Must Love Dogs

My Journey from Love to Avoidance and Back

Victoria Ponte
Oct 18 · 13 min read

I have loved and lost two magnificent dogs so far. I lost another one I didn’t love so much. I had always loved dogs until I became disabled. Then having a dog added more difficulty to my already challenged life.

Ski, a 170 lb. St. Bernard, arrived in our family when I was three years old in a red 1967 Jaguar convertible. He sat in the passenger seat, and was just gorgeous.

He was truly a gentle giant. We four kids used to sit on him, ride on his back, pick his teeth, put his ears in ponytails, and generally love and torture him. His response was always being enthusiasticly ready for more. He never growled or bit anyone, yet all who met him were terrified because of his sheer size. He did have a pretty fierce (loud) bark.

Even though he slobbered and shed profusely, he was allowed on the furniture and in our beds. He slept in my parent’s bed at night.

I remember the first time I was allowed to take Ski for a walk down the street by myself. I was maybe 8 years old. I was told to not let go of the leash no matter what. When he saw another dog and started running I held on tight. I got dragged down the street on my back and got a good road rash. I had to let go and off he went.

He wandered the neighborhood for a while then came home. He did this often. He particularly loved to wander around when it snowed being a breed that originated in the Great St. Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border. The neighbors probably hated us, but we didn’t get many complaints. I can only imagine the terror our dog ignited in the yards of the neighborhood.

Ski developed hip dysplasia as he got older as is common in large breeds. When it first started, we used to help lift his rear end off the floor when he stood up. This was fine for a few years.

Another common issue with large breeds is when their intestines become twisted blocking their digestion. The first time this happened to Ski, we opted for surgery which saved his life.

He was our beloved family pet from the time I was 3 until I was 16. I didn’t think it was possible to love a dog that much.

When his intestines twisted the next time and his hip dysplasia had become worse, we knew it was the end. We put him in the back of my father’s work van and drove him to the vet. My father went in the office and talked to the vet about what needed to be done. He came back to the van and told us the vet was going to give him the lethal injection in the van because he was too heavy to move inside. My sister and I said horrible, tearful goodbyes in the van then stepped out.

I remember the ride home with our dead dog in the back as the saddest, most horrible ride of my life.

When we got home, Dad set to digging a grave behind the garage. It was tough by himself especially because the dog was so big.

My mother had been out at a meeting all night and when she got home, she frantically searched for her dog. It was hard to accept that we couldn’t wait for her to get home before taking him to the vet. She did some second guessing about whether we should have opted for surgery again.

We learned through the St. Bernard club that Ski was the longest living Saint in the country at 13. We knew we did the right thing to put an end to his suffering even if it was still horribly painful to lose our beloved family pet.

My parents opted to not get another dog, but my sister brought a Pug into the family a few years later. He was mostly cute and fun, but did have a mean streak. She took Pugsley with her when she moved out.

I enjoyed Pugsley on a visiting basis until he, too was put down due to age related problems.

I lived without a dog until in 1992 my living situation was right for me to get a dog of my own choosing. My husband and I found an 8 week old Golden Retriever at a family who had bred their pet. I remember the owner putting the puppy in my arms and walking away to let us get “acquainted.” Of course I wanted him.

Barney became our first “baby” in the middle of a protracted fertility struggle. He was my main confidante as I went through pregnancy losses and stressful infertility treatments.

We took him to school on weekends to train him as he was a typical, hyper, crazy Golden Retriever puppy. It seemed like he was teething for about three years because he liked to mouth everything including us. We finally broke him of this habit which was replaced by incessant licking.

He was easy to train because it seemed like he lived to make us happy. He could even leave a treat on his snout for as long as we asked before flipping it in the air and catching it.

He would retrieve for as long as we would throw. He became quite adept at catching a Frisbee, too. Of course he loved long walks and hikes with his boundless energy.

I lost my job when Barney was 2 years old. This meant unlimited time to indulge him and his zest for walking and hiking.

I finally became pregnant and had a baby when Barney was 5. He accepted and loved the baby with almost zero issue even though he had been an only child up to this point.

I loved Barney so much I often thought I would certainly die when he did. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to live without him. He was a perfect dog except for the shedding.

I met a woman at a craft show who could spin dog hair into yarn so I collected Barney’s hair for a year and sent it away to be turned into yarn I could use to knit something. She blended the hair with sheep’s wool to give it more body and returned a bunch of bulky yarn.

