It seemed like yesterday when she came into my life.
She was homeless; I had a home. She was wandering the world; and although I had a place to live, so was I.
In another life, many years ago, I volunteered to coach a high school basketball team. During my first season, we traveled to Pelahatchie for a game. Making it to the front of the school, as I stepped out of the car to enter the gym, I noticed a little white-and-brown terrier. Bending down to scratch her head, my heart skipped a beat.
I’ll never forget her blended face with medium snout sniffing at something in the air, her eyes flashing at some momentary excitement. The smell of basketball and popcorn floated in the crisp air.
She looked at me, as I crouched down to her level, and I asked her what she was doing. “Come here, girl,” I said.
“What are you doing here?”
She glanced up at me, wagging her tail as if to say, “Everything.” And it all made sense to me. Everything made sense. Because it seemed as though I was doing “everything” too. Running from some imaginary demons, always staying busy, never satisfied.
It was 2001, and two years earlier, I had lost my father in an accident. I was with him when he died on Highway 588, and it took a terrible toll on my life. Just months before, a little dog Jill and I purchased before our marriage, Macy, had lost her battle with cancer despite our best efforts.
I recall that cold winter night in Pelahatchie 16 years ago, and I was on edge; my faith was shattered, I was lost and looking for answers.
So was my new acquaintance.
After our encounter, I entered the gym. It was at some point before tip-off when one of my players mentioned the little dog outside, pointing out that she was “homeless and lived at the school.”
I then asked one of my assistant coaches to verify whether that was true. After discussing it with the school’s principal, teachers, and several students, it became apparent that she had been there alone for weeks, living off scraps and snacks from the lunchroom staff.
So we fashioned a homemade leash of shoestrings to bring her into the locker room, where she remained from halftime until the end of the game.
That night it was decided: her days of running had come to an end. She would live with us. A rescue. In Ellisville. With a family who loved her — a forever home.
And she did. For 15 incredible years.
While driving south back home, we decided she needed a name. Since our team was from Heidelberg, it only made sense to call her Heidi. So that’s what we did.
She slept with us every night, even after the kids were born. When each arrived back from the hospital, she met them at the door — to my boys, it was their first introduction to a dog’s unconditional love.
I watched her grow from a puppy to a sleek, loyal, affectionate partner who loved with every fiber of her being.
She turned 15-years-old, not feeble with arthritis, but always active, curious, and full of energy. Heidi smiled while she played, never losing that old sparkle in her eyes. In some ways, she appeared almost immortal.
But time has a way of slowing us down.
One day, I noticed a difference. Her back legs appeared unsteady. We knew something was wrong, and it was — cancer, again. There was nothing we could do.
So last June, we were forced to make a decision. We loved her too much to let her go, but too much not to. True love always knows when it’s time to say goodbye, for an act of heart-wrenching kindness. Through the tears, while watching her fall “asleep” for the last time, my heart skipped again. But I wouldn’t look away. I held her closely. She was loyal to the very end, and so was I.
Honestly, I still think of her each morning.
She always wanted to be scratched on the back of her neck. And when I did, she would stretch, reaching out to meet me with her little paws, as if she was trying to embrace me. When I talked, she would tilt her head to the side, look me straight in the eyes as if she knew precisely what I was saying. And I believe she did.
When I was wrong, she delighted to forgive. If I became angry, she liked to make me smile. When I was happy, she was overcome with joy. By the way she showed her hurt when I left for work each morning, to the manner in which she celebrated and wagged her tail when I came home, to the loving habit of always resting in my lap or sleeping near my side, she had told me a hundred times over that I was her reason for being.
But perhaps, and I trust she understood, I needed her more than she needed me. Those dark days required a new friend.
Yes. It’s no secret. She stole my heart from day one.
And when she took her last breath in June of 2016, she stole it again.