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Oh My Darling Clarabelle - 06/08/2020

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

My pug, Clarabelle, is the reason why quarantine has not been too difficult for me. We live in an apartment, so we don't have a yard with a doggie door that she can go in and out of as she pleases. She is completely dependent on me to take her out, usually four times a day. And that need didn't go away during the shutdown. So every day, we walked, usually three times, and then went to the dog park and through the McDonald's drive-through for lunch. Even though we didn't see many people, we still got out in the world. And because she was with me, I never felt alone.

Clara is my best buddy. Now, my little buddy is sick, and I don't know how much longer she will be with me. So I thought I would share our story, now, before she is gone, while I can still write it without crying.

Clara is the second dog in my adult life. My family had a wonderful beagle mix, Cleo, while I was growing up. She lived to be 17 years old, and we had her from the time I was five until I was out of the house and married at 22. I loved Cleo so much! I remember hugging her when I was sad and saying, "You're the only one that understands me!" She didn't, of course; I wasn't even her favorite human. That would be my mother, whom she adored. But she tolerated me, and that was enough. My first pug was Pasha, who I got when she was just six weeks old, right after I had to go on medical leave, in January of 1999. Pasha and I had a special bond. We had our own language and could communicate without even speaking. She was funny and spunky and interesting, and I loved her more than I would have thought a person could love. She died suddenly in September of 2011, when she was not quite 13, of aspiration pneumonia. I cried every day for six months, then I decided it was time to get another dog.

I had fallen in love with pugs, so I started looking at the pug rescue sites online. There are a lot of them, especially in LA where I was living at the time. I went through pages and pages, and then suddenly I saw a picture and said, "there she is." It was Clarabelle. I knew the moment I saw her photo that she was the one. I contacted the rescue site, Tailwaggers, and made arrangements to meet her at an adoption event a few days later. When I arrived, there were four other people interested in Clara. I went over to her and sat down on the floor beside her. This tiny pug, only 17 pounds when she should have been about 22, had nicks on her ears from dog fights during the time she'd been living on the streets of LA. She was found in the Costco parking lot in South Central. She was wary of people and of other dogs. But when I sat down, she climbed in my lap and let me pet her between her scraggly ears. After a few minutes, she turned to me and kissed me on my lips. Then she left me, but we knew; it was love at first sight. The rescuers agreed, telling me they thought Clara and I "needed each other," and I picked her up a week later. I kept the name they had given her, mostly because my father had an aunt Clara who was known to be feisty. And my Clara did not disappoint.

She was a handful in the beginning. She peed like a male dog, lifting her leg on every bush and tree we passed at first on our walks in Hollywood, where I was living. She barked at other dogs, and if we got too close she would go after them like the chihuahua-pug mix I believe her to be. She slipped her collar one night and ran across the street to attack a neighbor's dog; I got a serious bite when I separated them. But she was also sweet and loving, and was happy to cuddle with me; Pasha was never a big cuddler. One day, when I was sitting on a big chair in my bedroom, she climbed into my lap, put her head on the arm of the chair, and looked up at me with what I can only call "goo-goo eyes." It was clear she had fallen in love with me, and I with her . From the beginning, I took her everywhere with me. She didn't like the car much at first, and would shiver in fear when we went for rides. I got her a Thundershirt, and that solved the problem. It was her "blankie" for a long time. When I started dating a man who was allergic to dogs, I told him I couldn't give her up. He had never had a dog, and when he moved in with us, he started taking Claritin every day and studying every Cesar Millan video available. He was incredibly good with Clara and ultimately was responsible for training her not to go after other dogs. He loved her almost as much as I do. But he did find it annoying that Clara would always get between us on the couch when we tried to snuggle and watch TV together. She was very possessive.

Over the nearly nine years she has been with me, Clara has been an almost perfect dog. She's not loud or demanding, she just wants to be with me. She has moved with me to two additional apartments in LA and two here in Tucson. She has come with me on film shoots, to rehearsals for plays I was in, shopping at Walgreen's in LA and Tucson, and to most of my doctor's appointments. She got worried about me at a chiropractor's office once, because she thought he was trying to hurt me, and lunged at him to get between us. She did the same thing when paramedics came to take care of me last year when I thought I was having a heart attack. She is my loyal companion and my tiny protector (although at 26 pounds currently, she is not that tiny any more!). I tell her often that it is our job to go out into the world and spread love and happiness, and she takes me seriously. The clerks at my favorite Walgreen's in Tucson all know her name; they don't even recognize me when she is not with me. Even the McDonald's employees at the drive-through know her name. She helps me make friends wherever we go, and automatically gives me something to talk to strangers about. I used to be quite shy, but my dogs opened the world up to me. I'm not shy anymore.

Clara has been healthy for most of the time she has been with me. She was around two when I got her, so she's over 11 now. In the last two years, she has begun to experience health problems. She was diagnosed two years ago with a collapsing trachea, a common congenital illness that affects mostly small breeds. I switched from a collar to a harness and started feeding her soft foods, and that helped a lot. But then about eight months ago, she started panting constantly and had a barking cough. The vet diagnosed her with congestive heart failure, which is a terminal illness. The vet told me she might have two months, or two years, to live. But she started taking medication that helped tremendously, and has been doing well until just last week, when she started panting and coughing again. This time, the problem is the trachea, which has gotten worse. She is on hydrocodone for the cough now, and as I write this she is sleeping peacefully next to me. I don't know how long she has, but we are just enjoying our days together. Her illness has forced me to slow down and take life one day at a time.

I don't know what I'll do without my little buddy. She is with me almost all the time, except when I leave her to go to work. Even then, she sometimes rides with me on my delivery job, although she doesn't like it very much because we never get to eat the food that I pick up which always smells so delicious. I talk to her as if she were a person, even though she is almost completely deaf now and for sure does not understand much. But she keeps me from being lonely, and it makes me happy to sing her silly songs and tell her she's my good girl. I love going to the dog park with her, and that is where I have met most of my friends here in Tucson. I guess I will get another dog, maybe even another pug (you tend to get hooked on them). But there will never be another Clarabelle. My darling Clarabelle.

#pugs #pugrescue #Tailwaggers #OroValleyDogPark #collapsingtrachea #congestiveheartfailure #puggylove

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