Happy Birthday to my baby for the last fifteen years!!!
Heidi was born April 20, 1995, as your math skills will tell you, in Alabama which they won't. It was the summer before I was to begin high school, and the dog I had called mine had moved away. Sasha moved to Albuquerque, NM to live with her mother and lifetime companion, Ginger, and as Ginger was my sister's dog, Ginger moved with Tracy when she married and moved away. I had never been without a dog, and this would be the first time it would be up to ME which furry new soul would join our family. She would be all mine.
After some research and negotiating with my parents, we decided on getting what I now refer to as a Heidi, that being a miniature American Eskimo,but had trouble finding breeders where we lived in St. Pete. So it happened that while visiting my grandparents in Alabama we checked the paper and found an ad looking for good homes for these very puppies. As random as it sounds, I met my baby in the parking lot of a McDonald's near Birmingham, AL, as this was the best half-way point for both my parents and I, and the dog breeders.
She could fit in the cup of my hands, and her tail was like a tiny hairless worm, which sounds a little gross, but was adorable. I carried her to the strip of grass by the railroad tracks across the parking lot and carefully set her down. Every time I took a step to allow her space to sniff around, she clumsily made her way back to the shaded spot between my feet. When people ask me why I named her Heidi, this is the very non-exciting story they get: When she kept following me, I chose to take it deeply personally, feeling she'd chosen me, too, and laughed at how she kept seeking protection with me. She was hiding. I know, it's hardly original, but when I said that last thought out loud to myself and looked down at her, looking up at me, Heidi was her name.
Heidi peed on my lap on the way to see my Aunt Marie and cousin Kelly outside Atlanta, GA, a nice stopover on our way back to Florida. She slept in a cardboard box beside my pallet on the floor, my hand dangling over the side to comfort her. She cried if I took it out; my arm was killing me by morning. For the first few weeks (maybe longer) she slept in a kennel, as she wasn't potty trained, and I kid you not, she woke up every 2 hours whimpering and crying. Id' roll over, stick my fingers through the door and sing to her until she quieted down, then we both went back to sleep.
I learned very early on about Heidi's preference for the male persuasion. She's always been a hussy. Her first human boyfriend's name was Steve, and he and I "dated" over the summer between 8th and 9th grade. She went crazy for him, and he loved it. Her first canine boyfriend's name was Max, and he was a huge black lab who lived behind us. Heidi and Max chased each other up and down the fence that separated them until they laid exhausted against it. When they first met, I was hesitant, not knowing this new dog very well - his family had only recently moved into this house across our back yard. I set Heidi down by the fence to let her sniff at him, and before I knew it, she'd popped her tiny head through an opening in the chain-link fence and then, it was gone - swallowed by what I would soon, to my extreme relief, realize were only Max's cheeks. He'd licked her. After that, they were in love.
Her next love was Chris, a close friend in high school, and she went equally as crazy over him. He played rough with her and she loved it. In fact, I've got a great picture of Chris smiling with his hands out to grab her, and Heidi in mid-jump toward him, a nasty, gnarly snarl on her face. It's adorable. He loved her, and I believe a little jealous when a new Chris entered her life in the fall of 1999. She's still in love with him; we both are, so it works.
Over the years Heidi has been the rubber sole to my running shoe; she's kept me grounded. I lived in a dorm my first two semesters of college, so she stayed at home with Mom and Dad then. But as soon as I was out on my own, she was with me. I couldn't just pick up and take off somewhere without warning because I had Heidi, and that was okay. I couldn't stay out all night somewhere, wandering back home sometime the next afternoon because Heidi was home and would need to go out. She kept me responsible and she kept me company. The first time Chris came over to hang out (the Chris to whom I'm now married), Heidi was instantly infatuated and our relationship started off very domestic, because sometimes it seemed Chris would stop by just to play with her. It was like they were already family. His roommates all loved her for her energy and non-yappiness, so she was always welcome at their place, too.
Heidi's first real roommate was a cat named Mia. Once a stray kitten in Gainesville, FL, and now a fat cat living near Orlando, Mia found a home with my roommate and best friend, Kelly. I wonder how these old ladies might react of they were reunited today, as it's been a while since college. When Mia first came to live with us, she was not happy with the big (to her) white, fluffy thing sniffing at her. It took a couple weeks for Mia to stop that evil growling cats do when they're really pissed off every time Heidi was in sight, and then they were chasing each other around the apartment like old friends. Mia and Heidi even napped together on my bed, though never touching; Heidi's never been big on cuddling, to my severe disappointment.
