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Thursday, January 17, 2013

In Loving Memory

Tonight I am going to take a short break from the adoption journey to share with you about an earlier adoption, and hopefully in some small way honor someone who changed my life for the better. In fact, to tell you that this someone simply "changed" my life would be trite, and in no way do I want to minimize the role of this wonderful companion.

On January 8, I said goodbye to my very precious dog, Pork Chop, better known as Porky. I was never a "dog person" before she came into my life, In fact, I adopted her the same month that I purchased my very first handgun. I took Porky into my home because she was a guard dog. She was a Rotweiller, but I came to regard her as not my guard dog, but my guardian angel.

As I have shared on this blog before, my first marriage was a mistake and not a happy time. My first "husband" had a severe addiction to cocaine and alcohol. I married him during a short nine month period when he had found Christianity and was mostly sober. In my naivete, I believed that with me by his side, and his new found faith, he had all the tools he needed to stay clean. I was regrettably and unfortunately very wrong. His addiction spiraled very quickly out of control and took me to places I never thought I would go. If you knew me during this time, you probably knew me as the Baptist Children's Ministry Director who could be found stapling a laminated Jesus to a bulletin board outside of children's church with a happy Bible verse printed in large, happy handwriting. You might have seen me teaching young kids from the "Wordless Book" or leading a cheerful song. But that was public Melissa, daytime Melissa. At night and at home I became a gun-toting, paranoid, panic-stricken lunatic who survived on less than three hours of sleep and wandered around the housing projects looking for her husband or stolen jewelry.

In 2004, the ex "husband" was in jail. Again.
Shady characters began showing up at my house, knocking on the door asking for him, demanding money. One night, someone shined a flashlight into my bedroom window. I slept on the sofa, waking with every creak or bump in the night, crying and praying to God to protect me. I was literally living in terror. After weeks of this, I convinced myself that I needed a protector. I needed a loyal dog who would sound the alarm and scare off intruders. A gun was not enough. And so the search began.

After browsing online ads about dog adoption and fruitless hours spent at the animal control shelter, my sister one day sent me a link to an adoption page about Pork Chop. She was (in the photo) very commanding and intimidating. Meeting her in person a few days later, I was frankly terrified. Porky greeted me with a large toothy grin, knocking her sharp pointed teeth against my clenched knuckles and making sure I knew she was serious business. Linda, the "foster mom", handed me the leash and encouraged me to walk around the pet store where we met. I was very nervous, but I took that leash, and together Porky and I wandered the aisles of the store. I noticed right away that people moved away from us, although Porky never growled or barked. Her calm alertness and her confidence was enough to cause strangers to pause. Grown men stepped aside to let us pass, and I loved that about her. We stopped on the book aisle where I picked up "Rotweillers for Dummies" and I later grabbed a food and water dish, a bag of dry food, and some toys and treats. Linda told me that she would hold my check for up to six weeks in case I changed my mind about Porky. I called Linda the next day and told her to cash that check. I had found my guardian.

The first night in my small house, Porky was quiet in her crate. She was well mannered, polite, and followed my every command. On the second night, I decided that it made little sense to keep a guard dog in a cage. I invited her to sleep at the foot of my bed. She looked at me as if I was crazy when I patted the bed and urged her to join me. But she did. And for almost nine years, that is where she slept, at the foot of my bed, facing the doorway, always watching, always protecting me.

Porky saved my life in many ways. She saved my life during the darkest times because she gave me purpose. She gave me someone to come home to at night. Even as I pulled into the driveway, I would see the outline of her square jaw as she was watching through the mini blinds. She stood by the door as I unlocked it, and she made me feel so safe. She also quite literally saved my life, more than once. She warned me one Saturday that someone was in my yard. It turned out to be a very dangerous man who was looking for my ex husband. Although her warning gave me time to get my handgun, it was my Porky who scared off the intruder. Another time, my sweet girl chased off a drug dealer and bit him on the leg, all to spare me hurt and fear. With Porky by my side, I became confident, alert, and able to sleep at night. We began taking walks together in a neighborhood I had once feared. We took regular trips to Fort Yargo and hiked the trails alone, while I talked to her out loud and worked through my emotional wreck of a life. I took her with me on road trips, camping trips, and all my errands. She was truly my guardian angel, and I was her most difficult assignment.

When I finally got the courage to divorce my first husband, I talked constantly to Pork Chop. She stayed at my feet, or beside me on the couch through many long and painful nights. She always seemed to listen, eyes wide open and fixed on me. I could never put into words how much my girl did for me, and how well she knew me. I will forever be grateful that God brought her to me when He did. She gave me back my life, and she helped to make it really fantastic.

My mom told me that Porky stayed with me until she was sure that I was going to be okay. She got to be here in this happy house in Dahlonega with my wonderful, kind and gentle husband, John - the two-legged love of my life. While she stayed by my side through two very difficult and painful ectopic pregnancies, she later got to see me parenting my foster children and she watched over them with the same love and devotion she had always shown to me. She got to live her "golden years" here with John's two dogs (lost in 2011 and 2012) and she later accompanied us to the local animal control shelter to pick out her new dog buddy, Otis (who I am convinced she trained for the past ten months to protect our family.) In these past few years, she would join us in our crowded van full of loud and happy kids, sleeping bags and tents, and protect us fiercely in the woods of a camp out. She has ridden on boats with us on the lake, swam in her very own life jacket in every nook of the river here, and in the lakes at the state parks. She has hiked Brasstown Bald and most of the nearby waterfalls, with unparallelled enthusiasm, always watching every member of our family.

And when it was time to let her go, I honestly didn't know if I could do it. She was very healthy up until the holidays, when her age began to show. I spent a small fortune and ran her back and forth to our vet, giving her IV fluids at home, water from a syringe, and baby food until she began to lose the fight. I watched her fading away, and I wondered how I would survive without her. She stopped eating, refused medication, and eventually stopped walking. I kept her here on this earth for longer than I probably should have. I just couldn't imagine my world without her. She was my very-present help in times of trouble, and my always present companion.

On January 8, I found a vet who agreed to come to the house. I just couldn't put her through the ordeal of carrying her to the car and into the vet hospital. Before they came, Cody helped me move her into my bedroom, so she could spend her last few moments on earth at the end of my bed, on a soft cushion with a quilt spread over her body. The vets were very kind, explaining that her labored breathing was a sign of the inevitable. I spent 45 minutes alone with her, kissing her nose and telling her how much I loved her, how sorry I was to see her go, and how grateful I was for her never ceasing love and devotion to me. In the end of her life, I made a choice to let her stop hurting, knowing my hurt would go on for sometime. And I still cry a little bit every day. I expect to see her waiting on the bathroom rug when I step out of the shower. I expect to see the outline of her furry face watching me pull into the driveway. I expect to see her happy bobbing tail-bob when I come through the front door. I miss her fiercely.

Rest in Peace, my sweet guardian. Thank you for your commitment to me and my family. I can't wait to see you again one day.