June 5, 1994-October 15, 2011
I first met Reggie Love in August 1994. I was at the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington on Long Island with my then-girlfriend, and we were ready to get a puppy. When I arrived, someone brought us to a room that was full of people with puppies. It was a little chaotic, but I wasn’t surprised—I knew that the puppies were always the first to be adopted at shelters. I spotted this black one in the arms of a young woman across the room. The woman seemed ambivalent, so I approached her and asked, “Are you going to adopt that puppy?” While the other people around us were being licked by enthusiastic, wiggling pups, this one sat still and shy in her arms. “No,” she finally said, and she handed her over to me. She was so tiny, six pounds of black fur with white markings and enormous floppy ears. “What kind of dog is she?” I asked one of the staff members. “A black lab mix.” I was twenty-three years old and didn’t know then that a lab mix is the default “breed” at most shelters. All I knew was that I wasn’t letting her go. I named her Reggie Love. I was really into Susan Sarandon at the time, and thought that a reference to Thelma and Louise was just too obvious. So I named her after Sarandon’s character—a feisty lawyer—in The Client.
We drove her to my mother’s apartment. The minute she arrived, her personality changed. She was happy, playful, mischievous; she wanted to run around and put things in her mouth. I assume she was just shell-shocked at the shelter and overwhelmed (who wouldn’t be) because she wasn’t shy anymore.
My girlfriend and I both worked full time and knew very little about raising a puppy. We alternated which of us went home on our lunch hour to our tiny apartment on 12th Street in the East Village to walk Reggie Love. We decided to make a little place for her in our bathroom when we left her alone. The door didn’t close completely, so we set up a small bookshelf as a barricade. The first day I arrived at the apartment to walk her, I found her lounging on the couch in the living room. The bookcase was undisturbed. My girlfriend and I eventually broke up, I moved to Williamsburg (before it was hip) and brought Reggie Love with me. We lived in a studio apartment on the third floor of a Latino Christian Fundamentalist family’s home. Reggie still wasn’t properly housebroken and I worked long hours, so she peed a lot on the kitchen floor. I took her to an unofficial dog park on the North Side of Williamsburg. My dad came to visit me and see my new place, and we gave Reggie Love her first bath. She didn’t like it very much.
Since my father had gotten sick only a year before, I visited him a lot in Portland, Maine, and I brought Reggie with me. She was big enough that she had to ride in the cargo area of the plane. My dad had two cockatiels, but I can only remember the name of one of them—Tippy, named for Tippy Hedron from The Birds. He and his partner had the birds’ wings trimmed or something so they let them out of their cages a lot to roam around the house. When Reggie met Tippy, Tippy bit her on the nose. They got along fine after that.
Reggie was fond of eating things she wasn’t supposed to. She’d eat a section of carpet, a couch corner, or, my favorite, the fabric shower curtain, and then become really sick. It took me a decade to discover that I had it the wrong way all along: Reggie did not eat weird crap, then become nauseous. She was nauseous, so she ate weird crap in an attempt to make herself throw up. But her stomach was made of steel, and she usually ended up shitting it out instead.
The last year has been very difficult. She lost her dog sister Jordan Love in October. She underwent dental surgery in February. She had two bouts of Canine Vestibular Syndrome, and the second one really aged her. She slowed down considerably. Finally, after all these years, she began acting her age. She got very finicky about eating and lost weight. Reggie Love loved food. I think it was her favorite part of life, and she ate anything she could (including stuff she shouldn’t). When her appetite began to steadily decrease, it was tragic, really. We tried everything. We cooked meals for her, got her raw meat, brought home every single brand of organic, fair-trade, cage-free, all meat, no-by-products dog food we could find. She’d eat one meal of it, if we were lucky, then didn’t want it again. We tried anti-nausea medication, acid reflux meds, herbal remedies and supplements. In the last few months, she refused even cat food. She also would not eat out of a bowl. Everything had to be hand fed to her in tiny pieces. She physically couldn’t get it in her mouth any other way—a combination of the lingering dizziness she experienced from the Vestibular Syndrome and her tongue had lost its strength and flexibility to pick up food. One of us would sit on the couch, offering her four or five options, praying she would eat one. In her last weeks, she ate only treats. Mostly ZiwiPeak lamb treats, Charlie Bears, and Dogswell Happy Heart Chicken Breast Strips. I name them because I am so grateful that they had something that the 125 other things we offered her didn’t. And she’d eat them more than once. She also took a liking to a kind of junky dog food you buy at the supermarket with little nutritional value. But she’d eat twenty or thirty pieces of kibble, one at a time, from our hands.
It is so difficult to even remember everything we’ve done together: she’s been with me through 30 books, 20 movies, 14 fish, 13 relationships, 10 jobs, 8 vets for her, 7 therapists for me, 6 family funerals, 5 apartments, 4 dog parks, 3 new dogs (plus one foster dog), 2 cross-country road trips, 1 wedding, 1 house and more panic attacks than I can count. Seventeen years is a very long relationship. She has driven across country twice.
She lived a full, charmed life. Road trips, vacations, houseguests to dote on her, a yard of her own full of grass to roll in, other dogs to play with and train. Once, she enthusiastically jumped up on George Hamilton in an elevator at Le Montrose Hotel in West Hollywood. We lived at the hotel for a month while we were working in LA.
The most difficult part of letting her go is that she was there when my father died in 1995. I brought her with me to Portland, and they even allowed her inside his room at the sprawling Victorian house that was converted into a hospice center. I remember she jumped on my dad’s bed. For many painful reasons, I am no longer in touch with anyone else from that time—she was the only one who remained a part of my life since his death. And now, she’s gone. It feels devastating to me on a different level because we shared something no one else did: memories of my father. Of his place in Portland, his lesbian upstairs neighbors, his meticulously cataloged VHS collection, the black fabric with splashes of metallic paint on the living room couch, Tippy hopping around on the hardwood floors.
I believe dogs have many life lessons to teach us. Reggie Love was the most vocal dog I’ve ever met; she had no problem telling me—with a groan, a whine, a bark or a full monologue—what she wanted. She spoke up for herself. She never acted her age. She was uninhibited. She has been there for me with unwavering love and support in some of my darkest times. She was pure sunshine.
Some wise recently said, “Reggie Love isn’t leaving us, she’s just going to the other side of the yard.” Have a blast on the other side, Reggie Love. I know you will.