Since my mother died in July 2005, my life has been different. Simply put…no more Mom.
And making things tougher yet for me, shortly after Mom passed, my best friend died and a beloved family pet was killed in a freak household accident.
During those eighteen months of nearly unrelenting sadness, Hoppy—my new three-legged Labrador-Chow mix—helped me get through it.
How Hoppy entered my home to lift my spirits is a circuitous tale.
A few months ago, I ran into my friend Daunis Bradshaw at Robinson's Feed where she was overseeing cat-adoption Saturday.
Bradshaw, the president of People Assisting the Lodi Shelter, asked me if I would be interested in giving a home to a three-legged dog currently residing at the shelter.
Since I already had two dogs, two cats and an African Grey parrot, not to mention considerable emotional baggage, I didn't hesitate to answer, "No, thank you."
But since PALS does such great work for the community, I made a deal with Bradshaw.
I'd pick up Hoppy every day at noon and let him join Fido, Sparkle and me for our outing in the dog park until such a time as he had a permanent home.
So it began…Hoppy ran around like crazy, chasing the tennis ball and the other dogs until he couldn't go another step. I'll admit that I would never have guessed that a dog missing his left rear leg could get around with such ease.
During the first week when I dropped Hoppy back at the shelter, I had a self-satisfied feeling of having done a good deed for a homeless puppy.
But then, two things happened. First, the daily park romps turned into more about reuniting myself with Hoppy. And second, the drop-offs became harder every day.
When I drove away, I wondered if Hoppy got lonesome during the long evening hours. How hard was the shelter floor? Did he worry on those infrequent days when I couldn't pick him up?
Finally, I bowed to the inevitable and made arrangements to take Hoppy home for good.
Hoppy and I were, after all, the same. Both of us were operating at 75 percent efficiency but still able to get everything done that needed done.
Shortly after I brought Hoppy home, the irrigation canal filled. And the dogs began their summer swimming regimen.
Although I wanted to keep Hoppy leashed for his first canal trips, it was impossible to restrain him. He wanted to dive in to swim side by side with Fido.
And to Fido's great irritation—and my amazement—at no time was Hoppy further behind than a half a dog length.
Not all Hoppy's canal trips were uneventful—far from it. After a week, when Hoppy's confidence was high, he took off at full speed due west across the vineyards without looking back.
When Hoppy was no bigger on the horizon than a licorice gumdrop, I realized I might never see him again.
Then, when all seemed futile, Hoppy turned around and ran right back to us.
His pattern of long disappearances followed by unannounced returns became standard.
Although I never grew totally used to Hoppy's absences, I realized they were part of him. The only ways to deal with it would be to deny him swimming—a totally unacceptable choice.
Hoppy spent the summer roaming free.
As for me, the time I spent with Hoppy—and Fido and Sparkle—taught me that as trying as life can be, better times are usually around the corner.
And nothing helps bring things into perspective faster than your pets—the new ones and the old ones.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.