I was eleven when I started begging for a golden retriever. I loved my cousin Rocco’s golden retriever, Sasha. I would sleep on her, walk her, feed her, love her. She was gentle and kind—and showed unconditional love. My mom was against any breed of dog. The boys were whatever about it and my dad would just smirk and say, “One day, doll.” So one day the five of us piled into the tan Mercury and drove to Sussex, NJ. My dad said we were simply going to look at golden retriever puppies. They were from Sasha’a bloodline. I was bummed we were just looking, but excited nonetheless. We pulled into a dirt driveway. Chickens greeted us in the driveway. There was a red barn in the yard, pigs, horses and the smell of hay. The ground was almost frozen. It was November 1994. A woman in a moo-moo house dress greeted us at the door. She held open the screen and invited us all in. We filed down a staircase. I heard yapping and got excited! “This is Laura,” the breeder said. Her pups are in there. I peeked in over the cardboard box and nine balls of golden fur were laying on each other. “Show us the girls,” my dad said and winked at me.
The breeder, in her pink, fuzzy slippers removed 5 little golden fur balls from the box. I fell to the grey concrete floor and let one smell my hand. I was in love. “I want her,” I said. Then I turned around and saw a little one licking my dad’s shoe. This is the story of how we came to get Brandy, our first family dog. She chose my dad— he’s a likable guy. She was too little to come home with us and we ended up bringing her home the day before my 13th birthday— December 19, 1994. It was the happiest day of my life (back then, ha). That little dog became my best friend. She slept in my bed. We played in the snow that cold winter. She played with ribbon on Christmas morning. Three years later it was time for me to test my courage and have my spinal fusion at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City. The surgery would take nine hours. I would stay in the hospital for 2 weeks. Then I would be home-schooled for three months of my sophomore year of high school. Brandy was waiting at the door when my father and mother, like two crutches walked me inside. They helped me into bed. Brandy sensed my pain. She rested her face on my chest. She didn’t move. My dad brought her dinner to my room. She sat in the bathroom when my mom showered me. She sniffed out all of my visitors. She was my guardian and my best friend.
I left for The University of the Arts in Philly in 1999. I studied a mix of core communications, writing, poetry, basic ballet and ended up with a degree in communications and a minor in digital journalism. I spoke on the phone to my parents … every day. We are a close family. My mom would tell me that Brandy would sit in front of my bedroom door. She would sleep there. When the front door opened she would run to it. I spoke to Brandy through the phone. “Hi Little!” I would say. “Little” was MY nickname for my BIG dog. On the weekends I did visit home, I would take the train and that sweet dog would be at the front door waiting. I remember her through the glass/semi-screen door. She would rise and her butt would squirm and her tail would wag. She was trained, but sometimes she peed! I loved that dog. Her paws smelled like corn chips. Not in a gross way, though.
When my dad was recovering from cancer in 2003, she acted similarly with him. She stayed at his side. She was loyal. A protector. I wish JD knew her. Her picture is on our fridge. “Brandy,” JD says. He wants to name his golden retriever “Andy, like Brandy, Mama!”
And every day I miss that dog.
Brandy died in 2006. She was sick. I was at work at a magazine. Carlo was home from Connecticut (where he was prevailing at his career after grad school) and getting a haircut. Brian was in college, but home before class. My mom was at her job. My father was practicing law in Monmouth County. She died in Brian’s arms on the tile floor in the foyer. Brian called me. It was fashion week. I was living in NYC and supposed to attend the Baby Phat fashion show and after party. I cried the whole way home. My mom came home from work. Carlo came home. My dad was stuck in court. Our Uncle Carmen came over to … help. Carlo, Bri and I—the tripod wrapped Brandy in a blanket, then in some black plastic bags and the three of us dug a hole in our yard together and carried 90 pounds of dog across the yard. (I didn’t really dig). And we buried her. And we sat at her grave and drank beer. My father came home by the time the moon was high in the sky. He sat out there, too.
The next morning, I found my dad at the stove. He cooked giant breakfasts on the weekends. He was sobbing at the stove as he fried bacon, because Brandy would sit at his side and wait for her piece, but she was gone now and it was sad. A member of our family died. I was in mourning for a long time.
The following Christmas rolled around. Carlo Jr. picked me up in NYC and I bought my family an insane poodle named Max the dog (see above image). JD loves Max the dog. He was unknowingly in my belly when I bought him— look at that. Max the dog and Katelyn the fish (who JD named) live at the Jersey shore. JD needed his own pet and with his 5th birthday coming, I decided it was OK, but then it got real when Aunt Jemma took him to PetCo, simply saying, “Byeeeee.” I ran after them. “If you come home with a ferret, I’m releasing him into the wild.”
They returned a 1/2 hour later. “Your son picked out the Mercedes-Benz of betta fish,” she said, showing me the little rainbow betta. “His name is Leo Jack Coppa, Mama!” They bought him a little clear case, neon rainbow stones and a bamboo leaf. I never saw such a happy, little guy. Wait, yes I did. It reminded me of when I got my Brandy. Okay, a fish and dog are not the same thing, but this is an adequate first pet, I think. “He told me his family grew, Christine. He said now he has Mommy, Uncle Carlo, Uncle Bri, Mema, Poppy, Karen, Max, Katelyn and then he named like 4 friends and attached aunt to their names.” We can make our own families. And it’s rad.
Last night, JD asked if “Leo Jack Coppa” could sleep in his bed. I let him sleep on his train table. This morning, JD was sad to go to camp and leave Leo. He kissed the tank and left Cruise Ship Mickey and Hawaii Mickey to watch over him because “those Micky Mouses live near the sea and know about water and fish, right Mama?” This was my morning. I live in heaven on Earth. And JD will get his golden retriever when we move to a bigger home with a grassy yard and shaggy willow tree.
Tell me, how old were you when you got your first pet? Do your kids have a pet?
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