We are one city, under dog.
Seattle has 110,655 children and 177,246 dogs, according to the city of Seattle and 2010 U.S. Census data. And now there are 177,245.
On Saturday, my dog Tia died at the age of 11.
Eight years flew by in a blur. I was playacting at adulthood when I adopted Tia and her brother Tai in 2004. I had just bought my first house in West Seattle and moved in with my boyfriend. My mortgage payments and repair bills on a 1918 bungalow were overwhelming. I packed a sack lunch each day, shopped at Home Depot each weekend and played a shell game with utility bills each month.
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I suspect I’m not the only woman who sometimes felt afraid to go back to a dark house at the end of the day. My boyfriend was a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter who wrote about the Seattle Sonics, covering 41 away games a year. Daylight is scarce during the NBA season.
Homeownership raised other scary questions. Did I want to give up the single life and get married (and have children)? Did owning a house mean I would be trapped at my job in Seattle and give up my other dreams?
I wanted dogs to feel safe, I told my boyfriend. He sighed and said, “Well, if it’s really what you want.”
I applied to adopt a pair of Shar-Peis from the rescue organization MEOW, the Mercer Island Eastside Orphans and Waifs. They said we needed a fenced yard. My boyfriend built a fence in a weekend. The dogs moved in.
We were smitten with our dogs’ wrinkly faces and their chillax attitude. A month later, my boyfriend said he couldn’t imagine life without them.
They were totally incompetent guard dogs. Guests tromped through the whole house before the dogs even noticed they had arrived. They slept through meter readings. The only intruders Tia ever alerted us about were garbage trucks as they rumbled through the alley. We thought they were superstars anyway.
Tai had the nose of a hippo and the jog of a varsity athlete. He was a goofy extrovert. Tia was a beautiful Ice Queen, with some issues. She flinched when any man near her raised his hand. She fled the room when someone popped open a soda can.
The dogs made my house a home. They gave me a reason to come back at night.
Tai died in 2009 at age 8. Tia, who we feared would be devastated by the loss of her litter mate, bounced back. Life is for the living, she taught us.
She flowered in the sun of our attention. We rented out our house and bought a condo in Capitol Hill. The drag queens and homeless inebriates loved Tia’s style, and she let them scratch her back. She no longer flinched.
Another journalist, MSNBC dayside anchor Richard Lui, asked me the probing question Sunday: What turning point did the dogs mark in my life?
I have the answer now: I stopped flinching at adulthood. I said yes to the dogs, to this city and, finally, to my boyfriend when he proposed.
Growing up was not about getting trapped. It was about taking a leap of faith, then another, then another, farther each time. My dreams got bigger, not smaller.
My heart blew up like a balloon, and popped when Tia died.