October is National Pet Rescue Month, and fittingly, the month we adopted Nelli five years ago. In discussing with my husband the topic for my October blog, he urged me to write from my heart so that you can get to know me beyond my candle business. Afterall, my road to candles wasn’t so much a business decision, as it was a personal journey.
Monday June 23, 2008 was one of the worst days of my life.
Tom and I spent the weekend with Maggie enjoying the summer sunshine, grilling steak and pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon, eating ice cream and photographing our good times. We camped with Maggie on the floor of the living room, watched movies and snuggled in blankets; treating ourselves to a weekend of our favorite things.
Monday morning came and with her breakfast we gave Maggie her medication. The vet would be arriving about noon. I sat on our living room floor for three hours with Maggie’s head cradle in my lap; she was clutching her pig toy, the same stuffed pig we bought her the day we brought her home as a puppy over 14 years ago. Tom and I just sat there, stroking her fur and enjoying her warmth. One more time.
And then she was gone.
The emptiness was deafening. Tom and I seemed lost in the silence of our home. In the days and weeks that followed, we couldn’t look at each other without tears forming and dripping down our cheeks. We went out to dinner to distract ourselves only to find our conversation turned to Maggie.
We talked about another dog, but how could I love another dog with the same level of emotion? It wouldn’t be possible. There was no other dog. I needed Maggie back.
At the same time, I was struggling with my career. I was freelancing in marketing/advertising and developing my jewelry line on the side. I was busy with both; as I worked on national marketing campaigns for brands such as, Got Milk?, my jewelry line was being picked up by boutiques locally, and in the Midwest. I was selected to show my jewelry line at Macy’s in Chicago in October (in fact, my letter of acceptance came that last weekend with Maggie; it was so bittersweet). But despite whatever successes, I just wasn’t fulfilled. Something was missing. I needed a new direction.
By August, Tom started emailing links to me from PetFinders with pictures of dogs looking for homes. But I wasn’t ready. I still needed time. A year, I said. Then, one day in October, while working on a proposal, I got “writers block”. I got curious. I looked at PetFiders…I also googled “Minnesota dogs for adoption. It only took a few clicks before I realized I was filling out an application.
Saturday, October 18, 2008 was the best day of my life!
The story is that I was found wondering along a road in rural northern Minnesota in the August summer heat; dehydrated and hungry. I was picked up and taken to a vet’s office; but with no collar or chip, there was no one to call to come get me. So I was taken in by Homeward Bound Pet Rescue and went to live with a family on a farm. They fostered me for a month or two, making sure I got all my shots, and spayed. They even named me after a local school,”Sunrise” (I did get up with sun!). For about 6-weeks, I hung out with other dogs, cats, horses; the typical farm life. Lots of space to run and play, and while it sounds perfect, I really wanted my own family.
Every weekend, I, along with the other foster dogs and cats, would get loaded into our kennels and driven to an adoption event someplace. I interviewed quite a few families, but none of them were the right fit for me, so I politely declined. I knew the perfect family was still out there. It was just going to take time to find them.
And then, there she was. Walking through the rows of kennels checking the nametags taped to the top of each cage. She seemed to be looking for a particular dog. Then she got to me. She sat down next to my kennel, put her fingers through the wire to touch my nose. She had me at “hello”.
Her husband wasn’t far behind. Before I knew it, I was on leash outside walking them, showing them my “shake”, “down”, “sit”. I pulled out all the tricks! But I didn’t have to interview them for long – I knew. And when mom sat down on a curb, I nuzzled into her lap. I wasn’t letting them leave without me.
And an hour later, I was “Nelli” from Chanhassen, Minnesota. I was finally home.
After bringing Nelli home, I still wasn’t sure I would love her as much as I loved Maggie. But it didn’t take long for Nelli to warm up to me. Since I work from home, I had an instant new assistant in my office. After months of copious amounts of legroom under my desk, I suddenly found I had none. I also soon discovered running errands about town required two of us. And lunch meant sharing my turkey. Maggie’s arthritis and subsequent health issues had limited her participation in our daily routine. But even in her younger years, we had our rhythm that I had grown accustomed to. So, this sudden new companionship was something I needed to get used to; I needed to let Nelli into my heart, and know it was ok to love her. After all, Maggie had taught us how to love unconditionally, and now she was teaching me to pass that love on.
After Maggie’s passing, I made myself a candle with a replica red leather collar around the neck of the votive where I could hang her old pet tags. I made a few for friends who lost their dogs in the months since I made my own. As I continued to work my freelance marketing job, and build my jewelry line (with Nelli under my desk), requests for candles came in from friends of friends, and beyond. I remember looking at Nelli one day when another request came in and asking her, “Is this it? Is this our new direction?”
Maggie had always been my business partner. And I wasn’t looking for a replacement when she passed away. But somehow, Nelli slid into the role before I knew it. It became clear in those first few months with Nelli, that both her and Maggie were more than companionship for me. While Maggie’s passing was why I needed a special memorial, it was through adopting Nelli that I realized the importance of honoring my past, while also recognizing new opportunities to move forward again.
I may have “rescued” Nelli from endless foster care and adoption days at pet stores, but clearly it was Maggie and Nelli that rescued me.