My beloved dog, Kate, has died. For almost 18 years she was my companion and huge source of joy. Kate was the smartest dog I’ve ever had and her ability to anticipate what I wanted, and then do it before I asked, constantly amazed me.
She was our dog, Neal’s and mine–and he wasn’t a dog person–but there was something about Kate that touched his heart. Losing Kate also feels a bit like losing Neal again. She was the last thing we still shared.
Kate had a big life. She lived in Russia, Toronto, Las Vegas and New York City. She traveled with me all over the country. She even met Cesar Millan. She was quietly powerful. I watched her many times stop a big dog in his or her tracks with just a look. She was also the fun police. Canine shenanigans should be kept to a minimum and if things got too enthusiastic, Kate corrected the offending partier. She had an unlikely friendship with my daughter’s pug, Lola. They were opposites in every way but truly BFFs. Since Kate’s death I’ve spent time imagining the reunion of Lola and Kate. Lola died almost a year ago. My daughter said, “Lola will show Kate the ropes for about two minutes and then Kate will take over.”
Nigel, my terrier didn’t make a move without glancing at Kate for approval. He’s lost without her now.
She died at home after her last walk of the day. Her tired heart just gave out. I took her body from the sofa and moved her to the floor so Nigel would understand. He sniffed her mouth and then settled next to me. The day after Kate’s death, I found Nigel exactly where I had placed her body.
I loved that little dog fiercely and she would have walked through fire for me. She was the first thought I had each morning and her comfort was my last thought each night as she moved about the bed shifting her old bones until she found a position that worked. This hole in my heart can never be filled. I will miss her every day for the rest of my life. And I so hope there’s something beyond this life. If that place exists, my loyal girl is there, waiting patiently for me.
The story below was originally posted on the 1 Year of Online dating at 50 blog. It was not about dating; it was about Kate. It was the most popular entry and had the greatest number of comments. I’m posting it again to honor my sweet girl.
A Love Story (2012-05-14 21:17)
This is not another tale of online dating perils. This is a love story. The purest I’ve ever told.
After the experience I had, it is necessary to pay homage to two big loves of mine–NYC and Kate.
A person must really want to live in this city. It tests even the most tenacious. Nothing is easy. Absolutely nothing. It’s freakishly expensive, crowded and dirty. People are harried, lines are long, and privacy is nonexistent. There’s little time for the niceties that might accompany a life in other locales. Sometimes manners are forgotten. That’s why visitors often get the impression that New Yorkers are a cold, unwelcoming bunch. I know I felt that way when I first arrived.
Slowly I’ve learned to understand this place brimming with a rhythmic modus to the madness. I finally moved like I belonged. I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers often. Over and over, I’ve witnessed people helping others when it would’ve been easier to keep moving. This story is the perfect example.
Now, to Kate.
I adopted her just after my husband (Neal) and I were married. She was a puppy mill rescue, a designer dog, hybrid mix of Pomeranian and Toy American Eskimo, I was told. In other words, Kate was a mutt.
The last thing we needed was a puppy at a time when we were determined to live the least complicated life possible. “Simple” was the word we used to describe what we were seeking. Neal was in remission after a year and a half of chemo and then surgery for esophageal cancer he’d been diagnosed with. His odds of living beyond five years were 11% and even if he did make it past that five-year mark, his oncologist told him that his life expectancy would surely be shortened by the toll on his body from the aggressive nature of the treatment. Our four children were either independent or very close to being on their own and we looked forward to enjoying our newfound freedom and felt we’d earned it.
BUT, there was something about that little dog that I found irresistible. She sat quietly on one side of the pen while the other puppies, of various breeds, rolled around playing as baby dogs do. She studied their behavior inquisitively but with no interest in participating. When I held her, she was timid and wouldn’t make eye contact. She started shaking the moment I picked her up. Who knows what experiences she’d already had with a start in a puppy mill?
I took her home, named her Kate and prepared for Neal’s reaction.
My dogs had always slept on my bed. Neal abhorred dog hair and bought lint rollers in bulk. I rattled off these statements as he looked on with disapproval:
Kate will sleep in her crate.
I will take full responsibility for her care.
She will be well-behaved.
I love her and she deserves a life no longer filled with fear.
It was the last statement that got to him.
