LAST EDITED ON 02-04-03 AT 03:35 AM (EST)
LAST EDITED ON 02-04-03 AT 03:30 AM (EST)
This is far from polished and has been extremely difficult to write. I'm sure many of you are aware of how I got my name. A few of you probably remember me posting about her when she died. February 19th marks the one year anniversery of her passing, so I guess I wanted to do something. Parts of this piece are somber and revealing. I debated on whether or not I should delete them, but I decided revealing some of my hardships better illustrates the bond we had. Once again this isn't complete and the writing could be better, but it is the 31st! ***
She came into this world November 22, 1988. A precious little cockapoo, the fifth in a litter of six puppies; the runt of the litter. Extremely weak, she wasn’t expected to survive long and mother Brigette knew it, pushing Echo away from the litter. Perhaps it is an animal’s maternal to sacrifice the weak in order to foster the strong and this is exactly what mother Brigette did. Fortunately Echo had angels watching over her. My aunt nurtured little Echo those crucial first weeks, giving her the nourishment, love and attention she so desperately needed. Slowly but surely Echo became stronger and she would rejoin her brothers and sisters and even the mother who tried to abandon her. Just a few weeks old and already a survivor.
The Christmas holidays brought my Mother and I to my aunt’s home. Most of my family was there and we had seven new additions, six pups and my cousin’s new baby Justin. It was a glorious, maddening, festive affair; one part It’s A Wonderful Life, one part Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and one part Animal Planet. I had not been this excited since I was a child! When I wasn’t holding Justin, I was sprawled out on a quilt playing with the puppies. They were all adorable, but one immediatly caught my attention. She was a tiny ball of fur, but the spunkiest pup I had ever seen. Her bigger and stronger brothers and sisters bullied her, but she always battled back. She had already gone through so much in her few short weeks. But none of the other pups was as charismatic or as sweet as little Echo. She demanded attention. And if she couldn’t get it from mother Brigette, or her brothers and sisters, she would find someone who would treat her like the little princess she was. Perhaps that is why she sought me out. Instantly I was infatuated by this cute little thing. I had to have her!
A few weeks later my Mother and I would pick Echo up. Deeply in debt with student loans, I had just returned home. My mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, so Echo could not have come along at a better time. Neither of us had a dog since Mandy ran away during the summer of 1983, so we both missed the companionship only an animal could give. Although Echo already had a dynamic personality I wondered how she would turn out. Would she be another Mandy? Another Snooks? Another Gidget? All were wonderful pets, but early on I realized Echo would be special.
Little Echo was absolutely the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. How could I possibly train her? I tried, but Echo soon turned the tables. She was training me! Anytime Echo did something wrong she would gaze at me with her sweet innocent eyes and dare me to correct her. Of course any successful relationship requires compromise, so I usually let Echo get her way. Eventually this meant I would have to share my bed with Echo, even my pillow! Every night she would cuddle up to me on the pillow, roll over on her back, and demand a tummy rub before going to sleep. I would massage her belly for about ten minutes and then she would roll over and return her affection, licking me on the hand before curling up by my side and falling asleep. This was a routine Echo shared only with me, a routine she practiced for 13 years.
Soon thereafter I would move two miles away which was heartbreaking at first, and at my age this was certainly an peculiar reaction. Why? As much as I looked forward to regaining my freedom I knew I would also leave Echo behind. True we shared joint custody with Echo spending half the week with me, but it was incredibly lonely those days I did not have her. But visitations became big events at my apartment and she was treated as the Queen she was. And how she enjoyed her throne! I lived on the second floor, so the patio became her perch, and she loved looking down at the world! Of course she was the queen no matter where she went, but Echo was especially the center of attention at my apartment complex. Echo was the cheerleader, the homecoming queen, the sultry siren at the bar. In other words she was it! Echo was the object of every male dog’s desire, but she was a bit prudish; a high maintenance honey, and none of the guys were good enough for her. Understandable. But she adored the attention. “Oh your puppy is so cute,” people would remark. Like she didn’t know! Of course Echo would never reveal her age, only acknowledging with a shrill bark, a wag of her tail, and a playful strut. She had so much attitude! Upon a glance most people cannot distinguish a male dog form a female dog but there was never a question with Echo. She was petite, prissy, confident, and exuded femininity.
The winter of 1993 would bring a new addition to my canine family. Slacker was an Australian Shepherd mix abandoned in a field as a puppy. I would try to find him a home, to no avail as he was shy and lazy, hence the name. At two months old he was already three times Echo’s size. And Echo was not the least bit happy about the new addition. At first she refused to acknowledge he existed. Then she would growl and snap at him if he dared come near me. Silly boy! Poor Slack was confused, but Echo simply refused to budge. She didn’t want to share! Echo let Slack know she ruled this household, afterall she was the queen, and he was, well a slacker. Slack begrudgingly accepted his fate and rarely challenged Echo, even after growing to 50 lbs. The one time he did Echo bit him on the nose and poor Slack howled, running away with tail packed securely between his legs. Echo just smirked, that will teach him. Over time Echo would warm up to Slack, but it was always on her terms. When she wanted to play, or even acknowledge poor Slacker existed she would, otherwise he knew to stay away.
