The Habitrail stretched across most of my dresser. Hairy the hamster was housed in the plastic castle complete with tunneling tubes and a giant wheel he could run on incessantly. I would sit on the floor of my room and let him run around, always careful not to lose him under the bed or behind a chair. My seven-year-old heart was both attached and attuned to this tiny creature.
I remember the morning I woke up, ran to the Habitrail, and opened the lid to greet Hairy and found him cold and hard as a rock. I ran down the hall to get my dad, who quietly gave me the bad news, “Trac, Hairy is dead.”
I have a vague memory of burying Hairy in the back yard on Aragon Blvd. When my parents asked if I wanted another hamster, I flatly replied, “No.”
I never wanted to feel the cold, hard reality of death again.
We had other pets after that and I remained resolute in my commitment to not become attached. When our dogs grew old and death was near I was basically unaffected.
I brought my distanced stance with me to adulthood and held firm to not becoming attached. I recall cycling through 3 hamsters in a month when Allison was desperate for a pet of her own. Each time they died, I felt affirmed in my wise choice as a 7-year-old to not ever do that again.
Allison was our animal lover though, and she needed a warm something to love. Mark brought home a tiny Dachshund and Allison was beside herself with joy. A few years later, we added another to the mix. The two of them were with us for nearly ten years. They often slept in Al’s room and were not particularly cuddly with anyone but her. When we moved from San Antonio, we made the decision to give them away, Charlie was old and didn’t do well with Libby and Elly, who were 4 and 6 at that point. I found the no-kill shelter, set up the delivery, and not a tear was shed by me.
I know I sound so cold. I felt it, too, and honestly it was just that simple for me. I was done with dogs. In my mind, we’d made it— we’d given Allison the pets she needed and now I was home free.
Steven starting asking for a dog about 7 months after we moved to Michigan. I was pretty firmly against the idea…big surprise. But Steven wasn’t asking because he thought it would be fun. He was asking because he thought it would help ease some of what was aching inside of him. Mark was supportive of the idea and so we decided to surprise Steve at Christmas. Bailey was only 7 weeks old when we got her. The look on Steven’s face was priceless that Christmas morning. Bailey quickly won everyone’s heart, even mine.
On the icy cold mornings in Michigan she would snuggle up near me as I read in the dark before anyone else in the house woke up. She was my companion on walks through the neighborhood and made me laugh often as she ran her “circuit” around the house chasing after her toys. I affectionately referred to her as “my damn dog” the millions of times she escaped through the slats of the fence in the back yard.
Last week, after noticing her behavior had been a bit off, I took her to the vet. We came home with antibiotics and simple diagnosis, so no big deal. But Tuesday that started to change and by yesterday she was passing blood and I took her back to the vet in the morning. Standing there with the doggie triage nurse, trying make decisions about how much we can spend towards fixing what’s wrong, I couldn’t hold back the tears. She was very kind, working with me to make a plan for testing and procedures.
I got to my car and just wept.
My seven-year-old-self felt very near, and the tenderness inside of me that once attached and attuned to Hairy now holds a far deeper attachment to Bailey.
For now, we are waiting for more test results and to see if the medicines and the special diet will work. I don’t want to think about what it will mean if those efforts fail, or if the tests show a more serious issue that we can’t fix.
Bailey has melted what once was cold inside me and restored something sweet that I left behind four decades ago. I think perhaps she is sacred.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 30 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. She writes about her life and her work here.