Heidi's next roommate was a miniature poodle named Honey, with whom she battled over the territory of the apartment. The first time Heidi ever made a mess in the house since puppyhood took the form of a strategically placed line of poop, marking off the entrance to my bedroom. Honey had been peeing outside my room daily for a week, and Heidi was sick of it. When I got home from class and found it, Heidi tucked her tail, flattened her ears, and hung her head in shame. I cleaned it up and gave her a treat because, frankly, I was proud of her for standing up for herself when she knew how bad it was to do it. It didn't happen again.
Heidi also went through an experimental stage in our college years, and had a short affair with a female Yorkie named Spooky. Heidi and Spooky were often dog-sat together if I was out with Spooky's woman, Christina, and they got along famously. We've even got a picture of them under the tiny Christmas tree together. Adorable.
By my last semester at UF it was just the two of us again, and she only had neighbors to worry about when it was time to declare marking territory outside. Something for which I will always feel a little guilty over was the year I lived away from her. While I moved to Newport News, VA to escape some things and find others with Chris, Heidi went back home and lived with Mom and Dad, as the apartment I went into didn't allow pets. I missed her, and was convinced she hated me for abandoning her.
When Chris and I got married and moved to Pisa, Italy, there was absolutely no leaving the baby behind. Thank goodness for good friends willing to bring first-time-flying dogs over the Atlantic for other good friends who couldn't bring said dog when they came. Paperwork and timing don't always cooperate with one another. The first year in Italy, as crazy as it sounds, was tough on me, and Heidi - again - kept me company and kept me grounded. I was a newlywed living across an ocean from not only my entire family, but everything I'd ever known, and having her to talk to on what were often long and lonely days was emotional sanity-saving. As you may or may not have read in earlier blog entries, the first several months I was without friends and without employment, so Heidi was it most of most days.
Although Heidi has never traveled well (car rides not so nice on her stomach) she's had her share of adventures. Her first happened while I was visiting in the States on my own. The front gate of our postage stamp-sized front yard was left unlatched just long enough for our curious explorer to disappear into the night. Chris looked for her until 2am, posting 'Lost' signs in both English and Italian all over our beach side neighborhood. It should be said that Heidi is a smart dog, but like me, it's all book-smarts and none of the street variety. In fact, I've always thought her rather street-stupid. (Seriously, there's a car coming, but it doesn't seem to occur to her to maybe move out of the way before I've dragged her by her leash.) The next morning Chris received a phone call from the woman who found her, and fifteen minutes later, the woman arrived by bicycle to our apartment with Heidi trotting alongside like a regular Italian pooch. The woman refused reward and we never saw her again. Luckily for my husband, I didn't learn of any of this until after Heidi was home safe.
Her next excursion took place in a neighborhood totally foreign to her while we were traveling in Spain one spring. Again, once she was home safe and sound, I learned the story of her overnight disappearance. Apparently wandering off twice already wasn't enough to give this particular sitter the hint that she wasn't to be trusted, and Heidi went on a walk on a Saturday afternoon while groceries were being carried in. Somehow, by the grace of all that is good and miraculous, Heidi found her way to the back door of a house she did not know well Sunday morning, exhausted and totally black. After being fed, bathed, and allowed to sleep a while, I got her back. We didn't call that sitter again.
These days Heidi spends her time inspecting and reinspecting the boundaries of our yard, napping, keeping the floors crumb-free, and occasionally accepting cuddles from us. Aside from a partially worn-out liver and slightly weak kidneys, she's in good health, especially for a dog of her years. She's wary of large dogs and young children, but she's kind enough to avoid rather than snarl, and we appreciate that as all of our friends here have small children.
I'm aware that not all people love dogs, and perhaps don't get how other people can become to attached, finding it ridiculous, if not insulting, to call them their babies. But I've been coexisting with this little punk for 15 years now, and that's a significant chunk of time for any loving relationship. I think we often wait too long to pay tribute to significant things in our lives, be they experiences, people, or pets, and I'd rather celebrate her while she's still around. I'd like to think I've given her a nice life so far, and will continue to be worthy of her unconditional, albeit a little unaffectionate, love for the rest of her time.
My birthday wish for her is this - to enjoy the sunshine and savor the shade; find the juiciest crumbs we didn't even know we dropped and get away with it; and to feel safe and loved in our home. If I can give her that much, then I think I've done okay by her.