The date was December 22, 2009. I nervously waited with Audie in the oversized baggage claim area of terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport, watching the black conveyor belt spew out large freight through rubber vertical blinds. One by one, pieces of cargo slid down the chute. I hugged myself tightly, anticipating the moment the dog crates would finally appear. Up until now, all I’d seen of Audie’s two dogs were digital photos of Lizzie, the chubby “one-eyed” female pug, and Reggie, the brindle, wide-eyed male French bulldog/ pug mix.
On the night I first met Audie, he promised to email me photos of his rescue dogs the next day. I was at my desk in the UCSD Math Department when I opened the email. Forgetting where I was, I involuntarily squealed with delight when I first laid on eyes on them. I attracted quite a bit of attention with that gleeful outburst, but I couldn’t help myself. They were easily two of the most adorable and photogenic dogs I had ever seen! And any moment now, 11 months later, I’d be meeting them in person for the first time. Little did I know how much our lives were about to change.
My dog, Toby, had me all to himself, and now, there would be three, plus an additional human, thrown into the mix of our 996 square foot rental condo. Even though Audie spent most of his time at my home before now, moving Lizzie and Reggie in with Toby and me sealed the deal. Audie officially moved in that day, even though his landlord would not release him early from his lease agreement. Was it just my nerves, or was it possible it was taking an hour for Lizzie and Reggie to arrive? Audie had done everything right to ensure their safety during the 3 ½ hour flight from Seattle to San Diego, but with any dog traveling in the freight area below, there was always a risk. Being flat-nosed dogs, Lizzie and Reggie fell into the highest risk category for airline flight. I felt certain they were fine, especially since Audie was on the flight in the passenger cabin. He’d made sure they had their blankets, soft toys and plenty of water in their crates. Thankfully, he hadn’t sedated them, much better for their well-being and safety. All evidence pointed to the safe arrival of two healthy dogs.
I knew Audie was as excited as I was to have Reggie and Lizzie permanently living with us. It had been very hard on him to be separated from Lizzie and Reggie all year. Lizzie was officially his dog, and Reggie was actually his friend and ex-roommate, Addie’s, dog, but the two were a bonded pair. It had been a difficult decision, and an even more heart-wrenching separation, but Addie selflessly did what was best for the dogs and sent Reggie to California with Lizzie so that the two dogs would not experience the pain of separation. Even though I’d never met Addie in person, because of the personal sacrifice she made for Lizzie and Reggie, she forever has my utmost respect and affection.
My heart pounded like a loud drum in my chest, and my breath caught in my throat as my head spun. I felt light-headed from the emotion of this long-awaited day. Any minute, they’d be here….and then….the first crate came down the chute, and I saw Reggie’s dark, frightened face. Just like the first time I saw their pictures, I squealed aloud with happiness as Audie rushed up to grab Reggie’s crate off the belt. As soon as Reggie saw Audie, he began barking and pawing at the wire door enclosing him inside. And within moments, the second crate appeared, and I saw Lizzie pacing side to side, trying to move around inside the crate, panting with that signature upturn of her pink tongue that I came to love about her. She didn’t bark like Reggie did, but she scratched at the wire door just as emphatically as her best friend did. I jumped up and clapped and cried out in delight.
It was one of the happiest days of my life.
I’d already fallen in love with their pictures, and by the time we loaded their crates onto the oversized cart to wheel them out to the car, I fell in love all over again. This was the beginning of a brand new phase of my life. Though I didn’t know it as we wheeled a now peaceful Reggie and Lizzie out to my car, Audie planned to propose to me two days later, on Christmas Eve, under the famous Hotel Del Coronado lobby Christmas tree. Overnight, my family of two grew into a family of five.
Driving on the 5 freeway, Audie turned around in the passenger seat, petting Reggie and Lizzie through narrow slats. I couldn’t wait to get home and release them from their cages so I could hold them for the first time. Before I left the house to pick up Audie, Reggie and Lizzie from the airport, I’d tried to explain to Toby that his new brother and sister were coming to live with him today. As I giddily told Toby how much fun he’d have with his new friends, he just stared at me. Deep down, I felt so scared, not knowing how my 16-year old dog would handle two new dogs in his territory after so many years as the only pet. My vet, Dr. Kaleka, had told me exactly what to do to successfully transition these two new animals into our household, but it still could go either way. I was as ready as I was going to be, but was Toby ready? As I merged from the 5 north interstate onto the 52 east highway, my heart began pounding rapidly again, and my breathing became shallow. We were almost home…