From time to time I will post stories that I have written about my grandmother, Betty Collura. I lived with her for about 14 months in 2006-2007, and it was during this time that she started showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It was an interesting time with many significant ups and downs, but I have a unique story to tell for almost every single day.
I was staring at the clock on my cell phone, calculating the minutes until the end of my statistics lecture, when I felt it vibrate in my hands as a new text message came through. It read: “Do you want a dog?” The text was from my friend Anika, whose boyfriend spent a pretty penny on an eight-week old Pomeranian as a birthday gift for her just days earlier. Attached at the bottom of the message was a blurry picture of a tiny white ball of fur. I couldn’t understand why my friend would want to get rid of this pretty baby, but the idea instantly got me excited.
For the past year, I really missed having a pet around. Before moving in with my grandma, there had never been a point in my life where I didn’t have a dog or cat. I missed being greeted at the door, cuddling at night and just the overall comforting feeling you can only get from a loveable pet. I sometimes whined about it to my friends and would check out the dogs up for adoption on the local animal-rescue websites, but I restrained myself from visiting these shelters because I knew I’d never be able to walk out empty-handed.
At that point in my life, I knew that adopting a dog was not the most practical idea. I was a month away from earning my associates degree at the local community college and four months away from transferring to Florida International University. I had finals and graduation coming up, followed by a long summer of apartment-hunting and moving down to Miami. I wanted to be patient and promised myself that I would get a dog after settling into my new apartment, but suddenly here I was, hit with an offer that was going to be hard to refuse.
Through a few more text messages back and forth, I learned that Anika and her boyfriend, both full-time students, got the puppy four days earlier and were quickly overwhelmed by how much time and work it required. The huge responsibility and loss of sleep had already gotten to them and they were realizing the whole thing wasn’t such a good idea. The breeder was willing to take the puppy back but refused to refund their money, so Anika was desperate to try and make some of it back while finding it a good home. She heard me mention my desire for a dog many times, which made her consider me before anyone else. I called her the moment I walked out of my statistics class.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked.
“I feel like I have no choice,” she whined. “She needs to be taken outside like every 15 minutes, it takes an hour to get her to eat and she cries all night. I’m sad but I don’t have what it takes to care for a puppy right now. I can’t do it. I don’t even expect you to give us the full $800 that Tony spent on her. Just give us what you can and give her a good home.”
“I really want to, but I’m not sure about this, Anika. I’m pretty busy too…” I started to say, but then I moved the phone away from my ear and glanced back down at the blurry photo of the little white fur ball.
“Well at least you graduate soon and your grandma is always home, so she could help you out, right?”
“Ummm… Let me think about this, run it by my mom and see how she feels,” I told Anika. “I’ll call you back.”
My grandma was a possible obstacle that I had not even considered yet. I knew that she loved animals, but would she really want one living in her house? If not, would this be something I would move out over? Being a 20 year-old living with an 80 year-old, I always tried to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything as a result. I wasn’t going to let taking care of my grandma hold me back from doing something I wanted to do- and I really wanted this dog. I realized that it really didn’t matter whether I asked my grandma or not. She wouldn’t clearly remember the conversation an hour later, and with her temperament, I knew her feelings about a dog would fluctuate on a daily basis anyways. One day she would be all over it, and the next morning she could want nothing to do with it and say she never wanted a dog. She wasn’t capable of making a decision; it was ultimately my mother that I was going to need to ask. I took a deep breath, hoped for the best and dialed her number.
“Absolutely not,” was what I expected to hear, and naturally it was the answer I got. My mother has always been one of those who says no at first, but often changes her mind after much begging and convincing. I know exactly how to work her and was prepared to argue my case.
“Why not, Mom? Give me one good reason why not!”
“You absolutely cannot bring a dog into Grandma’s house! It’s taken us so long to finally get her medications and moods balanced, and you know that the smallest things can still set her off.”
She had a point- it was true that something as minor as a scary dream could put my grandma into a wacky mood that lasts for days.
“Casey, a dog can end up being a huge setback for Grandma.”
“So if it doesn’t work I’ll give it back to Anika or move out earlier. It’s only going to be for four months. You say it could be a setback, but this can also end up being a great thing. Think about it- the dog will give her something new to do. It’ll keep her occupied, and how can you hate a little one-pound Pomeranian? Wait until you see this thing, Mom. It’s so small and cute!”
I knew that even my tough mother has a weakness for sweet, furry little animals. She caved a few minutes later and agreed to let Anika bring the puppy over for a trial visit, to see how my grandma reacted. When Anika’s car pulled up in the driveway, I told my grandma to go sit on the couch; that I had a big surprise for her. I was taking the little-kid approach that I often used with her, especially when I was trying to get her psyched about something.
“Me? Sit on the couch?” she asked.
“Yes, you. The couch!” I pointed to remind her.
When she was settled on the couch beside my mother, I opened the front door for Anika and led her to the living room. Squirming in her arms was the smallest puppy I had ever seen in my life. It was the size of a hamster with really long, soft white fur and two pink ears that perked straight up. I reached for the dog, held her up to my face and looked right into her chocolate brown eyes. I was instantly smitten. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best.
“Look, Grandma! Look at the puppy Anika just got!”
Her eyes lit up and her mouth formed an “O” when she saw what I had just carried into the room. I placed the puppy on her lap and it crawled up her chest and began licking her neck.
