I have written this love letter to my dog, Bunny, a thousand times in my head. It will probably be rewritten thousands of times over by the time I reunite with her on the Rainbow Bridge, but on this first anniversary of her crossing it seemed fitting to share what this letter is now.
The show goes on
It was mid-July in 2012 when my mother and I first met you, Bunny. We drove down from New York to Washington, DC for what was at the time our annual fundraiser. Just five days earlier mom’s companion Charles had died. He was a WWII belly gunner with 33 sorties over enemy territory and – along with mom – one of our original volunteers. He was a gentle soul, like you.
It was a solemn drive that felt far longer than the five hours it actually took to finally pull into the hotel parking lot. Actually, it was a painful drive. Mom isn’t much of a conversationalist to begin with, and it wasn’t as though I could blast my stereo to drown out the silence.
The next day was full of the kind of busyness you need when someone has died. Just enough to keep yourself pulled together, but not so much that your loved one strays too far from your mind.
Still, I remember very little of the countless tasks that filled the day.
The prettiest girl in the room
In all candor I’m a very shy person and uncomfortable in crowds, even one of our own making. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to meeting some of our veterans, as well as the many four-legged guests that were accompanying their humans to the party. One of our local shelter partners was bringing a few dogs who were available for adoption, and one guest brought a dog she had been fostering.
That dog was you, Bunny.
I’m not sure how I first saw you; you were a tiny slip of a thing. Toe to head you were barely a foot off the floor, and easy to miss among the sea of people and much larger dogs. I remember crouching down on the floor to pet you (short of picking you up, that was the only way), and telling you everything would be alright.
Mom spied you as well. Throughout the evening she wanted only to pet you, to hold you, to have her picture taken with you.
Later that evening I learned that the woman who adopted you three years earlier brought you back to the rescue; she didn’t want you anymore. Everything about your posture, your face, your sad soulful eyes reflected that brutal, cold rejection.
A week later mom and I were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike at 10 o’clock at night to meet a man who agreed to transport you from DC on his way to Connecticut. He popped the hatchback and there you were. We handed over your adoption donation, scooped you up, and drove you to your new home.
Bunny, you would never be rejected or unloved for even a second, ever again.
A dog named Bunny
Mom held you in her lap the whole way home. We only learned much later that you really didn’t like to be held. But owing to fear and perhaps a sense of relief you surrendered to being a lap dog for the hour-long drive. She thought that your name was funny and that you were a bit fat. Both true. I insisted we keep your name – it was fitting – and vowed you would shed the extra pounds that burdened your then nine year-old frame.
The first few weeks were filled with much newness. We learned that life had been very unkind to you.
I remember how terrified you were of even the smallest of everyday sounds: the chirping of birds, the scamper of squirrels in the trees, the buzz of a particularly low-flying and rather large fly. All I could do was tell you, “It’s okay.” That would become a common refrain in our life together.
You were a skittish little girl who appeared to have been mistreated, perhaps by that woman who did not want you anymore. While I hate that she didn’t love you, I’m grateful that she gave you up to be found by mom and me.
We loved you and became your family the moment we saw you.
The superstorm that changed everything
The early fall was a beautiful time. Every day we would walk a little farther. You went from being an obese little dog to a merely fat one. Progress.
Come late October there were rumblings of a possible hurricane. Just a year earlier the weather channels were howling about another storm and recommended everyone on the coast evacuate. I regretted ever leaving home for that non-event and decided to stay put for this one.
Mom – or grandma as she was to you – wouldn’t leave, either. The three of us decamped to my apartment, thinking it to be safer than her house. Superstorm Sandy turned out to be an historic calamity and the beginning of many profound changes in our lives.
After our little city was submerged by a 17-foot tidal surge and twenty-plus foot waves we evacuated north. When it was safe to return to the barrier island we all lived at grandma’s house. My building did not have reliable heat and was still all but empty.
Finally, early in January 2013, I was able to return home. A week later grandma had a stroke.