A few years later, my mother’s health would once again become a major issue with me. During the 80’s she battled and beat breast cancer, but this time it was in her lung. The doctors gave her three years to live, so I packed my things and headed home as I knew it was the right thing to do. Within months my Mother’s health began to rapidly decline and I would become her full-time caretaker, and Echo her faithful companion. Even though we shared Echo over the years, she was always partial to me, but the sicker my Mother became, the more Echo’s allegiance shifted. Echo knew something was terribly wrong and naturally her maternal instincts took over. She rarely left my mother’s side, comforting her and offering companionship. Usually exuberant, and even a bit wild, Echo was remarkably cautious and controlled around my mother. And very protective. It was simply amazing to watch her. I’ve never seen an animal so attuned to her surroundings and other’s emotions and feelings, but Echo was an extraordinary animal. I arranged my work schedule so I could take my mother to doctor’s appointments, radiation and chemo treatments; knowing my sister would offer no assistance, it was reaffirming to know that Echo was there to at least comfort her.
By January 1998 my Mother only had months to live. Caring for a dying parent, watching them deteriorate physically day by day before your very eyes is perhaps the most difficult thing a person can go through. I witnessed this satanic disease eat away at her body. I watched as the chemo treatments took her hair, almost forgetting how beautiful it once was. I watched her choke, vomit, and shake uncontrollably. I saw her garduate from a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair. I saw her once healthy frame wither away to less than 100 lbs. She scared most people who saw her but she was still beautiful to me, afterall she was my Mother. However it was a toilsome period for me. Feeding her, bathing her, administering shots, giving her medication, and trying to comfort and console her was perhaps the most physically and emotionally draining experience anyone can fathom. Who was going to give me emotional support? My aunt, 600 miles away, did her best. My sister, 6 miles away, was too concerned with her job, her life, her money. She didn’t have time nor did she care. Thank God I had Echo. Not only was she there to comfort my mother, she was there to comfort me. I could feel it, and without Echo’s love I’m not sure I could have maintained the strength needed to care for my Mother. It was amazing to see how Echo’s temperament changed during these trying times. Her instincts better than most people I have known.
By Mother’s Day 1998, it was a matter of days, not months. My mother’s body was weak, yet her mind was crystal clear. She couldn’t get around without assistance, but was especially chipper this day. My Mother was optimistic my sister would stop by, and she had an appetite for the first time in months. She wanted steaks. And hot dogs! So I ran to the store. I was gone about 30 minutes and my sister had dropped by to leave flowers, too busy to stay and visit, which was so typical for her. My mother was devastated, but Echo and I were determined to make this the best Mother’s Day ever. I helped her to the patio, and we talked as I cooked. Echo knew this was a special occasion too. She sat by my Mother’s feet and watched me, drooling in anticipation as she was fully aware Science Diet was not on the menu. We all had a great feast and Echo had her first bone in years! It was a wonderful day.
Later that afternoon my Mother and Echo were asleep on the sofa which had become Mother’s bed the past 18 months. I had to run a quick errand and was gone for thirty minutes. When I returned my mother awoke screaming. I was alarmed, but had heard these screams before. But this time it was worse. When I tried to help her up so she could get to the bathroom it only made her scream louder. The cancer had long spread throughout her body, and her bones became brittle. It was her hip. I called the paramedics, then rushed to her side. I held her hand, and Echo faithfully laid by her side gently licking her other hand. When the paramedics arrived Echo became hysterical, growling at them while they tried to hoist my Mother onto the stretcher. Were they hurting her, and why were they taking her away? You could see the worry in Echo’s eyes.
Echo became increasingly despondent after a few days when my Mother did not come home. My Mother had been hospitalized many times before, but never this long. Echo would curl up on the sofa lying on my Mother’s blanket. She would search the bathroom, the bedroom, hoping beyond hope she would find my Mother somewhere. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to sneak little Echo into the hospital so my Mother could see her one last time, but I couldn’t. A few days before she passed away my Mother made a request, that I would take care of Echo. It wasn’t something she had to ask but you know how Mother’s worry! Little Echo was always our dog, but soon she would be my dog. Ten days after entering the hospital my Mother passed away as I held her hand.
The weeks and months that followed my Mother’s death were almost as difficult as the prior three years. I was not only mourning the loss of my Mother, but also trying to fill a tremendous void in my life. As children we are dependent upon our parents, and later they are dependent on us, but the many years of taking care of her actually became a way of life for me. Perhaps it just felt good to be needed, or perhaps I was just co-dependent, or maybe I just needed something to occupy my time and my mind. Whatever the reason, by self-worth soon began to plummet. I felt so alone. Or so I thought. Echo also grieved and we were inseparable. I guess she feared I would also go away so she clung to me as she never had before. And little did I know how much I needed her. Echo wasn’t a dog, she was the child I could never have. My baby. And that is how I treated her.
