Karissa Whitson reflects on the instant connection to her dog and their shared kinship through navigating childhood together.
It was the middle of the summer, just after my seventh birthday. My grandmother told me she had a surprise for me. At seven years old, I don’t believe I was expecting a lot, maybe a simple gift, a toy, or even a dessert. I got on my bike and made my way up the block to her house. Upon entering, I had not expected to meet the face of a little, black dog with big, brown eyes and a tail that wouldn’t stop wagging. At seven years old, I had no idea what falling in love meant, nor did I realize it was a lasting contract between two hearts. This little dog, Lulabelle, became my first love. In this moment I sit here, I remember her as the last thing I loved.
My grandmother’s dog was a shy, little thing, no bigger than a Dachshund, with hair as fluffy and curly as a Poodle. She often hid from people she was unsure of, and she didn’t like her tummy touched. I was told they found her at the pound; she had been hiding in a corner kennel and was afraid of everyone who walked by her. She was only four years old. They took her home without question, unknowing that she would become mine before she was ever theirs.
Every day, I rode my bike to my grandmother’s house, and I played with Lulabelle — throwing balls for her to fetch, rolling on the floor with her when she got excited, going in and out the back door as she ran to chase squirrels, and I ran with her. After a while, my grandmother asked if I wanted to take her home. I remember my mother’s protest, telling her that we didn’t need another dog, already having a black Lab that my brother adored. I begged and pleaded, almost in tears asking for this baby girl to be mine. My mother gave in, agreeing to the new pet, as long as I promised to take care of her. I did, and that promise was never broken.
Lulabelle became my best friend. She was at my side when I needed her, and she always put me in a good mood. For years, she slept next to me and gave me more love and attention than any person ever could. I made sure she was happy, keeping her stocked with toys and treats, helping her adjust to new diets as she became older and needed more care.
When I turned 18, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She wasn’t in any pain, but we didn’t have much hope for her to live much longer. I did everything possible: taking her to the vet for regular checks, making sure she had her prescription filled every month, keeping her diet steady to make sure she was staying as healthy as she could. She was still the excitable puppy I’d met when I was seven. And she will always be that in my mind.
I moved into my own home at 18, just months after her diagnosis. She adjusted well, and she enjoyed having more of her own space and more time with me. At my previous house, I’d lived with my mother, father, and four younger siblings. It was chaotic, and I think the change in scenery was good for us both. After my first month at the house, I realized it was time to say goodbye to my baby girl. It was a sad time, of course, but even in her last moments, she wagged her tail at the people who walked by, cuddled up to me in the vet’s office, and laid her head on my arm as we said goodbye.
As sad as it sounds, and as sad as I was, I have nothing but fond memories of her. From that very first day meeting her — lying on my tummy on the carpet of my grandmother’s living room to say hello to her — to the very last day, when she cuddled in my lap and nudged at my chin, pushing my head up, telling me not to cry: she was my first love. Today, she is my last. Lulabelle, my baby girl, the only creature capable of making me happier than I ever knew possible — the only thing to take so much of my care, attention, and devotion, and give it right back. She showed me what it means to love, not romantically but in a purer sense. This real kind of love never lets your heart down and will always live inside you.
KARISSA WHITSON (Kyler Mine) is a 19-year-old college student who works more than necessary and throws herself into projects as she sees fit. She loves animals more than humans and prefers writing over speaking.