Celebrating Comet ~ 1998-2011
September 1, 2011

 A Comet’s Tale

Early in 2000, I bought one of those fancy metal car grates that separates the people-seating from the back storage area—you know, the kind that keeps a dog in the back of the car away from the driver. For some reason, I thought this would be good idea for all of the foster dogs I wanted to bring into my home. I thought I would be able to take any dog, well-behaved or in need of some training, back to my house for some R & R away from the busyness of the shelter. I don’t know what I was thinking, as I wasn’t very good at foster care, often ending up keeping my so-called visitors. But, it was back in November of that year that Mike Keiley of the MSPCA at Nevin’s Farm asked me to take home “Baby,” a pit bull, for foster care for Thanksgiving Day.

I said “yes.” It was a no-brainer for me; I knew I could take Baby home for a few days because there was NO chance that I would EVER keep a dog like her. It wasn’t that I didn’t love pit bulls—I always have and always will. I had started volunteering at the MSPCA six months after my last pup, Astro, had passed away; Astro was a beloved pit bull who had lived over 16 years. I loved pit bulls, but there was one thing about Baby that I knew I just couldn’t deal with: she whined. Baby was called “Baby” because, seemingly every minute she was in her kennel at the shelter, she whined—a loud, nauseating whine! At the time, I wasn’t aware of how sensitive pit bulls are to kenneling. When they are in an unfamiliar place, separated from their beloved people, pit bulls deteriorate over time. Baby had been at the shelter for well over a month, and though the people at the shelter loved her and took the best care of her, she was loudly saying that she had had enough of her kennel!

When I picked Baby up at the shelter, I put her in the back jail-like area of my car behind the metal grate. But a funny thing happened—on the entire ride to my house, Baby never made a sound, almost as if to tell me, “see how quiet I am…see how good I can be…just give me a chance!” When I brought her into my house that Thanksgiving Day, I paraded her past my young daughter, Caitlin, who, at six years old, was still grieving the loss of Astro. Over the past couple months, I had brought home a whole host of foster care dogs: a large lab, an American bulldog mix, a small black lab mix, and many others. Caitlin had rejected all of them without a reason, simply saying “no.” But when she saw the petite Baby, Caitlin immediately lit up and said “yes”—even though I had not given a single prior thought to keeping Baby.

Baby won the rest of us over in no time. A few days later, the whole family—my husband, Guy; our son, Sean; Caitlin; and I—sat down at the kitchen table to choose a new name for Baby. “Comet” seemed like the perfect fit, for she was as speedy as a comet racing across the night sky. Since she left the shelter, she never-ever did bark again and only whined with excitement when approaching her favorite walking parks. We never put her behind that metal grate again, but instead used it to keep her from snitching groceries on our rides home. Every day, she sat loyally beside me in the front seat of our car.

Comet was with me nearly every day for almost 11 years.  Now, only a few days after her passing, memories continue to flood my mind:

Seeing her as the scared, little dog I took home. Wanting just to be loved by us. Being loved. Rolling on her back. Laying at my feet while I studied. Running at the speed of light. Instantly jumping up when asked if she wanted to go out for a “walkie-walk”. Wearing a “Vote Marla” vest outside of Town Hall. Helping to pick out Christmas trees. Allowing thousands of kids and adults, alike, to pet her during humane education lessons and shelter tours.
Scratching and allergies. Chewing through my car seat. Waiting every day on the stone wall for the kids to come off the school bus. Rolling on her back. Crunching on a seagull skull we found at the beach. Going to the office with me. Never wanting to go in the ocean for a swim. Wearing a blue tutu to play the role of the Chanukah fairy for Cait’s 4th grade class. The little pink beauty mark above her lip, like a supermodel’s.

Loving to go anywhere in the car. Listening to me call her my Teddy Bear Sweet-Sweet. Looking so pretty in pink sweaters and collars with daisies. The time she accidentally got into and ate an entire bowl of Peppermint Patties, colorful Easter tinfoil and all, on Caitlin’s birthday and throwing up at the end of the party. Wearing antlers for the Christmas shelter photo.

Sleeping every night by my bed. Always being a silly dog. Making preschoolers laugh by rolling over during a dog-bite prevention lesson. Eating by my side. Having only one white toenail. Sharing my lemon slush. Only allowing me and no one else walk her on her leash—for seven years. Never showing any signs of aggression towards anyone—ANYONE.

Holding the record for consecutive kisses with Caitlin: 219. Posing for a picture with her favorite boy, Sean, for his high school applications. Putting up with my bad cooking. Sneaking on Guy’s side of the bed. Allowing hospitalized teenage girls heal by petting and hugging her. Going to all of the kids’ soccer games. Listening to Caitlin read stories to her.

Having a boat, the Comet Ellen, named after her. Running on the beach. Never retrieving a stick. Leaving the room when I coughed or sneezed. Being served an ice cream sundae with caramel and whipped cream, every night during most of her last year. Playing doggie search and rescue with us. Hating baths. Being a hilarious dog. Tearing a cruciate ligament and having it replaced instead of allowing me to get a new kitchen. Having a second replaced the following year, making her a “bionic doggie.” Loving people. Having zero protective instincts. Having fun with the agility tube. Eating drive-through burgers. Being a sweet girl.

Early on, breaking through the front screen door and chasing my car down the driveway because she was afraid I might not return. Receiving weekly hugs from the kindly gas station man. Eating Smart Food. Putting up with having her pit bull nails painted blue. Fearing she would miss her boat, jumping in the water at Smith’s Point (only to be rescued by her dad).

Transforming people who were afraid of dogs. Transforming people who were self-proclaimed “not animal people.” Snuggling. Eating bird seed and getting really sick. Attending the MSPCA’s Walk for Animals. Vacationing every year with us. Being a great ambassador for her breed. Being a great role model for people, too. Rolling on her back. Accepting her 2009 MSPCA Animal Hero of the Year Award with humility and gratitude. Being dealt a degenerative brain disease. Indulging us with being held like a baby so we could hug and kiss her. Hearing us tell her how much she was loved EVERY SINGLE DAY. Having her picture taken constantly (averaging one every three days over the course of ten years). Forever trusting. Never complaining. Ever. Rolling on her back.  Being innately good and pure of heart. Living just to be with us; to love us and to be loved.

As hard as it is to go on without her, there is comfort in knowing that Comet no longer struggles with the brain disease that took away so much of her joy in life. Now, we must go on with heavy, aching hearts. But I’ve lived long enough to know that time will help us heal. Our lives are indeed richer for having had Comet share her life with us. She will always be remembered and I know we will be together again someday. For now, I will continue to do the work that came to her so naturally: helping to spread the word that pit bulls, like other shelter dogs, are loving, loyal, beautiful animals who just need a chance to love and be loved.

For more information:

Comet’s Corner: Coping with the Death of a Pet

Pit Bull Awareness

MSPCA’s Canine Good Citizen Training for Pit Bulls