Tuesday, July 18, 2023

$25 Bundle of Love

I always wanted a Whippet. They're hard to come by in America, but in Europe they are like Golden Retrievers. You see them everywhere.When I stopped by the West Valley Animal Shelter in December of 2013, I hardly expected to find one. As I stepped into the large main lobby, an employee greeted me and asked if there was a specific dog I was looking for. I told him. He said: "Oh, you mean like this one?" And beckoned me to follow him down the long hallway. My heart beat sped up. They actually have a whippet? The shelter was typically full of Pitbulls, Huskies, German Shepherds and Chihuahuas. What was I about to see?

We walked into the long kennel where they kept the dogs. It was cold, dark and noisy. Dogs barked and howled. Metal bowls clanged. I followed him to one of the last cages on the left side. As I walked up to look into the cage, I was greeted by a leaping, licking, happy, little "Whippet." As I stuck my fingers through the cage, I looked at her card. It said "stray" and "Whippet" and that she had a week to go in the shelter before she could be adopted. The man explained she had been running the streets of the west valley when she was caught by the dog catcher. I thought to myself, "And no one has came looking for her?" She was frantically licking my fingers as I leaned down to look through the metal bars and into her eyes.

It was love at first sight.

She had dark brown olive eyes to match her dark brown seal-smooth coat. A white stripe divided her dark chocolate face and ran all the way to her belly, spotted along the way with dark brown freckles in various shapes and sizes. She had the cutest upright--but floppy at the tips--ears. She had the slender build of a whippet  with the slightly arched back and thin legs but she also had a barrel chest - not a large barrel like a dog that would rescue you in the snow, but one that meant business. She was muscular but trim, probably from running in the streets and jumping up and down, which she continued to do. I tickled her forehead between the bars. I HAD to have her. 

"So I can come back Saturday for her?" I asked the man still standing behind me.

"Yea, she'll be up for adoption first thing in the morning. I do expect there to be an auction for her though. We hardly ever get dogs like this, so get here early. If no one else shows up and wants her then there won't be a bidding war and she's yours. You know what..." His voice trailed off as he motioned once again for me to follow him. He led me back to the main office where he printed out Cali's intake card and handed it to me. 

"Here," he said. "Bring this in and take it straight to the first employee you see when you come in on Saturday and say you want this dog. They'll go get her. Once you pay, she's yours." I thanked him numerous times and promised I'd be back on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, I showed up a half hour before the shelter opened. It was raining and miserable and my nervous anticipation was making me nauseous. Every car that pulled up I thought: "Are you going to be bidding on the dog I want? Are you? Are you?" I started to try to figure out how much I would be willing to bid for her. 150? 200? No you would hate to lose her for that...$300, $500? I settled at somewhere around $400 and tried to stay calm.

The front doors opened at 8 and I jumped out of my car. I went inside with several other folks who were also hustling toward the kennels and the front desk. I saw an employee standing between the lobby and the kennels. Like a kid on a pool deck, I speed walked over to him, handed him the shelter card and said I wanted to adopt this dog. He said he would go get her and that I could stand in line at the front desk to pay for her. I got in the line. I listened carefully to the few people in front of me wondering if they were interested in the same dog I was. Would there be an auction? A few minutes later, the employee came back with the dog on a leash and handed me her official kennel card. She was all hops, wiggles and kisses. She took short prance-y, happy steps as he took her behind the counter and out of site. I was on egg shells waiting to pay for her. I finally made it to the front counter and handed the lady the kennel card.

"Driver's license please?" she said. I handed it to her. What else do you need? I thought to myself. Birth certificate? AAA card? Proof of home ownership? I got it.

"That will be $25." She said. 

$25? That's it?! Turns out it was a December special they were running. Adopt any shelter dog for $25 which included spaying and neutering.

I handed her my credit card and she processed the transaction.

The Whippet was mine!

She told me that the dog would need to be spayed and that I could pick her up later that day. She gave me the address to the pet hospital where the dog would be having surgery, just a few miles away. As I stood waiting for her to process everything I had just signed, I tried to think of what I was going to name my new pooch.

It came to me in an instant. I'll name my favorite dog after my favorite state.


Somehow, I just knew she would be my favorite dog of all time. Turned out I was right.

I took Cali home later that afternoon. She was tender from surgery but still full of kisses and energy. She was 10 months old. Her tongue was too big for her mouth and her right eye was slightly smaller and not quite in alignment with the other--It was the only thing lazy about her. She had three white "sock" paws. Clearly, she had lost one sock while running the streets of the valley.

After she got her strength, I proudly took her to the dog park in her purple sparkle collar and purple harness. Someone was coming out of the park as I was going in and asked me "What kind of dog is that?" "Whippet" I said. "At least I think so. She's a puppy." He didn't say anything. Just looked at her a bit confused. Maybe he didn't know what a whippet was.

Once inside Cali challenged every dog to a race. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs that didn't want to race. Some gave chase and she left most of them in the dust. She wasn't just fast, she could turn on a dime. People would stop and make comments about her speed and agility and say she must be some kind of a greyhound breed. I told them her kennel card said she was a whippet. They would just nod. I was thrilled to have her, but curious if she would grow a bit more; if her back would arch a bit more; like a Whippet, but no matter what, I would love her, however she turned out.

Awhile later, I posted pictures of her on Facebook and asked people to tell me what kind of dog they thought she was. I kept getting the same responses: "I see Staffordshire Terrier" "I see staffie plus maybe a greyhound breed of some type in there?' "Pocket Pittie?" Turns out they were right. I had her DNA analyzed through one of the doggie test kits and sure enough she was NOT a whippet.

She was 50% Italian Greyhound, 25% Pitbull (Staffordshire Terrier) and 25% Jack Russell.

