It’s never been easy for me to say good-bye.
But last week, I had to buck-up and brave a good-bye I had wished would never come. And while cradling him on the floor of the Northway Animal Emergency Hospital in Moreau, I gave our 14-year-old German Shepherd, Elvis, aptly named for his ever sexy crooked smile, my final kisses.
Elvis was a dog of truly spectacular charm, love and bravery who survived early life abuses and went on to savor the finer things in life, as if relegating his city studded leather jacket to a past he chose never to revisit, making way for a life worthy of a Japanese silk kimono.
And it didn’t take Elvis long to breathe in the merits of good food, especially very rare London Broil followed by a big bowl of his favorite applesauce; long naps on a leather sofa while listening to his favorite Italian Arias; afternoons chasing our girl dogs with loving growls seeping through a huge smile; long, adventurous hikes in Vermont; and barking with his head out of the Jeep sunroof at nearly every passerby when we lived in Pittsburgh.
There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t see miles and miles of love in his eyes, as if reminding me, “Yes, I will always love you.”
Elvis and my husband were the two guys in our house, who discounted the fact that our cats are male too. “They seem like girls,” they would say. And together, the two would share snacks on the sofa while watching TV shows like “Chasing Classic Cars,” or the latest History Channel expedition.
Our lives were fated to cross after we bought a house sight unseen for $5,000 on one of the most crime ridden blocks of a city about 20 minutes outside of downtown Pittsburgh more than 13 years ago.
Elvis lived next door, mostly chained to a tree without food or water.
Our first night in the house, without plumbing or heat, the temperature dropped below freezing. It was sleeting hard, icy rain; that was the first night I heard him crying outside my window. I couldn’t sleep, running to the window every few minutes to see if they had taken him inside yet.
I called animal control, but nothing happened.
So the next day, I started sliding dog treats under the fence and whispered a promise that I would make it better.
We didn’t move completely into our house in desperate need of everything for several more weeks, but when we did, Elvis’ plight was still the same.
And I still hadn’t figured out how I could change things for him. In that space of time before he became part of our family, there was a drug-related murder in front of our house. It was the middle of the night and I still remember all of us huddling under the kitchen table afraid of where the volley of bullets we heard was going.
Elvis’ family was tied to the drug gangs on the street and we heard gossip, whispered on the down low, about their connections to the killing. But one day, I just didn’t care anymore and knocked on their door, starting a conversation about my taking care of him, about my bringing him food.
On Jan. 24, a few weeks later, there was a blinding snow storm with below zero temperatures and he was nearly frozen to the ground at his tree. We brought him into our warm kitchen and that was the start of our life together.
My Dad said I was Elvis’ angel, but really, it was the other way around.
So on Sunday night, I grabbed my phone and pulled up one of his favorite songs, “Amor Ti Vieta,” and played it over and over for him. And the three of us (my husband, Elvis and me) bid each other adieu to the haunting beauty of Pavarotti, “Amor ti vieta di non amar," (love forbids you to not love).