I married just before my junior year at the University of Washington, and my husband and I lived in a small apartment a few blocks from the dorms where we had met. When I graduated, I worked for the university, which helped fund our traveling overseas. First to Europe for a few weeks, then a few months, then expanding to eastern Europe. We began to make plans to take a year off from our obligations and step onto new travel paths in Africa and India.
Before that life-changing trip, we moved to a daylight basement apartment across the street from a sloping open space overlooking a cemetery to the south and views of the university to the west. A few other renters lived upstairs in the main part of the house, but we had direct access to a backyard with room for a garden. Most exciting, we had permission to add a dog.
Out for a walk one sunny day in our neighborhood of mild hills and sidewalks, we met a neighbor with a friendly female husky and her adorable fuzzy puppy. We had to stop and chat and love on dogs.
The young man worked in Alaska for part of the year and since there were no male dogs near his home, he speculated that the father of the pups must be a wolf. That seemed like a wilderness tale far removed from the cuteness in front of us. This pup was the last of the litter and she needed a home.
It was love at first sight and our hearts said yes. We prepped our living space and backyard, got a little dog bed, puppy food and plenty of toys. And then we welcomed our sweet girl and named her Gypsy. She was an affectionate, curious, furry energy ball on paws. Her ears were upright and soft as a baby rabbit. Her coat was sleek and painted with stripes in shades of black and brown.
Gypsy stole human hearts everywhere we went, but she wasn’t a big fan of other dogs. One afternoon at a summer party where a police dog was enjoying his dinner outdoors, Puppy Gypsy savagely backed him away from the bowl and began eating his food. Lucky for her he was very tolerant.
At the time, my husband and I and the other guests thought it was pretty funny watching this little fluff ball scare the big scary working dog away from his dinner. I now understand that this type of behavior never turns out well in canine relations, and I empathize with clients whose dogs have a high resource drive.
Gypsy grew into an active and beautiful young dog. I don’t recall our arrangements for her when I was away at the office or the lessons I’m sure she taught us about puppy proofing your home. Remembering her energy and inquisitive nature, I’m sure there were many. I loved coming home to her eagerness and joy and exploring the neighborhood with her. She loved our camping trips and mountain hikes, especially snuggling in the tent on our sleeping bag.
She taught me the consequences of tethering an unsupervised dog in a yard. We started to do this when we were home because we shared our backyard with our upstairs neighbors. They or their visitors sometimes left the small gate open, and we knew that Gypsy would love any chance to rush toward the street and follow her nose.
I was indoors when I heard Gypsy’s frantic cries and rushed out to find her losing her footing as she dangled from her neck in the garage stairwell. The line was tightly wrapped around a small steel pole next to the stairs leading down to the garage. In her panic she wriggled and snapped as I tried to lift her up to release the pressure around her neck. Somehow I loosened either her collar or the line and Gypsy was free. I shook with relief for hours.
One morning in her young life we woke up to find Gypsy very listless with no appetite for her breakfast. We took her to the vet clinic on my way to work, and I was in a meeting when my husband called to say that Gypsy’s kidneys were failing. The vet didn’t know why and speculated that she had ingested something toxic from the backyard garden.
I was stunned. I shuffled back to my meeting crying as I shared the news about Gypsy’s condition with my coworkers around the table. They sat and stared at my grief, and I felt scalded by their discomfort. I was trapped with my exposed and breaking heart.
I numbly left work and walked to the vet’s office taking steps that would normally lead me home. I found my husband standing next to Gypsy in a small room where she lay on a raised table with a line of hydrating fluid connected to her quiet body. Gypsy slowly turned her softly furred head toward me to peek through heavy lids, and her usually lively tail lifted with a limp farewell. As we said goodbye to her failing body and brave heart, I wept for her brief zestful life.
Our apartment was too quiet without Gypsy, and her abandoned toys were as lifeless as she had looked on the steel table at the clinic. We slowly returned to our routine of work and weekends in the woods, trying to discover who we were without her joy.
Later that winter, after storing our belongings, my husband and I flew away from Seattle for our global adventure. Leaving our apartment with the little backyard. And memories of our sweet, trusting Gypsy.