02 March 2013

When I was 3, I got a little sister. Yes, Cindy had four paws and was white, brown and black all over, but I couldn’t have loved her any more than if she’d been my own flesh and blood. 

Dad and mom packed me and my sister up into our white station wagon one night and we drove to the equivalent of Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. In reality, it probably wasn’t a farm, it was probably a family's house in the country. Regardless, they had puppies for sale. My father insisted that we were not getting a female dog no way, no how.  He didn’t want to entertain the notion of a dog ever having puppies. 

As the story goes, Dad’s protestations evaporated when a little lady trotted over, sat on his foot, and made it very clear that she had picked us to be her new family and there would be no further discussion. Already outnumbered 3 to 1 in the house, maybe my Dad figured one more female didn't much matter or maybe his heart just melted when our beloved baby Beagle charmed him.  Next thing we all knew, Cindy was in sitting in a little topless cardboard box, situated between me and Jeannie in the back seat, looking very pleased that all had gone to plan.  Jeannie and I declared her Cindy (for reasons I don’t know, but we later extended it to Cindy Lou Who, so maybe Dr. Seuss had something to do with it). We paid the princely sum of $10 for Cindy. We kept the canceled check for years and years in our family Bible that sat on the living room credenza.

Cindy and I were pups together. The baby gate that kept me from falling down the stairs between our first and second floor when I was a toddler was put back into use until Cindy could negotiate steps without tripping over her ears. Those were the same ears that were constantly wet as they fell into the milk until she grew into them. We passed hours amusing ourselves with a pair of Dad’s socks: She’s grab one end in her mouth, I’d hold the other end and we’d pull each other across the slippery kitchen floor with me giggling and giggling in that musical way that only a 3-year old can. She'd crouch with her hind quarters in the air, hanging on to the sock with all her might, her tail wagging ferociously.

I don’t recall any part of my growing up that didn’t involve Cindy. I’m sure every child thinks his or her pet is the best, but I know that Cindy really was. We fiercely loved her and she fiercely loved us: whenever we would return home after being gone for only a little while, she would race around the fenced-in backyard and bark in ecstasy that we were back. By the time we got into the house from the driveway, she was on the back porch waiting for us and would howl at the door until we let her in.  I don’t know who was happier to see each other, I just know it was a joyous reunion every time.

My father had given in on getting a girl dog, but he was initially  unyielding in other ways. When it was really cold and Cindy needed to sleep inside, he set up a bed behind the furnace in the basement in a particularly toasty spot. Our basement was huge, so he’d clip a six-foot chain to her collar and we’d put down newspaper for as far as she could roam in case she had an accident overnight.  We girls hated keeping her down there, though I have to say she never seemed to mind. Over time, Cindy, the dog was was never ever going to be allowed on the furniture, was sleeping curled up on the sofa in the living room. That is if she wasn’t sleeping with me or Jeannie. My sister loves to tell the story of Mom coming in to kiss her good night one night and her kissing Cindy instead...and not noticing the difference.  

When I was six, Cindy had six beautiful puppies. Mom, who had gone to medical school, sat with Cindy during the births, in case she needed any help, and later declared her the best doggy mom ever who instantly and instinctively knew how to take care of her babies. Dad built mazes for the puppies out of cardboard boxes and we spent hours and hours with them, getting to know their burgeoning personalities. We found homes for all of the pups, though it broke our hearts not to keep them. She was fixed shortly thereafter.

I’ve written previously about learning to play poker when I was little during my father’s bi-weekly poker games. Females, other than me and Cindy, were pretty much banned (in reality, my sister and Mom had no interest whatsoever), but the two of us would hang with the boys.  It turns out Cindy was quite the femme fatale. When my sister was in high school and some of her buddies would come around, Cindy turned into a big old flirt. We’d all be in the living room watching television and Cindy would insinuate herself between two of Jeannie’s guy friends. It happened way too often to think it was coincidence. 

Cindy had an old pink towel that served as her security blanket.  She’d knead it and get it just right before she’d turn around three times and flop down on it on the living room carpet, right in front of the heat vent. One time when Mom had confiscated the towel to wash it, Cindy was so desperate to lie on something, that we found her curled up on a napkin that was barely bigger than her paws. She loved yogurt, peanut butter, ice cream, and bologna. 

Cindy was still thriving when I went to college, though when I would come home, it was clear to me, in a way that it wasn’t to my parents who saw her every day, that she was aging and slowing down. I spent my junior year abroad in Germany and I will never forget the phone call from mom and dad to tell me that they had put Cindy to sleep. At 17, she finally left us.  Our dorm only had a floor phone and I couldn’t call to the US from there, so when I wanted to call home, I’d go to the post office to place an international call. I have such a clear memory of standing in the phone booth and my parents breaking the news to me and my sobbing so loudly that the other people in the post office were turning to stare. And I didn’t care. 

My family was bereft. We knew Cindy was irreplaceable. We knew better than to try. We switched to cats.  We had some lovely felines— I have a lovely feline now— but we still miss Cindy, our beloved baby beagle, all these years later.  Other than Jeannie, I couldn’t have asked for a better sister than Cindy.

The Beagle Freedom Project rescues beagles from medical testing laboratories. I remember seeing the embedded video of a group of dogs they rescued from a lab two years ago. The puppies had never been outside to feel the sun on their bellies or feel the grass between their paws. It’s remarkable footage, made all the more so by how trusting and gentle the beagles are.  The BFP finds them good homes. I can’t bear the thought that a medical lab could have ever been Cindy’s fate. 

Did I mention she was our beloved baby beagle? 

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