Monday, June 18, 2012

A lifetime with Elmo

When my parents bought a home in the United States, I was entering 7th grade.  What most excited me about having a house of our own was that this meant I could have a dog again.  Just a couple of years before, our family suffered the great loss of my brother Ramon followed shortly by the loss of our family dog Snoopy.  Getting the new home was a big transition for our family and was a part of a transformation we faced as we entered a new phase in our lives.
As we had done with Snoopy, we visited the Orange County shelter to pick out a new dog.  I was determined to get a puppy. We looked at all the scrappy dogs in the shelter and only one stood out: the excited and noisy golden mutt with soft ears and huge, kind looking eyes.  According to the information next to this dog, he was only 4 months old and a dachshund mix. He certainly had short legs and a long body, but besides that, Elmo was a strange looking mutt that didn’t really resemble any breed and much less a dachshund. But he was the closest thing to a puppy at the pound that day, so we adopted the little guy. It was the mid-90s and Sesame Street characters where making a comeback, so naturally, I named him Elmo.
The first thing Elmo did when we brought him home was to make a B-line for the pool and jump right in. The pool had recently been nothing more than a swamp full of fish the city had put in to eat all the mosquitoes that had spawned from the old water when the house was vacant.  When Elmo jumped in, it was full of heavy chemicals. Elmo’s fur was never quite the same after jumping in that pool. It became a mess of wires sticking out in every direction, but his ears remained silky smooth.
Elmo was an energetic and friendly dog whose default mode was set to “love-you-and-lick- you-no matter-who-or-what-you-were”. He was completely obsessed with the game of fetch, though he never mastered the act of dropping the toy in your hand. Elmo would squeal with excitement to get your attention so you would throw the ball or squeaky toy. To this day, I know the roof of my parent’s house is filled with toys that were accidently thrown too far.
Elmo would stop at nearly nothing to chase a ball or toy. If his toy made it to the pool, Elmo would squeal in desperation staring at the toy until he was close enough to hop on a floaty toy we might have in the pool. He would literally hop on the floaty and use his paws to navigate the thing until the ball or toy would be in reach. It was something remarkable to watch!
The entire neighborhood knew Elmo in his early years. He had a bad habit of running away any time a gate or door was left ajar. Often, neighbors would bring him back and scold us. For a period of time, he would bark incessantly through the night communicating with the dogs in heat. He was so determined to reach the dog from the house behind ours that he would somehow manage to climb a bush and get his tiny body over the 6 foot wall that separated our two houses.
After a couple of years with Elmo, my mom was given a puppy that was a Shar pei and Chow mix who we named Sasha. As soon as she was old enough, Elmo conquered that large dog and they made 6 puppies—the most awkward looking puppies on earth! I was quite popular in 8th grade when I gave those puppies away. Sasha met a different fait than Elmo, and she lived a very short life, but Elmo carried on.
After bailing him out of the pound a few times, we knew we had to get him fixed to keep him sane. Elmo became a much more subdued pup after that surgery, but his spunky spirit and friendly demeaner continued.
Over the years, my parents took on foster children with special needs. One little girl named Yesenia was 10 years old but developmentally she was no older than 12 months. She wore a diaper and spoke fewer than 3 words. During her time with our family, she adored Elmo and would stare out at him for hours. She added a 4th word to her vocabulary “Elmo”.
My parents took in a cat that was also enthralled with Elmo, who by then was close to 10 years old. The cat would follow Elmo around the house and would even follow my mom as she would take Elmo on long walks. The cat would let Elmo eat his food and deferred to him no matter what. It was a silly thing for the cat to adore Elmo so much considering the cat was stronger, younger and much more alert in his youth. But Elmo outlasted him as well.
Elmo was my loyal friend during many break ups and heart aches, during graduations from Jr High to grad school. He was part of our family for nearly 17 years.  In his last years, despite losing his hearing and eyesight, Elmo would still seek us out. Our friends and family from either side of the border always asked about Elmo. He carried on despite an achy body and constant shortness of breath. Everyone recognized Elmo’s old-man cough. Sadly, we lost Elmo this year in a tragic way. He found himself in the pool again, only this time, he did not have the strength to get out. As a family, we are very sad about the way Elmo left us. He was a wonderful pet who deserved a better death.  We will forever remember Elmo and treasure the many years he enriched our lives. Rest in peace, Elmo.

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