There were other dogs; Tulip and Buster, Lucious, Chrissy, Suka and Teddy. But there was never a dog like Cleo. She was mine for eight years and it just wasn’t enough time. When she died I cried like a baby—sobbed because my heart was being ripped away, because I was guilty of not doing all I could to help her.
Cleo was a pound puppy. I wanted her at first sight but couldn’t take her. She’d been turned into the animal shelter as a stray , had just been spayed and wouldn’t be available for adoption until the next day. The shelter would not hold her for me so I’d have to come back. I’d have to behave in a way that was completely contrary to my personality —like those crazed crowds at Christmas sales—I’d have to be the first one to snatch the information tag from Cleo’s cage if I wanted her. And I did. Calling in sick to work the next day, I parked my car at the shelter and didn’t just sit in the car waiting for the place to open but got out and stood on the porch just inches from the door. I waited 20 minutes, pacing in a small circle and even noticing a few cars stop or slow down and then speed away when they saw me waiting. “Oh good’ I thought, ‘you see I’m here first—she’s mine!’
And she was. No one else showed up. The shelter staff arrived, unlocked the kennel area and told me to bring the paper tag from the cage to the office for processing.
They called her Maybelline because she had black rings around her eyes like someone who’d gotten into a fight with a tube of mascara and lost. She was shaggy with mostly white hair and a blackish gray circle patch on her side. Her eyes were round and shielded by a tuft of white hair and these amazingly long eyelashes.
Our family would call her Cleopatra (still a reference to over use of eye make up) and she’d be Cleo for short.
Cleo was a little worse for wear and needed some TLC. She had a bad case of fleas, kennel cough, worms and a two-inch incision on her belly from the spaying that oozed for three days.
I made the one mistake with Cleo that cost me my heart and something I swear I will never do again. I gave her a voice. I actually spoke for her in a cartoonish voice and it became so accepted that Cleo was really speaking that family and close friends would talk directly to her –and I’d answer!
Cleo’s personality evolved over the years and we all knew and grew to love her more each day. She was funny and moody and playful and she had a lisp and a penchant for the number 24.
We’d take walks on Saturday morning and Cleo called these walks her adventures, and when we’d return after an hour or an hour and a half she’d strut around, wagging her tail and telling everyone we’d been gone for 24 hours and 24 days.
The kennel staff said she was a Shitsu mix but we knew she was a Tibetan Terrier and every time our God daughter, Teri, came to visit Cleo would get excited and greet Teri at the door shouting, “Hi Terwie, Hi Terwie, I’m a Terwie too!
Though Cleo could talk , she couldn’t spell and she’d call out the letters of her name, “ T W E W EE O…dat spells Tweo!”
Cleo was a hunter. She’d become lost during a camping trip with her first family and had to live on her own in the woods until she found her way to a kind stranger who brought her to the pound. She showed us her amazing skills on more than one occasion, catching a rabbit that was running at full speed across an open field and stalking a bird in the back yard. Our daughter screamed and watched in horror as Cleo, with wings, and bony bird legs sticking out of her mouth, shook her head and chomped down hard.
She was a good traveler too and never got carsick. She learned to honk the horn and would show off if she was left behind. Cleo’s car antics became quite a conversation starter and I only wish we had taken a
video of her —standing up in the driver ‘s side, two white feet bouncing hard against the horn and people on the sidewalk or in the parking lot stopping to look and then take a second look—‘is the dog honking the horn? Yes, look—she did it again!’ My husband would come rushing out, smiling at the onlookers, “she gets mad if I take too long.” And they’d drive away, Cleo leaning out the passenger side window, her ears flopping in the wind like a Jim Henson Muppet.
Our first year with Cleo was the most challenging. She would bolt and runaway at every opportunity. Even the first walk after bringing her home from the pound resulted in an escape as she turned her head to grab the braided nylon rope the kennel gave us ,and chewed her way through it in seconds.
Cleo was always headstrong but by the second year she’d stay in the yard at least, leaving only to give a muffled soft hello to whomever might be passing by. “She’s the neighborhood ambassador” my husband called her, and even cat lovers loved Cleo.
She was my garden buddy, lying quietly by my side as I dug and weeded and planted. It was during a day of yard work on a sunny summer afternoon that I first noticed something not quite right . Cleo seemed to stiffen and fall to the ground. She got up right away and I thought maybe it was just my imagination. The same thing happened again a few weeks later. She was in the neighbor’s yard following a group of boys. She fell on her side and lay stiff with her legs jutting out like wooden sticks. I rushed to her side, picked her up and carried her home. She seemed to recover and I began to think she had epilepsy. Blood tests revealed elevated liver enzymes and she was started on a series of purple pills that looked just like and were the exact same size as Spree candies. She was also prescribed phenobarbital as well but I stopped giving her that after only two days because I couldn’t stand to see her so drugged and unable to jump up on her favorite sofa.
Cleo recovered and I relaxed. She loved to go to the groomers and we’d spend a small fortune to get her bathed, coifed and adorned with pink bows at least twice a year. But once we just didn’t have the money and decided to cut her hair myself. I chased her around the yard, scissors in hand, cutting here and there as fast as I could. The end result was a short, choppy, uneven cut that made me think of how crazed people who escape from insane asylums are depicted in movies and I laughed but never again made the same attempt.
Even though Cleo recovered I knew that a spike in liver enzymes meant something serious might be going on.
She ate well and played and walked and seemed her usual self but she began to lick her paws obsessively and her beautiful white fur turned a rusty orange color.
And when she’d climb the stairs she’d stop and cough after reaching the landing. On a clear winter morning during one of our adventures Cleo began walking very slow. We were climbing a hill that we’d always walked and she just couldn’t do it. She looked at me and I knew she didn’t feel well.
Cleo declined rapidly after that. Her breathing became labored and I had to carry her up and down the stairs. I brought water to her and fed her pork adobo by hand the night before she’d be put down.
At the vet’s office I cut a lock of hair from her ear and stood by her side until she died, sobbing uncontrollably over her body as it lay on the steel exam table.
A week later the vet sent a condolence card and an ink print impression of Cleo’s paw.
Cleo died on January 30, 2012. I miss her still and sometimes dream about her. I feel guilty that we only treated her symptoms and never had her appropriately diagnosed, but I know we would not have been able to afford an expensive course of treatment.
With the release of the movie, A Dog’s Purpose, I find myself thinking about her more than ever and wondering if she is living again somewhere with someone. I never really thought about Cleo’s purpose in my life or why this particular, silly, headstrong, adorable dog who had a voice and a lisp, who loved the number 24 and loved her adventures would mean so much to me—or what her purpose is or was. I only know it’s about love. It’s just love.