I recall a clear afternoon many years ago, when I was living in North Carolina. Driving out of my neighborhood on the way to go shopping, I saw a man walking behind a German Shepherd carrying a claw like poop scooper and a plastic grocery bag. Ugh, I thought, I would NEVER follow a dog around with a plastic bag!
At the time I was a self proclaimed cat lady. My mother is still one, in her 60's. She's had at least one cat at all times, since before I was born. When I was five, one of them had kittens under her bed. I would squat down on the floor to peer under at the squirming, mewing little dark clumps. I've loved cats ever since.
I was living in a one bedroom apartment with four cats when Ritz came into my life. I was working as a veterinary technician. He was an eight week old Shar Pei puppy who was injured and brought in for euthanasia. His injuries weren't actually life threatening and I agreed to nurse him back to health and turn him over to a rescue organization. That plan lasted only a few hours! It became clear to me right away that this little puppy had found me for a reason.
Throughout the course of his life, Ritz earned the nickname of Cat Dog because his habits were cat like and he absolutely adored all kitties. But even though he and I both were cat lovers, he managed to show me all the wonderful differences between dogs and cats that make canine companions fun!
Ritz was my soul mate. He came to me a few months after I'd separated from my husband and was by my side through the years as I healed and started life over in Montana. If I received an invitation someplace, it was understood that I wouldn't go unless I could take Ritz with me! During the almost eight years he was my companion, he taught me so much about loyalty and showed me the value in embracing one's uniqueness.
A few weeks before Ritz turned seven, I came home with my second rescue dog. At the time I did not want two dogs. To be honest, I thought I'd never have another dog after Ritz because he was so special. But there was something about Charlie that spoke to me in a way I'd never experienced before.
My bond with Ritz didn't leave much room for me to connect with Charlie. The two guys tolerated each other but never became buddies. Then, about 9 months after Charlie came to live with us, Ritz suddenly became ill and passed away a few days later from an advanced cancer of which he had hidden his symptoms from us very well.
I truly didn't know how my life would go on without Ritz. As I grieved, Charlie stepped up in a way that amazed and comforted me. From that point forward, I've realized that he has an uncanny ability to know exactly what I need and provide me with it. If I needed to lay in bed all day weeping and napping, Charlie was right beside me snoring away. If I wanted to walk five miles, he kept up the whole way. While he is nearly the opposite of Ritz when it comes to personality, Charlie has proven to be a lovely addition to my life.
When Ritz died, my heart was broken. I swore I would never get another puppy and go through this again. That lasted about four months! And while I didn't necessarily want a puppy and all the work that comes with it, my heart needed it.
Tinsley will be two in July. He and Charlie fill my days with love and laughs, and with mud and drool. They are happy, silly, friendly dogs. I don't know that Ritz would approve! And as the second anniversary of Ritz's death approaches, I still miss him regularly but I can see how his journey with me had come to its natural conclusion. He knew I no longer needed a guardian.
The cool thing is that even though Ritz is no longer with me physically, I know his spirit still lingers. I can see his influence over my current dogs. He taught things to Charlie who in turn taught them to Tinsley. So even though Ritz is gone, his lesson to me is still clear: I need to have a dog (or two!) in my life to remind me how to live each day fully!