Panda is the dog that made me a dog person. I had a dog as a young child. He was a perfectly fine dog but he lived most of the day outside, had no real training and when he was inside, he was so pleased to be around humans that he was just too much energy for me to really manage. At least, that's what I remember. It was a long time ago.
Then I had a couple of rodents. They did what rodents did and mostly put up with their human and then pooped or peed and I did not know really how to connect with them. I killed most plants I touched. What I'm saying is that I was pretty sure that I just didn't have what was needed to connect with other living things and I was probably more harm than good to them anyway.
In 2000, I met Leo and I really liked him and he really liked me and we liked each other enough that after only a few short months of dating, we decided to quit our jobs and move to the west coast. He had ferrets which were illegal where we were going, so we found a great local rescue, made an additional donation and headed out west. I knew going into this that Leo wanted a dog and I was pragmatic enough to know that the odds of our relationship lasting were something other than 100% so I figured he'd get a dog, it'd be his dog and I would hope I didn't mess anything up too horribly.
My friend is an animal trainer and the company she worked with had a litter of border collie/cattle dog mixes that had a role in a flea and tick commercial. Their human sold the litter to the training company because they'd been a surprise and he didn't want them. The training company quickly adopted them all out except for the last little girl. Her name was Houston
She peed on herself and then crawled up next to Leo. She had been living with trainers for a while so she had a solid sit, stay, speak, and a few other tricks in her arsenal. She was gentle and timid and not at all like dogs I knew. We paid our $1 adoption fee and took her home.
We named her Panda and I began to brace myself for ruined shoes and musky dog smells. But that didn't happen. I once saw her chewing on the tip of my plush Spongebob slipper and told her no in a lightly stern voice and that is the last time I recall her assuming anything was a toy that wasn't given to her to play with. She was eager to learn tricks, affection and energetic.
Panda was a very good girl.
When we lived in Los Angeles, Leo would go on day trips, driving all along the California coast to find dog-friendly places to play. In her life, Panda saw the entire west coast from Tijuana to the Canadian border. She was a nervous dog but not at the beach. At the beach, she was fearless and free.
Leo will hate me for posting this picture but back in her younger days, we'd invite her up onto the couch and she'd sit really close to one of us, push off from her front legs while stiffening her spin and fall onto our arm and rest her head on our shoulder. It was pretty cute.
She grew to love being on the other side of the camera. The sound of the shutter would perk up her ears and she'd come running from another room if she heard it. It was hard to take sock photos but I can't say I minded.
Panda was a really good girl.
When we adopted Thea, she was unsure how to deal with this crazy ball of energy and misbehavior, but she was never cruel. She'd been our only dog for six years and we had a quiet life. Thea shook that all up.
But Thea loved Panda right from the start and she won her over pretty quickly. They became fast and inseparable friends.
Throughout her life, Panda has always been a fetch machine. Neither of her siblings have ever come close to matching her athleticism when it comes to catching "the squirrel."
Panda has been my a central part of my family, my home, my life since 2001. This post could go on forever while I remember the things, big and small, that made her special to me. I could talk about her TV appearances and modeling gig. I could talk about the times she outsmarted us and times she comforted us. I have thousands and thousands of photos of her and looking at them now, I still remember all our wonderful adventures together. She changed me. She made me see the value in being patient and understanding. She taught me to be more gentle and thoughtful with others. I can say, without hyperbole, she made me a better person.
And now I have to learn to let her go. Her decline has been fast. While she was showing her age a bit a year or so ago, the past few months, and the past few weeks, especially, have been hard. We've treated what we could to ensure she was comfortable, but we've always agreed that we'd try to do right by her and not let her suffer. Today, she woke up barely able to walk, uninterested in food and her breath got progressively more labored. It was time. I love my sweet old lady. I will miss her. She'll always be the dog who made me a dog person.