If you were never among the privileged souls who spent some time with my dog and best friend Freida, please let me tell you about her now. We met outside of the HEB supermarket on the corner of Manchaca and Slaughter, August 2006. I was pulling into the parking lot when I saw a very animated family, a very large box, and a very big sign saying “Free Puppies.”
I don’t know what possessed me to sprint towards that box like Usain Bolt, but an 8-week old puppy greeted me like a long-lost relative. She leaped out of that cardboard cube full of little siblings and onto my chest, and it was love, love, love at first sight. I called Charles at home and made him drive post haste to the parking lot to meet her. She jumped from my arms to his, and he said five perfect words: “Go get the Puppy Chow."
Last Saturday, in what was the most peaceful passing I could have possibly imagined, Freida offered up a few dozen final kisses and then took her last nap. I believe I will miss her forever.
Until her last few days, this little hospice patient remained remarkably unfazed by the aggressive mass on her back right hip. She treated it like a nuisance to be endured—like an annoying puppy that followed her around—but it didn’t stop her from jumping on the bed, chasing a ball, or pulling on that leash for a simple walk around the block. When that nuisance became, well, a literal pain in her ass on the verge of becoming too much to endure, she kindly let me know with all the grace she could muster. My heart is broken.
My constant companion was the kindest creature I have ever known. I swear she actually smiled. Often. She lived for a good walk, and we covered hundreds of miles together. With the exception of the possum family that periodically took up residence under the backyard shed, Freida left all other creatures—birds, squirrels, bugs—alone to live their lives. She taught me the value of a mandatory afternoon nap, and her snore was the sweetest sound imaginable. She taught me the importance of just showing up every day to face the task at hand, and she never left my side when I was ripped by the tragedy of Charles’ death. In these past few months, she demonstrated that her cancer did not, in any way, define her.
Bravo, Freida. Bravo.
She was the perfect companion for a good road trip, too. Our best was in May 2015 when we took two weeks to drive up to the Grand Canyon, scattering some of Charles’ ashes there. I don’t think I would have done the drive without her, and I’ve never been more grateful for her company. Along the way, we explored everything we could—the Very Large Array, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Cadillac Ranch, Palo Duro Canyon, Route 66, so much more—and every mile was a blast.
But I believe she was happiest when we went to the beach. Specifically, the Gulf of Mexico, always in winter when we had long stretches of sand and water to ourselves. She ran towards seabirds and searched for driftwood and stepped into the cold surf without any trepidation. I watched her sleep in the sun, or in front of an evening fire, and thanked my lucky stars. I will scatter some of her ashes there this winter.
In that moment that we met, back in 2006, I asked the family with that box of puppies what assorted breeds might be in her bones. They thought she was a cross between a Schnauzer and a Jack Russell terrier. As she grew, that seemed pretty reasonable given her size, shape, and coloring, but on a whim, I had her DNA tested last year and… nope. Her 40 pounds were far more interesting under all of that fur. One side was pure Miniature Schnauzer (miniature?!?), but one set of great-grandparents on the other side crossed a Chow with a Chihuahua. Let that sink in. Then let’s all hope the Chow was the mom. Freida was also 1/8th Pit Bull. That one’s a bit of a mystery, but maybe it’s where her smile came from.
The tumor that ultimately took her appeared over the winter. An early diagnosis did nothing to improve the prognosis. The “cure” would have been an amputation, life inside the Cone of Shame while she healed, and months of radiation—all for a possible extra year of life. Good God. I wouldn’t choose that option for myself, so why would I choose it for her? Still, that tumor grew with incredible speed. Last month I started whispering the words, “You’re getting smaller” to it, but the tumor ignored me.
On the morning of her last day, we drove to the park nearby so she could walk through her favorite local brambles one more time. She stopped to pee about every 10 feet—far, far more than usual—as if to say, “I was here. Don’t forget me,” to all other animals who might follow this path. She ignored her breakfast but happily scarfed down a few peanut butter biscuits and the last of the turkey cold cuts in which I would wrap her pain meds. When the vet arrived at 3:00 to put her to sleep, she was comfortably settled in her favorite chair, free of anxiety and still giving those kisses. The last song she heard was World Party’s “Sweet Soul Dream."
I may have been her mom, but Freida had a whole lot of friends—friends like Stefanie and Amanda and Jenny and Kristin who shared some of their time with Freida when I had to travel (too often) for work. And then there is Keith, who met her late in life but turned out to be Freida’s hands-down, all-time favorite person in the world. Keith was with us at the end to help see her to the other side and then help me through my inevitable meltdown. That night, we sat on the patio talking late into the night, and two baby possums came to visit, stopping just a few feet away. I don't know if they were there to pay their respects or claim the yard for themselves.
The house is almost unbearably quiet now. I have not yet moved her bed, or her toys, or her leash. I've talked to her more than once this week, but I've not succeeded in conjuring a response. I keep seeing her out of the corner of my eye, but it's just a mirage; my beautiful oasis is only there in spirit now.
I owe a debt of gratitude to all the vets and staff at AM/PM Animal Hospital where she was a lifelong patient. She was never afraid to be there, and that should say something about the kindness of everyone who works at the office under the lead of Dr. Leanne Parker. My deep thanks as well to Dr. Maggie of Compassionate Pet Vet who made it possible for Freida to pass in that favorite chair. We should all go so peacefully.
In her 12 years, I believe Freida gave out almost 1,000,000 kisses to friends and strangers alike. That’s not hyperbole—I did the math and that number probably isn’t far off. I hope you were the lucky recipient of at least one. She was nothing but love, and I am so grateful to have been on the receiving end of that love for a dozen wonderful, wonderful years.