A sad, but right, goodbye: Percy

It occurred to me during one of our walks last week that Percy and I didn’t have many of these left. As a chilly February wind blew, I gripped his old green leash a bit more tightly in my hand and felt the now-familiar tears well in my eyes.

Percy pulled toward a silver electric box and then, a few feet later, one of his favorite target bushes. I never did understand, and don't even ten and a half years in, what makes him like to mark certain types of shrubs, particular trees, hydrants and meters. And cardboard, he’d pee on his own legs if they were made of cardboard.

I know this because we’ve not been able to keep cardboard boxes on any floor in our home, and that is one reason Percy moved to Brooklyn today. He has gone to live with a friend of mine, a woman whose kids are grown and whose own beloved pugs passed away last year, a friend who graciously and lovingly agreed to adopt our Percy. Suzanne is the kindest soul, and I hope she knows how grateful we are.

Tom and I are certain it’s the right decision, for both our family and for Percy, but my heart nearly broke in half during the twelve hours before Tom and Percy pulled away this morning. My eyes are still puffy from all the tears they shed and for those they didn’t; I wanted to stay strong for the boys who know that Percy is going to Suzanne’s but don’t yet know it’s forever. They have never felt terribly connected to Percy, and in this moment, I am grateful for that. 

*****

Eleven years ago, when Tom and I were newly married, just out of graduate school and in our first home, we decided to get a dog. I’d lived in New York City for years before I met Tom, and there, because they are good apartment dogs, pugs are ubiquitous. They are infinitely charming little animals, like velvet-eared, pig-tailed casks on stubby legs, and I had fallen in love with them. Or at least the idea of them.

Neither Tom nor I had ever had a dog but thought a pug would be perfect because, I believed, they don’t shed and are couch potatoes. Pugs are popular so we had a hell of a time finding one to adopt. Finally, we came across a breeder, Joyce, in rural Maryland whose mother pug, Peaches, was soon to have a litter. We hoped for a female and planned to name her Penelope.

When the puppies were born, Joyce called us to come meet them and pick one. By the time we arrived, the females had been claimed, and just one little male was left. On unsteady legs through the unfamiliar grass, the little pup came towards us, and our hearts melted. He weighed only a few pounds, and if you held his soft ears down against his head, he looked exactly like a baby harp seal.

“Yes,” we told Joyce, “we definitely want him.”

“Come back in a month,” she said. “He’ll be old enough then.”

During those next four weeks, we readied the basement and chose a name that felt like the male equivalent of Penelope: Percy. “Percival Ulysses,” we laughed, for then his initials would spell “PUG.” I bought wooden letters that spelled Percy, glued them to a board, and painted the nameplate in colorful hues. We hung it on his crate and waited eagerly.

 Baby Percy and (baby) Em

Baby Percy and (baby) Em

The day we brought Percy home, we beamed like proud new parents. Pugs for Dummies told us not to play with him constantly because that amount of attention was what he would come to expect. Pugs were bred as companion dogs and very much wanted to be with people as much as possible, so it was important to teach limits.

We summarily ignored that advice.

Our dog school instructor implored us to practice the lessons at home and to keep going with weekend classes. “A jumping puppy may be cute,” he said. “But a jumping, barking adult dog is not.” After six weeks of dog school, we tired of it and the cost and felt certain we’d still manage to train Percy in adequate fashion. Percy was so small and so darling. Surely he’d stay that way.

As it turned out, we were wrong on all counts. Percy shed so much each day I could have knit a small rug. He was not remotely sluggish and enjoyed teething on our couch so joyfully that he ate parts of it down to the frame. He did come to expect fairly constant attention, and when we brought our first son home, Percy ate the rocking chair legs.

He jumped and barked, but we loved and tended him because he was and remains one of the kindest animals I’ve ever known. He was always patient with the boys, he weathered the arrival of our cat with decency, and he has never known a stranger. It’s always made me laugh that when on walks with the kids and Percy, people make a beeline towards us not to pay any attention to the kids but to shower love and compliments on the dog.

“Pugs are such a wonderful breed,” they all say. “You must really love having him.”

“Oh yes, they are great dogs,” I always agreed. But inside, my heart pinched at the truth that I often haven’t loved having Percy; that we really aren't dog people and won't ever have another one.

As the years passed and our time stretched more and more thin, Percy began to pee in our house. Armed with bottles of Nature’s Miracle, old rags and even a water vacuum, we have tried to keep pace with Percy’s rate of retribution. We had to replace the carpet in our basement, my oldest son’s hardwood floors and bed comforter are irreparably stained, countless boxes have been ruined, and some baseboard paint has peeled.

We bought dog diapers and pheromone diffusers, took more walks each day and spoke repeatedly to the vet who concurred that the problem wasn’t incontinence. The markings continued, and our patience wore almost completely out. “Even though we love him, Percy is always the straw that breaks our backs,” we admitted sadly.

Recently, after saving and searching, we bought a new house. A dream house in which our sons will finish growing up and to which they’ll return as young men. We were overjoyed until we thought of the first time Percy peed there, and we realized that we just can’t do it anymore. We have tried our very best to love and care for Percy. He is a sweet soul and the picture of health, but we aren’t able to provide for him emotionally in the ways he needs.

Tom and I agreed to start looking for a home worthy of our pup, a place where he would be adored and cherished and live out the rest of his years as happily as possible. I hoped to find a local home, so we could still visit him, but I couldn’t. And so in tears, I reached out to my friend, Suzanne.

She writes the food blog, A Pug in the Kitchen, and we met several yeas ago in the online food world. We spent a day together last time I was in New York, and I know that her heart has felt a definite void since her pugs died last year.

With all the love and enthusiasm and graciousness in the world, Suzanne said she adopting Percy would fill a hole in her heart. I realized, then, that it would also fill the hole in Percy’s heart, the one we haven’t been able to.

With tears on his cheeks, Tom kissed me goodbye and drove Percy to Brooklyn this morning because I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do so. Watching them leave was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I love him and miss Percy's sweet face already.

But he will be so happy with Suzanne, and I know she will love him and treat him like gold. They will be each other's Valentine tomorrow.

I hope he doesn’t miss us too much or feel abandoned. I suspect he won't as he's going to the best place I can imagine a pug wanting to be. I hope I can make peace with this in my own heart even though I know it’s the right thing to do. This whole story is actually sort of neat and lovely when I think about it clearly, even though I can't often do that yet.

*****

As we rounded the last bend, Percy pulled toward a favorite spot to sniff. At the kennel where we used to board him when we traveled, they always said Percy was profoundly interested in “exploring scent.” I thought of the report cards we would get when we picked him up after a stay. He was literally off the charts for enjoying scent exploration. I smiled and let him sniff for as long as he wanted. And then we headed back toward the place neither of us will call home anymore in the not-so-distant future.

*Please visit Suzanne's blog on Valentine's Day to read her side of our tale.