I became pregnant again when Barney was 6. By now, he was maturing into a calmer animal and was nearly perfectly trained.

During the sixth month of that pregnancy I woke up on Valentine’s Day with a completely paralyzed left side and severe headache. My husband told me all I wanted was Barney and some orange juice.

I’d had a stroke and had to spend the next 53 days in the hospital after brain surgery saved my life and that of the unborn baby.

Lying in bed, pregnant and paralyzed, was torture. My two year old son was brought to the hospital to see that Mom was still around and was traumatized by the sight of me with my head shaved with tubes coming out of it. I missed my dog.

My sister arranged to have Barney brought to the hospital so I could take him for a “walk” in my wheelchair. I was able to hold his leash with my right hand and follow him up the street. I was happy to see him. I know he was freaked out by the experience. I could tell it made him very nervous.

My husband told me Barney was having some health issues one day while he was visiting. He was vague about the symptoms and the diagnosis. I felt helpless and sad. Barney was still a young dog.

After I gave birth, I was moved to a rehabilitation hospital where I spent six weeks learning how to walk and take care of myself. It was a depressing time. I kept thinking everything would be fine once I went home.

My husband continued to deliver vague reports about Barney’s health but none of it sounded good.

I went home in May to a challenging, not handicapped accessible home in a wheelchair.

We had a six week old baby,a toddler and Barney.

It was after I returned home that my husband finally told me the full story about Barney’s health. He had leukemia and was being treated with steroids which improved his symptoms but resulted in erratic behavior.

Now our dog who had been trained to never touch food that wasn’t given to him was snatching entire sub sandwiches off the kitchen table.

Having Barney around during this sad, stressful time was a mixed blessing. It made me more sad because I could no longer take him on walks, but I could still pet him and love him which added a little joy to my life.

We were having a family get together on Labor Day weekend. My cousin was there with his new dog. Barney was running around the yard with him enjoying himself.

Later, we found Barney lying in the grass bleeding profusely from his nose. We all knew this was the end.

I remember swearing and stamping my foot in the kitchen at the injustice of having a stroke and my dog dying within six months of each other. It was really just too much.

I was also outraged because I couldn’t get on the ground to kiss Barney goodbye before they took him to be euthanized. My disability also prevented me from going to the vet with my husband and my sister to have him put down.

I did not die after Barney did like I expected. During the period I was recovering from the stroke and caring for two babies, it was a bit of a relief to not have to worry about a dog, too.

I truly believed Barney had died from a broken heart.He had been my baby then I disappeared one day for three months and was never the same.

We decided against getting another dog. I had trouble walking and functioning in general, and knew a dog would only add to my difficulties.

When my sons were young they became fans of a video game with a cute chihuahua character. They started to ask if we could get another dog. I was still opposed because life had only gotten minimally easier for me and thought dogs are too much trouble.

One day we got a call from my brother in law who wanted to know if we wanted a stray chihuahua he had picked up on the Bronx River Expressway in New York. He found it wandering loose with a pair of pantyhose around its neck.

I listened to my husband talking to him and I remember doing the equivalent of jumping up and down in the kitchen saying absolutely not. Do not get a dog.

Next I heard him say we would meet at my mother in law’s house to meet the dog to see if we wanted it. What young child meets a cute dog and says “No, thanks, I don’t want it?”

The next day we met this handsome little dog who had been lost. I kept insisting that we didn’t want it, but was overruled by my husband who had made a habit of dismissing and disrespecting my wishes.

The kids named him Paco for the character in the video game. My husband agreed to take him to work with him as he has his own business where he can do that and I am home full time and didn’t want the dog.

Paco had a lot of issues. He liked to bite just about everyone he met but was docile with the family. It was a bit of an issue at my husband’s office when delivery people came up the steps to the office and were attacked. There were problems in the house when visitors came, too. We figured out that he was deaf which added to the issue of him biting people he couldn’t hear coming.

We let Paco wander around the yard because no one wanted to walk him. We live in a quiet neighborhood so we figured he would be fine.

My kids were still in school and I picked them up at the bus stop every day at 3:30. I let Paco out shortly after 3:00 one day and last saw him trotting off toward the perimeter of the yard. I couldn’t go after him to see where he went because of my mobility challenge.

