Athena just wanted to be loved

Some dogs want attention. Others need to feel safe. Some need a job. Athena needed love.

Athena and her brother were surrendered to the local animal shelter at just a few months old. She was an anxious pup so the staff took to having her spend days in the office with them. I didn’t even notice her until I was ready to leave and then she quickly stole my heart. I named her Athena believing that names have power and hoping this one would give her strength and overcome her timidity. I wanted to embolden her, to help her feel strong. To make her wise and help her feel worthy. I’m not sure it ever worked.

The first few months were challenging. She was still a puppy and some form of abuse must have occurred before me – even if it was passive. Her broken tail was a tell-tale sign, as well as her eyes. My former dog was very independent. Athena was not. Athena needed reassurance. Her anxiety soared if she couldn’t see you. On our first Thanksgiving together, she was crated in another room while the rest of us ate dinner. We could hear a ruckus but thought it best to ignore – kinda like allowing a child to cry themself to sleep. We would never do that again. She literally broke the crate.

So it wasn’t long before I realized she needed a companion and I had a plan. I would take a week off work and we would drive to Omaha, where there was a small dog rescue of mostly females bred in puppy mills. This time around, I wanted a small dog. An older, female dog. Motherly. Athena could pick her out. It was a perfect plan. But then the local shelter called and said they had a dog for me. No, it was not female and, no, it was not older. But it was small and cute and cream-colored. We visited and that was that. They were instantly best friends.

From that point forward, Athena’s life was all about protecting Leo. Not that he really needed protecting, but nonetheless, Athena assumed the role. 

Leo is an adorable small dog. The kind that always looks like a puppy, no matter how old he gets. And Athena is a Boxer-Heeler mix. The Boxer in her resembles an  American Staffordshire Terrier, which often gets an unfair rap. So it was always Leo that got compliments from friends and strangers, while Athena was largely ignored. In public, that’s one thing, but at home, when Leo was squirming his way into your lap, Athena would look on with her brows furrowed. Athena would never ask for attention, she would allow Leo his spotlight, but she often looked forlorn. Athena just wanted to be loved.

My firstborn. I would whisper this to her, close to her face, as I cuddled her best as she would allow. She wasn’t my first dog, but in a house with Leo, I gave her this honor. She was special. They might be the same age, but she had seniority. Even if she did prefer to squeeze into Leo’s bed.

But even with Leo around, she still always wanted to know where you were. On a hike, she would stay close and turn her head back to make sure you were there. Leo could run off and be lost for hours but never Athena. Out they would run through the doggy door and even on a beautiful day, Athena would come back in every few minutes to make sure you hadn’t left.

Then in late 2018, I did leave. Sometimes I think maybe I am a terrible mom. It’s hard to believe that I moved to Oklahoma without them. But the truth is, I allowed them to stay. They were both 10 ½ years old by then. Tom generously offered to drive the U-Haul but when I mentioned the dogs, he was silent. He wanted them in Idaho, with him, in the landscape they had always known. It would have been selfish for me to insist.

But our separation took a toll on me. I missed them terribly. That first year I was so sad without them and, combined with a job that was awful, I cried regularly. I returned for visits but it wasn’t the same. Now they were bonded to Tom in a way they had once been to me. Without them, I felt alone, listless, incomplete. Folks would tell me to adopt another dog and I would bristle. I didn’t need another dog – I already had two. You can’t just replace your kids.

Tom sent photos regularly and my visits continued. The pandemic happened and after four months in Italy, I returned and adopted Mazie within a week. So okay, I finally had another kid. And undoubtedly, Mazie has become my constant companion. Still, Athena and Leo would always be like grown children living away far away from me. Returning to Idaho meant returning home to see them. And in my last few visits, I noticed Athena had become a grand old lady. She limped and moved slowly, but she would still get up to receive attention. She was such a calm and sweet old girl.

We knew her days were numbered but could never expect she would pass while we were away. The news hit us hard. And if I’m honest, the trip was over for me that day. All I wanted was to return home immediately. To fly back to Idaho and comfort Leo. But of course, that wasn’t practical.

It feels like Athena died alone, but that’s not true. Renee, the woman taking care of her and Leo was exceptional. And when she got her to the vet, the vet who had known Athena her entire life – even prior to her adoption with me – I’m told she looked relieved. Dr. Laurie knew we wouldn’t want her to be in pain. The tumor on her liver, which we never knew was there, had burst. Renee held her, stroking her head, and cradling her as she went to sleep.

Athena just wanted to be loved. And even though I wasn’t there to give it to her as she took her last breath, she was very loved indeed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: