An author friend asked me one day, “what is that hairy beast showing on the side of your profile picture on the social media?” Well, I think it’s high time to tell you all about it today; the date being perfect for it. Like I told my friend, that hairy mass was my beloved pet, Nerina, who has now passed away. What I didn’t tell her is that I picked this picture for my social media presence as a kind of good luck charm, while I give it my best to succeed in the indie world. The subtle presence of Nerina in the picture serves as a silent protector for me; a kind of guardian angel if you like, since she’s always been so good at making me feel happy and safe.
I still remember the day I saw Nerina for the first time; it feels only like yesterday. The memory is so vivid because of the deep feeling of sadness I experienced when I first laid eyes on her. It was a rainy day in the end of May, 2007. It was a Greek holiday called Holy Spirit Day. I was standing before the kitchen sink looking out the window absentmindedly, as torrential rain fell furiously down from the heavens. And then I saw her; a little black dog, walking slowly down the empty street, looking lost. She stopped at my next door neighbor’s gate and tried to fit through the railing, to no avail. I watched her trying for a good while, my heart crying out for her, for being exposed like that in such a heavy rainfall, obviously being a new addition to the many strays that roam the streets and fields of my neighborhood.
Having tried and failed, the little dog then slid under my neighbor’s parked car to lie flat on the ground that was flooded with the rainwater rushing downhill. I remember feeling so sorry for her, my heart contracting with sorrow. I even considered letting her in and allowing her to seek shelter in my front porch but thought better of it, as I knew my husband wasn’t keen on dogs at all.
The next day, a sunny one this time, I saw her again and fed her some scraps from our meal. I did the same the next day and the next, and by then, that doggie lived permanently outside my gate, seeking shelter from the sunshine occasionally under the parked cars. It was like she was waiting for something, only back then I couldn’t work out what. I thought she’d just felt unwilling to keep roaming, since she’d found a stranger to feed her. I remember the first time I reached out and patted her on the head. What followed had astounded me. I have petted strays many times in the past, but this dog actually cried in response. It was a mixture of sobs and sighs, I swear, I didn’t know dogs could do that…
To cut a long story short, a couple of days later, my husband and I found her in our garden. Somehow, she’d managed to fit through the railing of our gate. Andy spotted her first, lying on the ground under a large, leafy zucchini plant in our vegetable patch.
“Come quick,” Andy shouted out, “I think there’s something wrong with her leg. She keeps licking it.”
I rushed there and peered through the leaves at the little black spot she kept tending at. “That’s no leg she’s licking; it’s a puppy!”
The little doggie who had looked so frail, so thin, and not much bigger than a puppy had actually been pregnant all along and had just given birth to five puppies in our vegetable patch. The date was June 2nd, 2007; an easy date to remember as it’s my sister’s birthday. That doggie sure had a way of easing into my life on memorable days! Needless to say, we decided to adopt her on the spot, guessing that whoever had her from a puppy, had abandoned her in our area when she grew bigger and was no longer as much fun as before. I am ashamed to say this happens a lot here, where strays are a big problem. Private cars often pass by our semi-rural area to chuck an unwanted pet out in the street to fend for itself. Our little doggie had clearly been one of them. With the memory of her wandering desperately in the wet still fresh in my heart, there was no way I was ever going to put her back on the street or even in anyone’s care but ours. Luckily, my husband had no objection. The whole thing had really broken his heart too.
We called her Nerina—Blackie, in Italian—since she was all black but had white on her chest and a white paw that made her look like she wore a sock. It was the cutest thing and we just adored her. She was a very attentive mummy but hardly barked and never played in the first month or two. She was very quiet and seemed really upset. Once we found homes for all her five puppies, we concentrated on her and slowly, she started to act more jovial, playing with her toys and chasing us around all day, running up and down the garden like a mad thing.
We loved her to bits and she wound up living with us in the house. She hated the wet. Whenever it rained she refused to go anywhere and if she were outside, at the slightest threat of rain, she’d run indoors. Every Easter, she suffered from the noise made by firecrackers and shotguns. Due to the Greek custom, people fire them for days on the run up to the big day. All through Easter Week, she seemed to live by my feet, following me everywhere around the house in case she heard loud noise and panicked. We were hardly able to walk her all Holy Week and if she heard a shotgun fire somewhere, her heart would race and I’d have to pick her up and rush her home where she’d lie literally on my feet (whether I was standing or sitting) and refuse to budge. On the night of Good Saturday when fireworks light up the sky in Greece, she’d crawl under our bed and sleep right under our heads, or lie on the carpet by us while she trembled like a leaf.
Other than these problems she faced every Easter, for the rest of the year she’d be a source of constant entertainment. When I’d come back from work after a 1.5 hr commute, the moment I’d come through the door, she’d start running around the living room table, panting audibly, knowing I’d soon start running behind her. When I did, she’d bark her head off, running like a mad thing and chasing her tail. Later in life, when I was constantly at home, having become unemployed, we became inseparable. When I’d be in my study writing, she’d sit on the carpet by me, often falling asleep and snoring by my feet. It’s no wonder that The Necklace of Goddess Athena that I was working on at the time features a similarly adorable canine called Odysseas that is greatly loved by its owners.
