May 16, 2006
Little Wild Horse Canyon, Utah
Almost four weeks prior, on a sunny Thursday in April, Andrew had driven me the 30 miles south to the Valencia County Animal Shelter where a man brought her to me wrapped up in a towel, quivering with fear and terror in her eyes. He handed her to me as I was finishing up the paperwork.
"We gave her a bath because we knew she would be going home today."
We were so relieved. We had brought with a brace of towels in the back of the Subaru just in case she was still covered in poop like she had been when we first saw her in her cage. I couldn't sign the papers and hold her at the same time so I shoved her into Andrew's arms. She wasn't the only one who was terrified.
For years, I had wanted to get a dog of my own. While living in France, I missed my family dogs even more than the humans. At least I could talk to them on the phone, but the dogs had no idea where I was. I often looked longingly at the little French terriers, roaming the streets of Sisteron with their dirty and matted beards and belly skirts. I wondered if I could snatch one up and keep him with me until it was time to fly back to the U.S. I knew I wouldn't be able to leave behind my dog so I waited, dogless, until the timing was right.
The summer of 2006 I was scheduled to move to Portland, Oregon for an internship working on preserving the historic highway running through the Columbia River Gorge. It was a plan hatched at Thanksgiving as a way to try someplace new together, but I think that was before Andrew realized just how serious I am. After the plan was cracked, I set to finding myself an internship in my field in Portland like it was my job. Andrew took his time and realized that maybe spending a summer in a city wasn't really what he wanted anyway. He decided to go to Arizona and survey fish habitat. So, suddenly, I was going to Portland alone. I didn't know anyone except Andrew's parents who live about 45 minutes away. Andrew was sure I'd be lonely and was probably feeling guilty for backing out of the plan. All spring, he persistently pestered me to get a dog of my own to keep me company. He would have Lola in Arizona. I would have his parents in Oregon, but he knew I would need canine companionship.
When we picked Elsa up on April 20, 2006, I was filled with excitement and nerves. I would learn in later weeks, months, years, Elsa and I are a lot alike. After a week in the shelter and who knows how long prior on the streets, she had abandonment issues. After years of wishing for my own dog and suddenly met with the greatest responsibility of my life, I had commitment issues. We knew we would love each other, but we didn't really know how to yet.
When we drove back to Albuquerque from the shelter, Andrew dropped us both off at my apartment. He had to go to class. I sat down on the floor in the kitchen, and Elsa crawled in my lap and went to sleep. My heart melted. I didn't move for as long as I could stand it, but eventually my legs were numb and I had to go to class too. I coaxed a reluctant Elsa into her brand new kennel. She walked in and even sat down.
"This isn't so bad," I thought.
"I can do this," I thought.
Then I shut the door and latched it. That's when the wailing started. Wailing so loud that one could hear it in the apartment next door and in the parking lot outside. Panic took over my entire body, and I quickly unlatched the door of the kennel... But, I couldn't leave her loose in the house on our first night together. I didn't know what she would do. I didn't know her. I didn't trust her. Two panicked and scared souls alone on the kitchen floor wondering what to do next...
After two weeks of living clandestinely in my little apartment that forbade dogs, we moved to Albuquerque's North Valley with Andrew and Lola into a house with a yard. And almost two weeks after that, we set off in my tan Camry for the Pacific Northwest. Still a little nauseated from her spaying surgery, Elsa puked all over the back seat within the first 200 miles.
Andrew accompanied us on our drive to Portland. We stopped in southern Utah for some hiking. Elsa stuck close to us. She never let me leave her sight. She didn't want to be left behind. We hiked up red rocks and through canyons. When Elsa's feet got too hot, Andrew put her into his backpack with the water bottles. When I slept in in the mornings, Andrew and Elsa would go exploring. They bonded quickly.
I was smitten with Elsa from the beginning. When Andrew took the photo above, I loved her the way anyone who likes animals loves a dog, but it was a love that was censured. I was still so unsure about whether or not I could handle owning my own dog. I never admitted that to Andrew because I knew he would feel bad for pushing me to get her.
I was also a nervous wreck. I was nervous to move to Portland. I was nervous to stay with Andrew's parents who I had only met once before. I was nervous to not know anyone and start a new job. And I was nervous that I couldn't properly care for Elsa.
Little did I know that a few weeks later on the eve of my move out of Andrew's parents' house into an apartment in Portland, she would go missing. She would wander off into the evening where Andrew's childhood dog had been dog knapped a few weeks prior. My heart would sink, panic would once again fill my heart and I would call for her, walking up and down the road. My voice becoming increasingly shaky. Tears filling my eyes.
"Let's get in the car and look for her. She must not be within ear shot," Andrew's mom said to me.
"Ok," I mumbled.
"Wait, what does Dick have in his arms?"
Andrew's dad had found her, frozen in the knee high grasses below their yard. She had wandered out the open front door as we dined on the back patio and apparently panicked when she heard us calling her name. Rather than make her way back to the house, she stood there, still and scared until he found her and carried her home.
"Oh, thank god! I knew that if someone had taken her, they weren't bringing her back," Andrew's mom declared.
I was so relieved, and I realized at that moment I really had fallen in love with Elsa. I didn't want to lose her or no longer have the responsibility of caring for her. She was mine. I was hers.