Meet Leia. She is my best friend.
Despite our differences — her knee-cracking tail whip, slimy jowls and innate hunting skill — we have been glued at the hip (also a funny visual) for two years now.
For those of you who have read my previous rants and raves, you already know that I have had my share of disheartening experiences while living in the Valley.
Finding Leia was not one of them.
In May 2011 after a doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression, I met Leia.
She was a happy 4-week-old, floppy-eared, purebred pit bull puppy that fit in the palms of my hands. Her wide, Beyoncé-looking hips gave her a funny swag from day one — a walk that made her different from the rest of the pack.
Leia and I had an instant connection. It was as if she knew I needed something to look forward to, and I knew she needed a mother.
Leia’s previous owner weaned her and her siblings from their mother at three weeks old — a huge “No” in the canine world.
Because of this, I had to provide for her what I could not easily offer – mother’s milk, socialization through sibling interaction and teaching her to fend for herself.
Leia looked to me for everything from the start.
Maybe she was meant to be my dog. Maybe my Higher Power put her in my crazy, misguided path because He knew I wouldn’t make it without her.
Something was different about this dog. She listened as if she knew exactly what I was saying. She practically trained herself, with the exception of “shake hands” and “jump.”
I swear – sometimes I think she is human on the inside.
Since my move to the Valley, Leia has been the only constant in my life, no matter the trials and tribulations we faced.
Five months after her adoption, Leia was exposed to parvo — canine parvovirus type two, a contagious and often deadly virus.
After I spent $1,000 in veterinarian care, Leia was still extremely dehydrated and malnourished — unresponsive to the fluids and vaccinations provided by the doctor.
I was broke. In debt, even. But I knew I had to take her health into my own hands.
I watched her health rapidly worsen as she lay on the floor in the same spot for hours, vomiting and barely breathing.
I became less hopeful of her recovery. Once wide-eyed and alert, her eyes turned from brown to yellow, and her skin was baggy, like a toddler wearing her mother’s dress.
I didn’t know whether or not I had it in me to save Leia, but nothing could stop me from trying.
After three days of shoving Gatorade, Pepto-Bismol and children’s Pedialyte down my dog’s throat (as recommended by the veterinarian and a friend), I noticed a slight change in her mood. She was sitting, not lying. She began drinking water and chewing her bone again. And finally, she was hungry. Hallelujah, she was hungry.
Leia overcame her battle with parvo that week. Despite the odds (an 80 percent chance of death in her case), I conquered one of the most gut-wrenching weeks of my life. Of her life.
At this point, there was no question about it: Leia was my godsend and I, hers.
Thankfully, the rest of 2011 was uneventful.
Leia remained my loyal companion day after day. She was with me during four of my five moves. She happily accepted every new floor plan and backyard that came our way.
She was simply happy to be with me. To be my friend.
In May 2012, when I made the much-needed move from Visalia to Fresno, Leia rode shotgun in my little white Mitsubishi, her tongue in the wind.
Here in Fresno, we began our new life in a small, blue studio apartment complete with a lush grass yard and a fence. It is still our home today.
Looking back on the past three years, the happiest times of my life were spent with Leia.
Our early morning walks helped with my depression. Her smart eyes and human tendencies (crying like a child, staring at me until I caved on an issue, ignoring me when she’s upset) provided a sense of security and friendship. Her obsessive licking when she knows I am down.
From the fur on her back to her dirty paws and her massive hammerhead, I love everything about my dog.
This is why next month will present an excruciating inner battle: giving my dog away.
As a fresh-out-of-college graduate, I will not have the means to provide for her the way she deserves. I won’t have the money for a house with a yard. Every dog should have a yard, and if I cannot provide one for Leia, she deserves someone who can.
I won’t have the time to exercise with her or play — all my time will go into looking for a job. And when I find a job, I’ll be working and Leia would be alone.
Unless I stay in the Valley exactly where I am, I cannot keep her. The issue? I cannot build my life and career choices around my pet. In the end, it may negatively affect us both.
Am I a horrible pet parent? Was I selfish to adopt her, not knowing where we’d end up two years later?
I have yet to come to terms with my decision. I flip-flop daily, wondering if I could alter my life for the sake of my dog.
Would I be happy enough because I have her? Or will I regret jobs turned down years down the road when Leia may not even be around? Will she be happier on five acres of farmland, or will she know that I’ve abandoned her?
These are the thoughts, 24 hours a day, every day. And the truth is, I fear more for her well-being than I do for my loss.
At times, I wonder if not adopting Leia would have been a smart decision. I wouldn’t have to say goodbye. I wouldn’t have to face her loving another owner as she loved me.
I would never have known the greatness that is my dog, and in the end, her greatness outshines any doubt or worry weighing on upon heart.