Or in short, she was a Jack Pit Russel. Or an Italian Jack Pit. Or a Italian Bull Russell.

She wasn't a Whippet. She was a "Jippit." I didn't care. 

She was the best dog I had ever had. Pure joy on a leash. Pure bliss off. My constant companion. A well-behaved eye-catcher with a heart of gold. She was friendly to other dogs, loved everyone and easy to train. She learned sit, come, and stay in ten minutes. She walked perfectly on a leash without classes. She was fun and energetic. She wasn't destructive and rarely peed in the house. She slept in her crate that first night at home without a peep. She was a love bug, with endless kisses and leg hugs to give even to strangers who stepped into her radius, especially if they were wearing black pants. She'd roll over so you could rub her freckled belly. She had a face that could melt butter and looked good in every picture. I called her "Sears photo puppy" for that reason. She was my "bestie."

I took her on early morning runs with me-- in fact, there was a time this dog ran 3-5 miles a day with me 4-5 days a week. She didn't stop to sniff when we were running, just trotted alongside me like she knew the drill. Many times I had to pick her up and carry her as coyotes would cross our paths or chase us as the sun was coming up on the horizon. I've run over a half mile with her in my arms until I felt it was safe enough to put her down. She'd take care of me during the morning runs, too. The one time I heard her bark on our run was when a stranger stepped out from behind a bush into our path and she thought she had to protect me. Her bark was strangely aggressive. I didn't know she had it in her. I used to say: "You protect me from the bad people; I'll protect you from bad animals." She has been on trails all over California. She has run off leash on a few beaches and parks because she always came back when I called. I'll never forget her off leash time at Peter Strauss Park in Agoura Hills. No one else was there and she ran free in between the oak trees, scraggly bushes and shallow creek, sniffing and leaping and trotting and running as free and happy as I had ever seen her. I remember thinking "She is in heaven." Her overt joy brought me to tears. 

OK, she wasn't always perfect, but as biased as I am, I thought even her flaws were cute. She only brought balls back half way. She was PETRIFIED of referee whistles so I could never watch sports on TV. She hated the rain. Even in a rain coat, she wouldn't go outside without a lot of coaxing, or in some cases--carrying. She would lick any exposed skin on your legs, face, arms--which not every guest in my house appreciated. But she was only an aggressive kisser - I could trust her with anyone because I knew she did not have a mean bone in her body. She never growled at anyone or tried to bite. She was a total sweetheart to her core. She knew when I was sick or sad and would sit with me to comfort me, not just with me, but on me. She would lean in and look up at me with those dark olive eyes. The ones that looked in to your soul. She's seen me through eye surgeries, sprained ankles, stressful days, sad goodbyes and COVID. It's hard to describe, but she wasn't just a dog living in a dog's world that overlapped with mine, she was actually in this world with me--she really looked at me, really looked at others, paid attention to people and emotions and moments in the human world and reacted to them--in a way I had never noticed a dog do before. She was present and interested- not just a fur ball lying on a couch or under the kitchen table. I know everyone says this about their dog, but Cali was special. I have never known another dog like her.

She was also a great travel dog. She loved to go in the car and LOVED being in hotels. I always had to pick hotels where dogs were welcome because there was nothing Cali liked better than running into the room and jumping up on the bed, and spreading out on the comforter like it was hers. She has been to Carmel, Monterey, Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, San Diego, Ventura, Carpinteria, Paso Robles, Malibu, Conejo Valley, Pismo, Camarillo, Santa Monica, Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach, Venice, Tehachapi, Palm Springs, San Luis Obispo (allowed inside a record store), Cambria (loved the "chipmunks"), Cayucos, and many, many other places all over California. She's also been on TV. She and and my other pup Denali made the KTLA morning news as the featured pups during the weather segment. She didn't let it go to her head.

Cali endeared herself to everyone she met along the way-- "To know her is to love her" I used to say. She loved and was loved by my family, friends, the MIMs running group, neighbors, sitters, anyone she met, even the staff at the vet's office who saw her regularly the last year of her life. If you met her and didn't love her, well then we probably couldn't be friends. As a result of having so many people who loved her, she had a lot of nicknames:

Cali-Coo and Hard Licker (my sister gave her these names), Coco, Cocolicious, Cocolatte, Coconuts, Coconuts, Cali Girl, CaliCoo, Cal, Calorific, Roo-Roo, Roo-Dog, Nena, Beauty, Pocahontas (don't ask), Lovebug, Skipper....the list goes on an on. 

I even named my online record collection and store after her - Coco's Records. Her picture is on mugs, t-shirts and inside a small charm, a precious gift my sister gave me.

On Monday, July 17, 2023, I had to put her down. After a five year battle with Cushing's Disease, ongoing bouts of pancreatitis, along with liver problems, kidney failure and a heart murmur, she was done. The vet confirmed there was nothing else that could be done after all the meds, IV's, fluids, antibiotics, and everything else that went into keeping up this beautiful girl's quality of life for the past few years. Not a single staff member at the vet's office had a dry eye when they found out it was time to let her go. Cali had touched each of their hearts just like everyone else she crossed paths with, and they called her "part of their family." I will never forget one of the Vet Techs coming in the room to say goodbye to Cali as she lay in her bed on the exam table. She leaned over her, called her "sweet mama" and kissed her forehead with big tear drops falling down her face and on to Cali.

She went peacefully surrounded by people who loved her. I kept the promise I made to her years ago that I would not let her suffer, but it doesn't mean that my heart didn't shatter into a million pieces having to let her go. She was the best $25 I ever spent and a blessing from God.

I will always love you Cali. 

You may not be a whippet, but you're the best dog ever.

2/14/12 - 7/17/23

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