“Oh Lord! She’s beautiful!” she said between giggles. Even my mother could not hold back her excitement. While she and my grandma took turns petting, kissing and talking gibberish to the dog, I shot Anika a look and a thumbs-up. Step one was a success.
“Anika’s boyfriend just bought her this puppy, but unfortunately they can’t keep it. They’re going to give her away. Isn’t that sad, Grandma?” I said, hoping my grandma would catch my drift. “Do you know anyone who would like this puppy?”
She paused for a moment and actually gave my question some thought.
“No… I can’t think of anyone,” she answered after about twenty seconds. She had not comprehended what I was hinting at all.
I walked Anika and the puppy out a few minutes later, and promised to let her know whether or not I would take the dog by the end of the night. I went back into the house to deliberate further with my mother and we worked out an agreement: I could have the dog, but only under the circumstances that if it wasn’t working out for any reason, Anika would have to take her back. I gave my friend a call to let her know the deal and she agreed. We met the next day in a mall parking lot where I gave her the $400 I was able to come up with and she tearfully handed the puppy over to me.
The first week with Coco was not easy. As Anika had warned me, she needed to empty her tiny bladder at least twice an hour, even in the middle of the night. Getting her to eat required me to sit on the tile beside her, feeding her each piece by hand. The worst part was that whenever I locked her in her cage, she cried those high-pitched yelps that make small dogs so annoying. With school during the day and work at night, I always felt guilty when I had to leave my crying baby.
As I predicted, my grandma was like a kindergartener with the puppy- sometimes she’d come in my room eager to play and take care of her, and other times she had no interest whatsoever. Both moods always seemed to occur at the most inconvenient times. I had to create guidelines and explain why waking me up at 5:30 a.m. to play with Coco was not acceptable, and that it was not nice to stubbornly refuse to watch her for me when I needed to shower. While getting the dog hadn’t necessarily brought major problems, it brought a whole new kind of stress into my life. I often felt like I was caring for two little kids.
The nights when I worked late stressed me out the most because I worried about the possible things that could be going wrong back home.
“Unless the house is on fire, do NOT take Coco out of her cage. Don’t even go in the room with the cage,” I warned my grandma on a daily basis.
“But what if she’s barking? She always cries when you’re gone and I can’t sleep with all that yapping!” she argued.
“Don’t ever let her out, Grandma. Please.”
Based on how loud we had to blast the television or shout for my grandma to hear us, I knew for a fact that her ears were not able to pick up Coco’s cries from behind a closed door across the house. The only reason she knew my dog barked at all was because she was crept across the house and did exactly what I told her not to do. The scattered toys and small yellow puddles I’d find on the tile were clear indicators that she let Coco out while I was gone. My biggest fear was that she would take my puppy out of the cage to play with her or let her outside, get sidetracked and forget about her. My grandma misplaced things all the time, and the thought of Coco becoming one of those lost items terrified me.
On one particular night, I arrived home from work and was surprised not to hear Coco yapping from my bedroom at the front of the house. I nervously opened the front door and sprinted to the empty cage. Immediately panicked, I ran straight to where I could find some information, and hopefully my dog as well.
“Grandmaaaaaa!” I shouted as I pounded on her bedroom door. “Grandma! Open up!”
There was no sound coming from her room. I didn’t hear her stirring around in there, or the sound of her feet moving on the wood floor. I gave the door one last hard pound and pulled the bobby pin out of my hair so I could pick the lock. I had the door open within seconds and there they were, my grandma and Coco, all snuggled up together in bed. My puppy had heard my screams and looked up at me with sleepy eyes, but she remained curled up against my grandma’s chest. My grandma was in a deep sleep and lightly snoring.
Although I was angry and wanted to scream at her for freaking me out, I did not wake my grandma. I motioned Coco to the edge of the bed and brought her back to my room for the night. My grandma and I had stern talk in the morning, but I found it hard to stay angry because her intentions were good and it was obvious that Coco adored her. My puppy often sat outside her bedroom door when she knew my grandma was inside, and would perk up and twirl with excitement when she’d come out. It was my grandma who sang to her, snuck her extra treats and taught her to fetch a ball. Even though I was nervous about what took place when I was not around, in the end it worked out for the best.
The four final months of living with my grandma quickly flew by, and at the end of August it was time for me and Coco to move to Miami. As I finished packing the last few things in my car, I went back in the house to grab my dog and say goodbye to the woman who had been my roommate for the past year and a half.
“Okay Grandma, it’s time for me to drive to Miami now,” I started to say as I carried Coco to the door.
“You’re taking Coco?”
“Yes. Coco is my dog and I’ve told you many times that she’s moving to Miami with me.”
“You mean you’re really taking Coco?” she asked again.
I was amused at the fact that she was not at all disappointed that I was moving out because she was so distracted by the devastation of losing the dog.
“You can’t take Coco! I’m going to miss her!”
“I’m sure Coco is going to miss you too, but it’s not forever, Grandma, and we’ll come visit you all the time.”
I’ve kept that promise and whenever I visit my grandma I try to bring my dog. Even with her memory quickly fading, it is safe to say that Coco may be one of the last names she remembers. She usually cannot remember any of the names of her family members, but she has not forgotten Coco. The way her eyes light up each time we walk through her door lets me know she has not forgotten those good memories.