you.
The living room sliding glass door faced the parking lot. Each day, you would sit at that sliding glass door waiting for me to come home from work. I don’t know how many hours you sat there waiting, but as soon as you saw me walking up, you went to the front door and started scratching at it. That was the best part of my day as much as it was yours.
You had bad separation anxiety and would shred tissues from the bathroom garbage. Then came the thunderstorms. You were destructive and trembled uncontrollably. I tried to give you extra love on those days. I read books and blogs about how to help you. We started taking you to doggy daycare at Camp Canine so you wouldn’t be alone for long hours while I worked at the law firm. You loved it and they loved you. You even won Camper of the Month a few times and you were always smiling when I picked you up from there.
Soon we moved to the high-rise on the beach. You really hated it — the loud noises, the elevator, and the lack of grass. Do you remember the day I came home to the hole in the closet door? You chewed through several wooden slats and tried jumping in there to hide in the middle of a giant thunderstorm. We learned from Dr. H. that you broke several canine teeth as a result. Grandpa had to replace that door for me.
Then we moved to our cozy two-bedroom apartment. You loved getting your zoomies and running from room to room, but you loved the walks along the marina even more. There was so much grass. Do you remember the day I came home from work and panicked because I couldn’t find you? I kept calling your name. I finally heard a scratching noise from the laundry room and realized you were stuck behind the dryer. Who knew you were an acrobat? It seemed you climbed into the laundry basket, jumped on top of the dryer, and then behind it. You should have probably had a serious injury, but you were just happy I was home to get you out from behind it. Another thunderstorm battle and another thing for Grandpa to fix because you chewed through the duct and shredded it.
We moved a couple of more times, and I even once found you on top of a table when I came home from work after a thunderstorm. I still don’t know how you managed to climb up there.
You were always there for my rough moments – – heartbreaks and even the hardest days when I didn’t want to get out of bed because I hated practicing law. Yet, you were always by my side to cheer me up and remind me that your love was uncontrollable. You were the bright side to every dark day I had.
Then I met your dad. Whenever he went to sit in your chair, you would stare him down. When he got up to do something, you jumped back on it. “My chair,” you claimed.
In that last small apartment, I left practicing law, and you were so happy to have me with you 24/7. You sat next to me while I worked at my desk from home just as you still do to this day.
I am still reminded of how much you loved your morning time out on the patio just sitting in your blue chair. You have always loved fresh air and listening to the sounds of nature.
Soon we moved to our townhouse. You were so nervous to come down the stairs those first few days. You always struggled going up them, and then finally just stopped trying. You let us know you wanted to be carried up.
During the last 5 years, you have traveled a lot. You even flew on a plane to Canada and to Chicago. People were surprised at how perfect you were in your carrier. We’ve taken lots of road trips in between, and you’ve always enjoyed your hotel stays. You prefer 5-star resorts with balconies or just relaxing outside by the pool. (I do too).
Grandma and Grandpa even started babysitting you when I travel. You really wore Grandma down because now she lets you sleep on your blanket on her bed. You love your long walks with Grandpa, and you always get extra chicken or turkey, your favorite.
In the past 2 years, I’ve started to notice the changes and signs. You want to be my side more than ever. You sleep a lot, and you’ve started to lose vision from cataracts (common in shih tzus). You even found your voice and make whimpering noises, especially if I leave you downstairs for a little too long. You let me know when I need to pick you up to put you on the couch since you can no longer jump up on it. You make a lot of groans from aches, and sometimes have accidents in the house because you can’t hold your bladder as long as you used to. You’ve even had some seizures and lots of skin issues causing us to have more frequent trips to see Dr. H.
These are all reminders that you’re aging. It’s been hard watching it unfold. I cry about it in silence because I don’t know how many more years you have left, and I’m scared to lose you. But, as much as I’m reminded and saddened by your aging, I’m reminded of how much life you still have left in you.
You’ve outlived and surpassed the life expectancy of many other dogs. Dr. H. reminds me that your heart is still very strong. For a year, I’ve been cooking your food from scratch, and you love it. It’s my greatest joy to make your food every week. You do this cute little dance when I’m putting it together in your bowl.
You still get excited for your car rides or when I buy you new treats and bring them home for you to try. Some days you want to take longer walks around our development and you perk up and spin around like a puppy when you see other dogs. On the days when you sleep a lot, I love looking over at you and seeing how happy and content you are snuggled into your blanket. You still give me so much love and joy as you’ve done for the past 15 years when I first held you in my arms.
Each day with you is a blessing and I cherish it more than I will ever be able to express in words, belly rubs, or kisses.
Happy 15th Birthday Riley, my precious love.