That first night, as we got ready for bed, I put Kate in her crate and she began whimpering. Knowing Neal was a light sleeper, I apologized and told him to ignore it. I assured him she would become accustomed to her kennel. The whimpering continued, but I could sleep through a building implosion, and drifted off immediately. The next morning, a fluffy black and white ball was curled up next to me.
“It was cruel of you to let her cry. She’s in a strange place and scared,” Neal said, and Kate never slept in her crate again.
When Neal accepted a position in Russia, Kate went too. She didn’t make a sound in the cabin on that flight. Her eyes never left me from her carrier under the seat. I was her person.
“I go, you go.” I told her as we boarded that plane and many more throughout the years.
Russia had a horrible stray dog problem. On the first morning, Neal leashed Kate and took her outside where a pack of strays (living outside our apartment) charged and attacked her. He had to kick them off Kate and thankfully she was unharmed.
“Those fucking dogs attacked her,” Neal bellowed as he threw open the door to our apartment. His face was ashen and he told me I shouldn’t unpack because we were likely leaving Russia. He called it a “hellhole.”
Kate was fearful every time we exited the building. She looked to me for reassurance as we got in the elevator. “You’re alright,” I told her.
I quickly made friends with the stray dogs, using food. Kate was never attacked again.
When Neal’s cancer returned after two years in Russia, we came back to the states for what would be his final months. After his death, I had what I’ve since learned was complicated grief.
The sounds a grieving person makes can be primal and Kate’s body would shake but she never left my side. She knew instinctively I was in excruciating pain and I needed her comfort.
After two years of crippling bereavement, I was finally able to began seeking ways to create the new life I never wanted. I drove cross-country from Las Vegas to the New York City to start over, with Kate by my side. We hit a stretch of torrential rain In Illinois like I’d never experienced before or since. Kate was terrified and kept her eyes glued to me while I did my best to keep the car on the road.
“You’re okay…We’re okay,” I said in the most soothing tone I could muster. I was terrified too.
After a few years, Kate was a city dog. The sounds of the streets: horns, jackhammers, sirens that once panicked her became routine as we made our way to Central Park each morning. Dogs were allowed off leash in the early morning and owners trekked through the park as their canines ran, sniffed and chased squirrels. It was always quite a sight to see dozens of them enjoying the freedom that was often missing from a city pet’s life. I adopted Nigel, a Norwich Terrier, as a companion for Kate and we became a three member pack.
Mother’s Day 2012 began with brunch with my daughters at Sarabeth’s, my favorite UWS brunch spot.
The remainder of the day was filled with the stuff my girls and I often did together on weekends. They brought their laundry to my apartment and then we went to Trader Joe’s. They even helped me pick up a new coffee table I’d ordered at CB2 and circled the block in my car until I came out dragging the huge box. I gave them the coffee table I’d replaced and when it was time to leave for their shared Midtown flat, we propped my apartment door open and made several trips to the elevator. I told Kate and Nigel to stay and didn’t give them another thought as we struggled with large laundry bags, groceries and the table. Once they were gone, I stretched out on the sofa and called a friend. Thirty minutes later a call beeped in from the front desk.
“Do you know Kate’s in the elevator?” Pedro, the building doorman asked. There was a camera in the elevator and activity was monitored on the front desk computer. “She’s coming down with a delivery guy.”
“What? I’ll be right down.”
I ran to the elevator and called Pedro again. “Do you have her?”
“No, she just ran out. I should’ve closed the door. I’ll try to catch her.”
I was frantic during that fifteen-floor descent. A dog off leash and alone on city streets was going to die.
I ran out of the building looking for Pedro, but couldn’t find him. I started screaming Kate’s name as I ran down my block.
Pedro called and was breathing hard as he said, “I tried to catch her, but she crossed Broadway and Amsterdam and ran up 72nd past Gray’s Papaya. She’s headed toward the park.”
That seemed impossible. My dog had crossed those streets and survived? The traffic was brutal, and pedestrians were regularly hit by cars at that intersection. How did she do it?
I raced to 72nd Street, screaming her name and yelling to anyone who passed, “Did you see a black and white dog?”
Most said no but one guy yelled as I passed him, “She ran down Columbus and crossed over at 71st towards Central Park. Nobody could catch her; she was really moving.”
I was hysterical and hyperventilating as I called my daughters while running. I told them to get in a cab to Central Park.
Once in the park I continued yelling her name. I asked people if they’d seen a black and white dog. Most had not but one woman told me she had seen two men on bikes trying to catch her. That was not good news. I knew she’d keep running if she was being chased.
