When I first moved to my place in So Cal with my dog, the parents didn’t like me very much because I walked my dog through the park several times a day. Then they received funding to upgrade the tot lot and it was fenced in for safety because there was rebar everywhere. I told the kids to get out of there because they were going to get hurt. That’s when I met Jesse and his older brother James. They hated me for threatening to call their parents because they were playing in a dangerous area.
Jesse and James made a scooter with their father, a local real estate broker. They drove it around and got in trouble for it. The new tot lot opened up, time passed and what I used to call the Mommy Nazis came to like my dog. Once Chani and I came out at 6:00 a.m. and someone had broken three six-packs of glass beer bottles right by the tot lot. I took her home, came back with her and made her sit on a bench while I swept up every shard of glass. For my efforts, I was reprimanded by a staffer for the local city councilman, known as Cruella, for allowing my dog to sit quietly above the glass on a bench with a leash not held in my hand while I swept so that the toddlers and their moms/nannies wouldn’t have to deal with this mess.
Then everyone liked my dog until we started looking for areas where we could have our dogs chase a ball off-leash, legally. Jesse and James were growing up. One night a new neighbor was working on her car at 3:00 in the morning. The next day her dog got loose and I found him in the park. I put my dog’s leash around his neck and brought him to his home with my dog, off-leash, right beside me. She screamed at me and told me never to touch her dog again. She was on crystal meth and probably selling it so I steered clear.
Then I saw Jesse and James and some of James’ friends coming out of her condo. They had a new scooter that she had given them. I made them give it back. I told them if I ever saw them near her or her place again I’d call the police, and their parents. They stayed away, liked me now but knew I was parental material. Then they skateboarded down stairways in the neighborhood. A neighbor tried to run them down multiple times. I told them they could skateboard 1/2 hour after school then they had to leave.
When Jesse and James wanted a dog they came to my house and asked what kind of dog to get. I lent them my AKC breed book. Several weeks later who was the first neighbor to see the new pup and receive the book back? Yes, Aunt Dee.
They don’t know this but one day I was out in the park stretching and they asked me if I could do a cartwheel. At 35 they thought I was too old to do so. I did one. Olga Korbut and Nadia were my heroines. Then they asked about a split. I was wearing Teva sandals at the time and the grass was wet. I showed them how to stretch to be able to do splits and my foot went out from under me. Believe me, when a guy says he pulled a groin muscle it REALLY hurts. I was literally on ice for two weeks. But I walked calmly home and they didn’t know a thing.
One day my dog insisted on bringing a huge stuffed teddy bear to the park and she delighted all the tot lot kids and all the other dog owners who came out to play. The next day I came home and she was struggling. I got a tile guy to help me lift her into my car and rushed to the vet. Two other dog owners showed up to be with us. My dog had bled out and had to be put down immediately. She was 12 years old and I’d had her for ten, an abused dog I rescued after she spent a year in a local shelter. One little girl met her when she was six months old and loved her for over five years she lived there. She’s grown now. Maybe she’ll name her dog Chani.
I called neighbors I could get to over the wall in 90 seconds and told them I couldn’t be at home, could I come see them. I got Mike on the phone and told him I’d lost my dog. He said “don’t worry, we’ll help you find her.” I said “No, she’s gone.” He met me outside with a glass of wine, called his wife home from work and they got me through the evening.
The next day I had to go into the park and meet everyone for condolences on the loss of our dear friend. Over forty people gave money to the city for a tree in our park and many came by for a special ceremony to water it. On the way home I ran into Jesse and James and friends. I told Jesse something was wrong and I needed to speak to him in private. We walked behind the bushes and I told him she was gone. Even at age 8, he had to know the details, which I provided. He cried, then dried his tears and I told him he could tell James I yelled at him for something.
These boys must be in college now. I seriously doubt they’d remember me. But I know Jesse remembers my dog. Since we have no children it was a pleasure to see these boys growing up. Yes, they told me about Google (“just Google it”) and I was on dial-up and hadn’t ever heard of it. As an advocate for public parks it was a joy to see these kids. They weren’t in their bedrooms on video games, they were out in a public park every day.
I had to explain the death to the mothers and children at the tot lot as well and many cried. For the five years my dog lived in that neighborhood, the kids yelled hello not to me, but to my dog. After her death, I was just me. Thank you Jesse, James, Annie, everyone for making my Velveteen Dog a real dog, and for allowing us watch you grow up. Ciao, Dee