My little girl
At a certain point in life people don’t get better. Improvements are either temporary or illusory. Grandma’s stroke and subsequent health issues rendered her unable to care for you. So in the days that followed her stroke and for every day til we lost you, I became your caretaker.
By choice I never had children. And although I take care of grandma in ways large and small, I never had someone who was totally dependent upon me for their very existence. I know that many people will not understand, but then again many will: Bunny, you are my child and I am your mom.
A love letter to my dog Bunny
Like any good mother I rejoiced in your happiness, cringed when you were in pain, and marveled at your sense of wonder as the world became a less frightening place to you.
I loved to watch your round little belly rise and fall when you slept. I loved introducing you to new things like chickpeas, Greek yogurt, canned pumpkin and, on special occasions, grandma’s matzoh ball soup. I loved watching you take your nightly snack onto your patriotic floor mat, eyeing me in return as you chomped away.
I loved sleeping in the daybed in grandma’s den and listening to you snore. I loved stroking your insanely soft fur – “stuffed animal soft,” I would tell everyone. I even loved how stubborn you were about our daily walks, locking your little legs to protest walking in one direction and turning your head where you wanted to go. I came to learn that these were your walks, not mine. And in time I noticed something remarkable: we never walked the same route twice in a row. Until one day we did.
The winter of our discontent
The winter of 2016 was cold in more ways than just the weather.
You were not yourself. I could not really say what it was, other than that something was not right. After a few visits to the veterinarian it seemed that you had a soft tissue injury to your neck, on the right side. You responded well to the medication and my anxiety subsided, albeit briefly.
In a matter of weeks the medication seemed to be wearing off more quickly. Mornings were difficult for you. More often than not you would almost waddle to the door with your head hung low, wagging your tail reluctantly when I called your name. I took comfort in the fact that you were still eating well, though were occasionally more particular about how I boiled your baby carrots. They never seemed soft enough anymore. You stopped eating the fresh green beans that I bought and lovingly chopped for you into the tiniest of pieces.
But we still took our walks. Every day for at least 45 minutes, more often for an hour or more. And as was your tradition, never the same route twice in a row.
The doctor will see you now
It was a miserable, early spring day at the specialty veterinarian when we learned that you had squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsils. It was very advanced. I wondered how we could have not known sooner just how sick you were.
Although I am a very private person, I cried for hours in the waiting room while you were in recovery, without any shame. No one spoke to me except for a lovely older lady, who told me she believed everything would be okay. I wanted to believe her, but didn’t.
The doctor showed me your scans. There were enormous tumors all over your head and neck that seemed impossibly large for such a little girl. I wondered how you were able to pick up your head at all. I asked the question no one ever wants to ask – “how long?” – and got the answer no one wants to hear – “weeks, maybe.”
Six days later grandma and I said goodbye to you, Bunny, our sweet little girl.
But before that day you did something you never did before. We were on one of our wonderful long walks through grandma’s neighborhood. You were insistent that we cross over the boulevard to another neighborhood where you loved to walk, but we were already walking for 45 minutes and had at least as long til we got home. Somehow I convinced you – stubborn as you were – to return home.
The very next day our walk started to feel familiar. I realized that you were taking me on the very same path we walked the day before, and were headed for the boulevard. What a clever girl you are, I thought, as we made our way to and across the six-lane road to the other neighborhood you so enjoyed.
That was the only time we ever walked the same path twice in a row.
Til we meet again
In my mind’s ear – where I hear myself talking to you – this is indeed a love letter to my dog. Yet at the same time I don’t think I could ever put into words the profound love I have for you, that I still have for you and always will. No matter how I say how I feel, it feels unworthy of you.
This thing called the Rainbow Bridge – I don’t know if it exists, but would like to think that it does. And for now, that’s enough, because I know that you are with G-d. And someday, hopefully not too soon, but someday He will reunite us. Will it be on a Rainbow Bridge? I don’t know, but by then I won’t care, either, because I’ll be with my little Bunny girl again.