I had this idea: Let me get a small and mature dog, seven to 10 pounds, so I can travel in good company and not be alone in wild places like Tierra del Fuego or Paris, France. I couldn’t take my dog Nina to Paris; too big to be allowed on the plane in the cabin with me. Plus Nina hates motorcycles of any kind and size, and Paris is where you’ll find them, sputtering and coughing all day long.
I called my friend and dachshund breeder for 55 years, Robin Gianopoulos, in Stony Brook. “I’ve got the dog for you,” she said. “A show dog I’m retiring, Ida Mae.” That’s how a love affair began.
Next morning I left Orient for Stony Brook with the mixed emotions and anxiety a blind date might provoke. Will Ida Mae like me? Will I like her? Am I her kind of guy? Robin welcomed me in the midst of barks and furry tails, long-hair and smooth-hair dachshunds having free rein of the house, encircling me, friendly but cautious in our first minutes of discovery. And there she was, Ida Mae, quietly observing me from the height of the couch in the living room. Her status in life, and in this house, was well established and secure. She belonged. Yet her life was about to change. Robin took us for a walk. Then she suggested Ida Mae and I go for a walk alone, just the two of us. We walked. Ida Mae was calm and inquisitive. Back at the house I asked Robin to hold Ida Mae so I could take pictures. Ida Mae was both strong and delicate. She had a powerful chest but she was petite, with fine features and the most adorable little face you ever saw. Her eyes expressed both sadness and mischief.
“Let me think about it,” I told Robin.
As I drove back to Orient, not one thought came up. But feelings were growing fast. I entered Willow Terrace Lane and wanted to turn around and get back to Stony Brook at full speed, take Ida Mae in my arms and elope to Orient for happiness ever after.
Ida Mae was born in Sarasota, Fla., the “child” of Dr. Thomas, a pioneer vet who developed some of the best miniature dachshund bloodlines. Minis were rare 50 years ago. Ida Mae had two litters. A granddaughter, Violet, is becoming a show dog and winning blue ribbons as Ida Mae did so many times. I have felt parental pride at her achievements. I know it may seem absurd, but it’s moved me more than once. Another granddaughter of Ida Mae is alive and well in Greenport.
Robin had not planned to let go of Ida Mae. In fact, her son had been quite upset at the idea of losing her. He had always assumed that she would stay in the family. But she knew Ida Mae would be pampered in my house. She had read my columns about my dog Lady. As a breeder she keeps about 10 dogs. Ida Mae would be a gift to me.
“Nina, you are going to get a little sister.” Nina wagged her tail. I drove to Stony Brook. No blind date anxieties this time. The excitement of new love.
“If your son is too upset … ”
“It’s all right, Pierre. Ida Mae will get all your attention. I know she’ll be happy with you.”
It was night. I put her carrier in my car, took note of her diet, the hours of her meals, and Robin told me, “She probably will want to sleep in your bed.” And we took off.
Although I don’t approve of driving with a dog on my lap for safety reasons, it didn’t take very long for Ida Mae to settle there in spite of efforts to keep her in the passenger’s seat. Not that safe either. I had just welcomed into the family a very determined dachshund. I have since learned that all dachshunds are like that, determined, brave, opinionated, impossible and irresistible. Ida Mae was 5 years old and not about to transform herself for my pleasure. Nina met Ida Mae. I walked two dogs on Willow Terrace for the first time. I also slept with two dogs in my bed.
In the country, in the city, Ida Mae made friends. Mostly people. Her name was unexpected. “What’s her name?” Ida Mae. They smiled. Nina had to adapt. She was not the only princess any more. I’m sure in the early days Ida Mae missed Robin and nine or 10 other dogs in Stony Brook. But she became my dog. A beautiful dog, long, silky ears, eyes that touched you deeply, made you laugh or moved you to tears. Her short legs inspired her to reach for new heights, somehow finding extra cushions on top of the couch to sit on. She seemed so confident up there. And, can I say it, radiant.
Then I got sick in 2008. My sister Marie-Lise came to the rescue. My friend Nancy had her own dachshund. Three dogs became too much. “Until you get well,” my sister said. I got well. But Ida Mae stayed with my sister. A new love had been found. A few difficult moments between Ida Mae and Beauty Belle, my sister’s black and tan young mini dachshund.
Years went by. Ida Mae was about 7 when my sister took over. While Beauty Belle chased balls endlessly, Ida Mae had other ideas: scattering the contents of bags, uncorking bottles, rearranging the stuff in a suitcase. She was also a dreamer, ate her meals slowly, savoring the food. Beauty Belle was more voracious in her ways. Ida Mae was the most affectionate dog you could wish to have. Nothing delighted her more than being held, your arms wrapped around her compact and tender body. She’d give herself to you, become part of you. I missed this closeness, I missed her warmth when she left my house.
In 2011 my sister was planning a trip to France. I was eager to have a chance to keep Ida Mae for a couple of weeks while Beauty Belle would be paraded in Paris. My parade with Ida Mae would be in Orient. It would be a lovely time together.
My sister praised Ida Mae’s punctuality. She called her “the clock.” Without fail, a few minutes before mealtimes Ida Mae ran to her bowl and waited patiently. She showed the same precision at the “wee-wee” pad, always taking her own length into account. Dachshunds are notorious for missing the mark.
In January 2011 Ida Mae’s visit at the vet is excellent. Her blood work perfect. But in July she doesn’t rush to her bowl at mealtime. She seems less exuberant when I visit my sister’s house. She’s getting old, I think. We try baby food. Not much success. We see the best doctors. They give us hope. She was joyful in the spring. My sister asks, “What happened in July?”
Even the vets don’t have a clear explanation. We hope, we worry and Ida Mae looks at us pleading for answers. We tell her, “Ida Mae, please get well.” We carry her around like a bouquet, like a gift. More sadness, less mischief in her eyes. She doesn’t bark much now but when she does, my sister says, “Good, Ida Mae. It’s so good to hear you bark.”
How the road to loss accelerates. How did we get here? A visiting nurse for pets, Charlene, comes once a day, then twice, to help hydrate Ida Mae. Charlene is an incredibly caring human being. At her house she prepares special meals for Ida Mae. My sister needs her support. Oct. 6 is a desperate day. I drive from Orient to meet my sister at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. I drive against the sun as fast as I can.
Ida Mae is still very pretty. But she’s giving up. I have difficulty giving up. What if we take her home? I ask. “It would be unethical,” answers the vet. “I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” he says.
Our time alone with Ida Mae. We take turns holding her, the way she likes to be held, warmly, closely, to be one with us. The vet comes back. Ida Mae raises her head and turns toward my sister as if asking for protection. My sister holds her tight, caresses her. I stroke her, too, the way I’ve done since that day I drove with her on my lap for her new life in Orient.
Ida Mae, Ida Mae, we never traveled to Paris together, but we went further, millions of miles together. I am not giving up on you, Ida Mae. Our trip will never end. Next week we’ll visit Violet, your granddaughter, at Robin’s place.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected].