Image by JenWaller
Hannah came into my life eleven years ago today. She has been one of the few constants throughout that time, and I consider her one of my best friends.
I wish I had seen Hannah as a puppy. When I first saw her she was already nine months old, and she looked similar to how she looks now. She was a little scrawnier, like she hadn’t quite completely grown into her paws. But she was basically the same size and shape she is today. She was timid and fearful. I’ll never know exactly what happened to her in the first nine months of life, but I’m certain it wasn’t pleasant.
I do know part of her story. A family in Seattle acquired a puppy and kept it chained in their backyard all the time. Over time the woman who lived next door, Kathy, became concerned about how this family treated the dog. They never played with her; they rarely let her off the chain. They didn’t walk her, and she was never around other dogs. They brought her food and water but little else. Cold weather approached, and the dog was still chained outside. Kathy decided to ask the family about their plans for the dog. Her first attempts at suggesting they might be better off without the dog were promptly dismissed. A few weeks later it got really cold, and the dog barked and howled for much of the night. Kathy, determined to somehow rescue the dog, again went to talk with the family. This time they admitted they didn’t really know what to do with the dog, especially since she wasn’t a cute puppy anymore. Kathy offered to take the dog off their hands with the understanding that the dog would be adopted out. Kathy already had two large dogs and couldn’t keep a third one. The family handed the dog over to Kathy.
I "found" the dog on Usenet (seattle.forsale.misc). The ad from November 17, 1996, read:
"Australian Shepherd/Lab Mix for adoption
8 month old black and tan female,
looks more like Shepherd than Lab
all shots, spayed, Seattle licensed, housebroken,
very sweet and smart
currently I’m fostering her after rescuing
her from neglect, but I can’t keep her–
already got 2 dogs of my own and 3 is too much
home visit and adoption fee required"
I hadn’t been planning on (or even thinking about) getting a dog, so I’m surprised the post even caught my eye. I was going through a divorce, and I was in a confused and dark place in my life. I would never recommend getting a dog on a whim, but that’s pretty much what I did. I phoned Kathy, and she brought the dog over to my apartment for a visit. Even though the dog was extremely shy and meek there was something engaging about her. Kathy and I agreed I would be the dog’s next "owner," although neither of us were willing to finalize the transaction right then and there. I needed to buy a bed, a crate, a leash, dog bowls, toys, and all the other accoutrements that come with dog-tending. A few days later — the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 22, 1996 — I paid Kathy for what she had spent on the dog — spay fees, licensing,vaccinations — and I drove home with this adorable dog.
The dog’s name was Aurora. The family had named her after one of the nastiest, ugliest, hooker-laden streets in Seattle. Additionally, "Aurora" is a tough sound for a dog to hear. Just try calling out, "Aurora Aurora Aurora!" It sounds like a dog howling. I hated the name Aurora. I changed Aurora’s name to Hannah easily and simply. She just looked like a Hannah. I didn’t have to think about what to rename her; it came naturally.
I’ve since learned that Hannah is more likely part Aussie-Golden Retriever instead of Aussie-Lab. I’ve found out it’s possible she was part of a litter of puppies that were being given away at the entrance to the Fred Meyer on NW 85th Street in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.
It’s impossible to stay in bed in the morning when you have a sweet dog breathing in your face asking you to take her outside. When I first got Hannah she, quite literally, got me out of bed many mornings. I no longer have the desire to stay in bed all day, yet it still gives me immense joy to wake up to Hannah’s wagging tail, goofy grin, and her little whines and groans of "Wake up and let me out!"
Hannah is getting old. Her hind legs are giving out, and last night she could barely make it upstairs. She has early stages of kidney disease, and she has "idiopathic epilepsy" (i.e. seizures for no reason the vet can find). She has some prescription dog food that makes her breath terrible. Her body is riddled with (hopefully) benign tumors. But she still loves the beach; she still loves to chase squirrels, and she gets excited when you ask her if she wants to go for a walk. She loves people. She is happy and, most importantly, she is secure.
Hannah is kinder and more loyal than many people I know. She keeps nudging me along and teaching me about responsibility, sadness, health, promises, tenderness, aging, love, and a host of other important life lessons. I am so grateful Hannah came into my life, and I’m pretty sure she is grateful for me too. Happy Adoption Day, Hannah!
Update: Hannah passed away on April 4, 2009. Her last picture, taken a few hours before she died, is here. I think about her and miss her every day.