My daughters arrived quickly and we worked as a team. They went one way and I the other calling for Kate. A NYC Park employee, Jamie Warren, stopped me and volunteered to radio other employees to keep an eye out.
“Tell them if they see her to be calm and call her to them. If they try to grab her, she’ll be gone.”
“Would she come to your voice even from a car?” Jamie asked, and I told her I believed Kate would.
Jamie was done working for the day but instead of wishing me luck, she volunteered to drive me around the park so I could call Kate from her car. “I’m a dog lover, I’ll do anything to help,” she said.
It was beginning to get dark as we headed in the opposite direction of my daughters. I yelled Kate’s name from the car window and we only stopped to ask the people if they’d seen my dog. Every single person we spoke to said they’d stay in the park and help search for Kate. One man was on a bike. He told us he’d talked to my daughters and once he heard that our dog was loose, he took his dog home, grabbed his bike and flashlight and came back to the park to help search.
An hour later, we had not found her and at that point I didn’t know what to do. Kate was micro-chipped and had a tag on her collar. I prayed that someone would find her and call. I thought we should continue to search on foot through the more remote areas of the park. The girls had already been through the bramble around the lake near 72nd Street. A dicey place for sure after dark. Jamie told us that was not a safe thing to do.
“I’ll drive you around long as you want, but don’t go on foot. She’s in the best city for lost dogs. Someone will find her. New Yorkers love their pets.” I knew I could never leave the park without Kate and began formulating a plan. My cell rang from an unknown number while I was strategizing and after saying hello, I heard this beautiful sentence. “Hey, we have your dog.” It was a man named Kevin calling. He was a doorman at The Plaza Hotel.
Of course, Kate went to the Plaza Hotel!
Where else would my dog go?
Jamie immediately took us to the Plaza in her Parks and Rec vehicle. There we found Kate inside the doorman booth, curled up on a plush dog bed. Next to her was a bowl of kibble and another of water. Both were served in pristine silver bowls, because, duh. How else would nourishment be proffered at the Plaza?
Kate’s eyes were glazed over, her body was limp from exhaustion, but she was safe.
I then realized why she’d made her way to that location. When we were moving the stuff to the elevator she slipped out and I hadn’t noticed. She enjoyed going down a separate hallway on the other side of the elevators to sniff my neighbors’ doors. She knew we were loading things into the elevator and my daughters were leaving. Once she heard the elevator close and I wasn’t in the hallway, she thought I had gone too. Meanwhile I was in my apartment and had not realized she was gone. When a delivery person brought food to one of my neighbors, she rode the elevator down to the lobby. She was going to find me.
Kate and I often walked from the Upper West Side to my daughters’ Midtown apartment. We would cut through Central Park and come out on the east side of the park near the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. Once there we would walk past the Plaza to cross Fifth Avenue at 58th Street.
Kate knew that route well as we had walked it dozens of times.
Once I had Kate in my arms, the girls returned to their apartment and Jamie drove me to my building.
Pedro greeted me with, “Thank God!” He told me he’d come close to being hit by a taxi while chasing Kate. His knee buckled as he bolted after her. What a guy.
That night I saw the best in New Yorkers–strangers and those I knew.
My seriously fierce daughters who searched the park because they loved her, but also knew that losing Kate was something I would never recover from.
The strangers on the street who helped rescue a lost dog.
The man who went home for his bike and flashlight.
Pedro, the best doorman in the city.
The guys on their bikes who tried to catch her.
The people in the park walking their dogs who stayed and keep looking.
Kevin, from The Plaza who finally caught her.
AND the greatest park employee in the world, Jamie Warren.
Kate crossed some of the busiest streets in the city: Amsterdam, Broadway, Columbus, Central Park West and Central Park South. She crossed the park from west to east and came out on Fifth Avenue. How did she survive?
I’ve spent lots of time complaining about the idiosyncrasies of New York City. I’ve certainly griped about the men I’ve met here, the exorbitant cost of living and the inconvenience of absolutely everything, but there’s no better place to live. It truly is the greatest city in the world.
One final note: Pedro, Kevin and Jamie received the maître d’s handshake in gratitude, because although I consider myself a New Yorker, there will always be a little Vegas in me.
“A good dog never dies. He always stays. He walks beside you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter’s drawing near. His head is within our hand in his own way.” -Mary Carolyn Davies