When he didn’t return, I was torn between waiting for him and going to pick up the kids. I decided to wait. 3:30 came and went.

The kids walked up the street when they didn’t see me at the bus stop. They saw Paco lying still on the side of the road in front of our house. They came in the house and told me they thought he was dead. I tried playing the denial game for a bit and suggested they bring him in so we could see if he was ok. They went back to the street to retrieve what I already knew was a dead dog. They brought him inside where I saw some blood coming out of his mouth.

I knew the kids were going to freak and blame me for letting him out so I continued the denial game for as long as I could, going so far as to take the dog to the vet to see if there was anything they could do. That car ride was surreal. I knew the dog was dead and I’m sure the kids did, too. I kept talking.

The vet took the dog to a room and examined him. He came out to the waiting room to tell us the news that there was nothing he could do but it was likely the dog died quickly and didn’t suffer.

Next he wanted to know if we wanted to cremate the dog. I saw no reason why we couldn’t bury him in the yard and make a nice grave but the kids weren’t having it. I knew cremation would cost another few hundred dollars but I agreed just to appease the kids who were horrified at the thought of putting the dog in the ground.

My father made a nice ceramic urn for his ashes and it sits on a shelf in my office.

I was relieved Paco was dead. I never liked or wanted him so I didn’t miss him. The kids were upset as was my husband.

They talked about getting another dog often. My input was always that I wasn’t interested. I guess so many years of living with a disability had ruined my life long love of dogs.

My husband, my older son and I were at the mall one day and went in separate directions. They wanted to go look at the puppies in the pet shop and I refused. I went shoe shopping then sat down to take a rest.

My cell phone rang. It was my son. “Hey Mom, you have to come down to the pet shop to look at this really cute puppy.”

“But I don’t want to look at a really cute puppy. I don’t want a dog.”

“C’mon, Mom, it’s brown, black and white.”

I knew my husband told him to say this. He knew I was partial to dogs with that coloring because I grew up with a Saint Bernard.

“C’mom, Mom, we have it in the little visiting room.”

I’m sure my husband knew what he was doing. Dismissing and disrespecting my wishes again. Once you visit a puppy in the room, you’re doomed.

Part of me still loved dogs so I walked over to the pet store to see the brown, black and white puppy. Of course she was cute. She was a three lb., female, brown, black and white chihuahua.

They were planning to take her home no matter what I said, but I said all of it, anyway. “She’s too expensive. We shouldn’t buy a dog from a pet store. Let’s go home and sleep on it, and if she’s still here tomorrow come back and get her.”

My husband took out his credit card and bought the dog. He promised to take her to work with him so I would have no bother.

My younger son had had a girlfriend at camp who came up with the name Coco for the new dog.

She was much sweeter than Paco. I’ll admit, she was pretty.

She went to work every day with my husband. This worked out well for several months. He had to leave her alone sometimes in his office to go out on business calls. He didn’t like to leave her for extended periods and occasionally left her home with me if he had to be out of the office for long stretches during the day.

My husband became very involved in an outside project that required him to be out at meetings much of the time. This led to Coco being home with me for two full weeks. We bonded. She started to grow on me.

My husband was ready to take her back to work one Monday and I said, “No, she’s my dog, now.”

We continued to bond. I figured out a good place where I could take her for short walks with the leash tethered to my nonfunctioning left arm. Coco loved our little trips to the park. The guys still took her hiking on the weekends, but that was different.

I grew to love Coco but still maintain that I could have lived the rest of my life without her and been perfectly fine.

My husband moved into our vacation home in 2015 when our marriage dissolved into separation. I fought for full custody of the dog and won.

Coco was my best friend and confidante through the dark days of my husband leaving me after 28 years of marriage because he couldn’t deal with my being disabled anymore.

I grew up being madly in love with dogs. I loved them through most of my adult life. Becoming disabled put a small wedge in my relationship with them because of the difficulties they add to life. I find myself slowly but surely being drawn back to being madly in love with them. I’m starting to get that feeling I had about not being able to live when Barney died about Coco. I’m still not sure how I’ll feel about getting another dog after she’s gone.


The Story Hall

Victoria Ponte

Written by

Young stroke survivor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, champion equestrian, tambourine player, storyteller, honest and real https://www.victoriaponte.com🐎

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