Needless to say, Nerina soon converted my husband into a passionate dog lover. He loved to give her her chocolate treats every night, just before we went to bed. It was something Nerina would always expect as the evening progressed and the moment she’d see Andy head for the fridge to get her treats, she’d make a slow, funny grumbling sound that always made us laugh. Then she’d sit in front of him expectantly, gazing into his eyes with extreme concentration and he’d deliberately make her wait for a few moments just to see that amazing look on her face a bit more. Often, we’d teach her tricks at this time. Some she accepted to do, some she never seemed to like. We knew she was clever, but she was very stubborn too and you could never make her do something she didn’t want to do; hence my reasoning over the tricks she never did.
With us, that dog lived the life of Riley. Being childless, I took care of her as if she were a baby. Every night, after she had her treats and we headed for bed, she’d jump on the living room sofa and curl up in a ball. I’d go up to her in the semi-darkness and pet her tenderly and only then would I feel ready to go to bed. Sometimes, I’d linger a few steps away, just watching her lying still in the warmth, perfectly safe in the dim light from the last embers crackling in the hearth; a doggie no longer desperate, no longer wandering, no longer upset or afraid. In those moments I felt incredibly happy for being able to give that to her.
In October 2012, my husband Andy had a hernia operation. I spent 3-4 days keeping him company in hospital and during that time we had no choice but leave Nerina in the garden. I was worried about her, especially on the day when there was a thunderstorm and I knew she’d grow distressed on her own. But I was also worried for another reason. Often, people passed by and tossed her food, and kids offered her sweets too, causing her to get sick afterwards for a day or two. Sadly, this time, she had been exposed to a mortal danger I could never have imagined.
At the end of that week, with Andy back at home, it seemed that our days of distress had been over. We started to settle back to our normal happy routine with Nerina at home but then noticed she was acting strange. Instead of getting excited at the prospect of a walk, we had to drag her outside and she’d walk reluctantly for a couple of hundred feet, then try to turn around. We thought perhaps she could hear a noise we couldn’t hear that scared her; we had no clues at all. Then, the next day she got sick. Her pee was mixed with blood and she became slow, looking at us with half-closed eyes. We rushed her to the vet’s and it turned out she had ingested rat poison.
It was a Friday and we were given vitamin K to inject in her under her skin every few hours. That weekend was a nightmare for us. Nerina grew all the more frail. She hardly ate and now I had to pick her up in my arms to take her to the garden to pee. Unsure on her feet, she kept trying to get to a corner and lie on the dirt. That was a bad sign I was desperately trying to ignore.
By Monday morning, when we returned to the vet’s, she couldn’t lift her head any more and generally had no strength left in her at all. The vet did all she could; asked us to leave her there while she tried to find a dog that could be a blood donor for her. Just an hour later, I got the dreaded call. They had found a donor but Nerina’s heart had stopped in the meantime, her blood having turned as thin as water.
Devastated, we picked her body up from the vet’s and as my husband was in no position to dig a grave, we had to ask a kindly neighbor to help us bury her in the olive grove that’s near our home. So this is where we said our goodbyes and we buried her there, but not before I placed some of her favorite chocolate treats between her paws.
Oddly enough, it rained shortly after we returned home. Looking at the rain from that same window where I’d first seen her, I thought how strange it was that rain seemed to follow our history together. Also, strangely enough, just as I’d seen her and adopted her on special days, she’d also left us on another date of significance; this time, my mother’s birthday, October 15th. It was almost like this dog was meant to be, and meant to never be forgotten, hence coming and going from my life exclusively on days of high note to me.
Regarding the rat poison that took her life, I chose not to dwell on it. Perhaps someone poisoned her, or maybe she bit a mouse that had ingested it. According to the vet, that would have been enough to kill a dog. But, given this opportunity, I have this to say to the people who are capable of abandoning, neglecting, torturing or poisoning strays: A dog is not just a thing or asset you acquire to guard your home against intruders. It’s not a furry ball that you can give your children to play with and then abandon it in a street to fend for itself once your kids have turned to other toys. It is a living and feeling being with a soul; an innocent child, similar to a human one, subject to fear and pain, and capable of demonstrating unsurpassable gratitude, loyalty and love to its rescuers.
I’ll never forget the adoration I saw again and again in Nerina’s eyes during the five precious years and four months that she stayed with us. According to the vet’s assumptions, when we adopted her she was two years old which means she died at the age of seven; well before her time.
Nerina made me laugh and forget my sorrows like noone else ever has. In 2010 when I lost my job, I hit rock bottom. But Nerina, with her company, her silly antics and love, somehow kept me afloat. To be frank, I feel that at the end of the day, we saved each other. This is why I’ll never forget her. Two years and counting.
I’ve heard that pets go to heaven too when they die. I certainly hope so! There has to be one blessed place up there in heaven where we can chase each other again someday until we’re both out of breath, until we’re a heap of limbs again, collapsing from exhaustion. I know I’ll be laughing my head off and she’ll be licking my hands again, gazing at me with the same adoration I remember so well, the sunlight dancing in her eyes.