by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
I was almost 21. Most youngsters my age were interested in a different kind of rite of passage — one involving beers and bars. Not this lady. I was more interested in another type of first ... my first landlord who allowed his tenants to have dogs.
My very own dog? Now that, my friends, is when a person has truly crossed the threshold into adulthood. I was counting down the weeks until I moved into my new place, but I honestly just could not wait. I headed down to the St. Cloud Humane Society, a place I had visited many times before to help walk the dogs. This time, however, I was in the market for my new best friend.
The St. Cloud Humane Society is a pretty big shelter, and I took my time visiting with all the dogs in the larger kennels, stopped to nuzzle some kitties, and then I moved on to a cement room where smaller dogs and puppies were housed. It was packed, a large cage full of tiny, fluffy pups, barking up a storm; larger kennels with what looked like older lab-mix puppies.
That’s when I saw her. Cowered in the back of her cage, terrified, a brown and white dog who looked as though she would do anything to get out of that noisy, frightening room. She looked just like my family dog at home, Molly, a lab-beagle mix who was the best little mutt ever. Seeing it as a sign, I asked an employee if I could take the little brown and white girl out of her cage.
I’ll never forget pulling that terrified little girl out of that cage. She was afraid of me, scrambling to hide in the back, and when I finally pulled her out, she was too scared to even look at me. I cooed at her softly, petting her baby fur. Slowly, ever so slowly, she pointed her little nose around (still too frightened to look me in the eyes) and crawled up my belly, hiding her face around my neck and under the fall of my hair. “I’m going to get you out of here, girl. I promise,” I whispered. I almost cried when I had to put her back in that noisy, concrete room.
Mentioning to my parents in passing that I was moving into a new place that allowed dogs, I received an emphatic “no” reaction. In typical young-adult fashion, however, a “no” from my parents was something of a challenge. And really, not much could have stopped me from keeping that promise.
Eventually, I did get that scared little pup out of there. Her name was Raisin, she was six months old, and she came with me everywhere but my college classes. To work, to music festivals (I have actually heard the words “Does anyone know whose dog that is, running around pulling a tent?”). We got into a fender bender one day on the way home from work, and in reassuring my dad that it was a very minor accident, the insurance agent said “I think the dog was more shaken up than the drivers.” Busted. A few days later I got a card in the mail from my mom with some money in it. “For the dog,” it said simply. (My mom is the best.)
Raisin moved with me to my first newspaper jobs, where she developed the habit of howling when left home alone. That was a tough one to remedy, as she was spoiled enough to think not bringing her everywhere I went was an unforgivable slight. She came to Winona, protecting me those first few nights when we unwittingly stayed at the Sugarloaf Motel, since it allowed dogs. She was there when I met my husband, there when we bought our home, there when we got married.
When she was 12 or 13 she stopped listening. We figured this was just her way of becoming an ornery old woman, so we let it slide. But after about a year, we realized that she had grown deaf — completely deaf — and it only took about an hour to teach her sign language. Raisin was, most of all, the type of dog who would do anything to please her mom, and she had just been waiting for us to figure out how to tell her how to do it.
More recently, she started going blind. She couldn’t see the hand commands unless they were right in front of her. She started pacing. She forgot even the most basic things she learned as a puppy (don’t eat garbage!), and overall just seemed to suffer from a bit of doggy dementia. By then though, my husband had died, our other dogs had died, and she was the last piece of the little family I had once had. She wasn’t in pain, and so I endured her forgetfulness, her naughty puppy habits that had returned, and I just spoiled her. By the time she turned 17, I knew that she wasn’t going to go on her own, but I did wish she would give me a sign that it was, truly time.
She showed me it was time two weeks ago, and it was a hard goodbye. I’m thankful that she had such a long, good life with me, that she hung in there when I needed her.
I’ll never forget when I first moved to Winona. I brought her to a party, and someone I didn’t know recognized her. “Raisin!” he exclaimed. “I know that dog!” It was at that moment I realized that my dog was more popular and memorable than I was. (This seems to be a reoccurring thing for me.) Recalling that cements the truth though: Raisin will forever be a dog remembered.