By 1999 the numbness of losing my Mother began to wear off and it came time for some serious introspection. I didn’t like what I saw. So much of my life revolved around caring for my Mother. I didn’t have time to pursue a career, didn’t have time to date, and I really didn’t have a chance to be me. Overcome with depression, and sense of worthlessness, I began to breakdown. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Echo laid her head on my pillow, rolled over on her back, and I rubbed her tummy like I had done a thousand times before, this time with tears cascading down my face. It would be the last time I thought to myself. Echo gazes at me bewildered. I saw tears in her eyes. I couldn’t stand seeing her crestfallen face so I close my eyes. With my eyes shut I see 34 years of my life flash before me. 34 years of the people I love. And when I think of the two most important people in my life I think of my Mother and Echo. Funny how one of the most important people in my life wasn’t a person at all, but to me she was. I open my eyes and see she has crawled into my lap. Echo is shaking as she senses something is terribly wrong. I realize she needs me just as my Mother did. She loves me unconditionally just as my Mother did. How selfish of me to even think about abandoning her. Echo saved my life that night. We cuddle up in bed as I cry myself to sleep.
The new millennium would bring a new outlook as I became a healthier, happier, stronger woman; basically taking control of my life for the first time. No longer would I live my life for others, no longer would I allow them to determine my self worth. Life isn’t always equal and God seems to challenge some of us more than others, but never does he give us more than we can handle, and God certainly challenged me. Perhaps it was natural to feel bitter when so many around me seemingly had things so easy, yet surviving this has made me a better person. You learn what is important and who is important. And consequently who really loves you. No longer a stepping stone I begin to confront people, some friends and family falling by the wayside. And yet Echo was always there for me. When I was happy, when I was sad. Unconditionally. As odd as it sounds, whenever I doubted this existence, all I needed to do was look at Echo. Somehow God blessed me with her.
Early 2001 Echo began to get ill. Slowly she lost her hearing. Her heart became enlarged. Her bronchial tubes began to close. Twice I almost lost her, but she was a tough little girl. Besides we really needed each other. I nursed her just like I nursed my Mother. I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.
Christmas 2001 Echo and I returned to New Mexico to spend the holidays at my Aunt’s house. The same house I first laid eyes on her. Her brother Barney and sister Milo were there too, a family affair! The previous week Echo was extremely sick and I wasn’t sure if she could handle the trip, but fortunately she improved and we made the trek to New Mexico. Echo had to be sedated more than normal but had moments when she was her feisty little self, afterall she loved Christmas. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our last Christmas together. Fitting it was spent at the same house we first met.
By February 2002 she had drastically improved. I was relieved because I had to take a trip to Oregon that month. It wasn’t a vacation and I really couldn’t get out of it, so I searched in vain for someone who could care for her while I was gone. It had never been a problem before, but this time it was. I begged my Sister, yet she didn’t want to be bothered. My aunt, who lived 600 miles away, would not be home. Friends? Sorry we can’t help. Echo had never been kenneled her entire life. I debated canceling my trip, but I really could not. I was tortured. But since she was doing so well I decided she would be okay being kenneled at my vets. I called to check on her every day while I was gone and she was doing great they said. Then a few days before I was to return I call and hear a somber voice on the other line. I was hysterical. It can’t be. Not my Echo. Pneumonia set in suddenly and her little immune system wasn’t strong enough to combat it. She went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
I made it home as quickly as I could, overwhelmed with guilt and flooded with tears. The vet tried to comfort me, friends and family tried to comfort me, but I only need look in the mirror to see who was to blame. I can’t help but think Echo felt abandoned. Never in her life had she been left with strangers, but this time she was. Perhaps she thought I left her forever and just lost the will to live. When I reached my lowest depths, she was there to pull me through, so I cannot help but to feel responsible for leaving her in such a strange, vulnerable place. I miss her like someone would miss a child because to me she was my child.
Echo is buried at a local pet cemetery where she has a beautiful marker with her name, her picture, and this passage: “Forever In My Heart, My Precious Little Echo, I Love You Always.” Almost a year has passed, I still visit her grave several times a week. And everyday I shed a tear for her. I still miss her. She was the child I couldn’t have. She can never be replaced.
The house feels incredibly empty without her. I have her collar, her tags, her chew toys, her water dish, and a lock of her hair. And memories, oh so many memories. I hear her barking at the garbage trucks, see her rolling around in my sheets, or feel the yanking of her favorite sock toy. I recall our long walks, our long drives. Oh how she loved to ride! She wasn’t content to sit in the passenger seat, no she insisted on sitting in my lap so she could gaze out the window, When I returned from my trip there was still nose prints on my SUV’s window. It would be six months before I could clean my windows. It was just another sign of Echo, one I was reluctant to wipe away.
This isn’t my first tribute to Echo and somehow I doubt it will be my last. No matter how hard I try, words simply cannot convey how much she meant to me.
I love you always Echo,
***note*** I decided to edit out part of one paragraph. It was a very dark personal moment for me and I seriously doubt most people here would understand or relate. I guess it's best that I delete the details before this post becomes permanent.