I don’t really remember why I was on petfinder.com one day in November 2010. In July of that year Craig and I rescued a cat. He was part of a feral litter found in someone’s backyard. He was also the only one left, as all the grey kittens were already adopted. His name was Hunter and one summer day he was staring at us from behind a glass window. We were a little tipsy from a boozy brunch and well, it was really easy to adopt a cat. So we did, and we joked that we didn’t want our cat to be too much of a cat (neither of us had ever owned a cat or been around cats). And we needed a dog to straighten him out.
I stumbled on a photo of a dog named Scoopy. She was approximately 2 years old. She was in urgent need of a home. We were in NO position to get a dog. We were broke (an understatement) and working at jobs that kept us out of the house from around 7am-5/6pm Monday-Friday. But lots of people in NYC had dogs and similar schedules and there was just something about that dog. I immediately emailed the woman and said I was very interested. I could go see her ASAP. This was back when adopting a dog wasn’t a competitive sport and she got right back to me. She was a “special needs” dog. A little aside, I have not really shared this before because a) I have no way to verify and b) I do not like to push the idea that shelter dogs are all damaged, abused and “a lot of work.” They are all unique, some struggle more than others, but too many narratives around them perpetuate negative stereotypes that can sometimes keep people from considering rescue. Back to Scoopy. She had apparently come in to the shelter as part of a hoarder case. She had allegedly never been let outside, ever (hence the nickname Scoopy because she used a litter box). Apparently none of the dogs she came in with made it out of the shelter. She was great with animals but terrified of people. It was not a deterrent, for whatever reason I was drawn to her and I wanted to meet her ASAP.
We set up a time and Craig and I headed to the Brooklyn apartment where she was staying with a young couple and two cats. I rang the doorbell and the woman opened the door. She remarked how strange it was, that Scoopy didn’t bark or growl at me, as she wasn’t typically fond of new people, especially when they first came to the door. I crouched down and pet her ears, she nuzzled up to me, there was no question, this was my dog. I didn’t realize it at the time, but thinking back on it, we connected immediately. The moment I laid eyes on her (starting with her petfinder photo) I knew I needed her. The woman told me to think about it, I had to go to London for work the next day, if I still wanted her when I got back, I could have her.
I went on my work trip and I thought about her everyday. I was so anxious and worried someone would get her while I was gone. I think I emailed the woman everyday and she probably thought I was nuts. “Just letting you know I still want Scoopy I get back in 2 days I can come from the airport!” As soon as I returned from my trip, I filled out the adoption paperwork and scrounged up the $200 adoption fee (we probably skipped a week of groceries to pay for it). She scheduled a time to come drop her off, and Scoopy was officially ours.
The first order of business was giving her a new name, one that felt a little more dignified. As we rattled off options Craig said “what about Nora?” The year prior Norah Jones had moved to Brooklyn. At the time it was kind of a big deal. Nora was perfect (we dropped the H for no reason in particular).
I looked back at my emails from 2010, there aren’t many left as most have been deleted (and I think most of my adoption emails were sent from my work email because I felt like it made me look more “official”). The ones I did find are from correspondence from the rescue and her dog walker. She was “terrified of new people” and “so afraid of being outside she would hold it and pee once we got back inside.” She wouldn’t let the dog walker in the house to take her for a walk. Eventually we realized if she brought another dog along, Nora would go with her. She had terrible separation anxiety and would howl for hours while we were gone. She did not trust anyone, except for me. In the first few weeks, she wouldn’t even let Craig take her outside, she didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything unless I was there too.
It took a while for Nora to overcome her fears and anxieties. When we worked through one issue, a different one would pop up, but as the days turned into weeks turned into months, she blossomed. She LOVED other dogs. We took Nora everywhere. Our weekend adventures she was always in tow, sitting at our feet for $5 margaritas, hanging out in the dressing room at Beacon’s Closet, and trips back to RI as often as possible for her to run on the beach and hang out with our family dog Ziggy.
We spent almost 5 years in Brooklyn before we decided to pack up our life and drive 3,000 miles across the country, twice (we didn’t last long in Los Angeles). Nora was with us through it all. She was there for some really hard years, through job loss, stretches of unemployment and lots of uncertainty. She was our sweet, silly girl, a source of comfort always. Over the next several years we’d move another 5 times. The last would be moving into our first home.
Nora’s First Home
When we went to look at the house, we made an offer the same day. All we ever wanted was a place with a yard for Nora, and the freedom to get another dog because we knew how much she’d love that. When we bought the house Nora was around 7 years old. She always had bad hips and arthritis but it never slowed her down. She was the dog that helped my cousin’s rescue learn how to climb stairs, and bonded with my Aunt’s dog when she rescued him. She was a teacher and nurturer. I lost track of how many people would say “oh my dog never usually likes other dogs.” We hoped getting a younger dog would keep her spry. Eventually we found Fuji, and they become a bonded pair. The only life Fuji knew was one with Nora. She would clean him, snuggle him, and correct him when he was being naughty. They would play and wrestle and cuddle. They were inseparable. They lived for their afternoon group walks with their dog walker Steph and early morning weekend adventures to the beach. They were our whole world and we were theirs.
Her Final Year
Three years after we bought our first home I got pregnant. I never thought I wanted to have kids. It was a surprise, and a challenging one. I was incredibly sick with hyperemesis gravidarum. Most days I could barely move or get out of bed. Nora was my constant companion. Lying on the bathroom floor with me while I slept with my head by the toilet. Curling up on the couch or in bed with me for hours. We watched every season of The Great British Bake-Off and The Office. She’d rest her head on my belly and smile every time there was a kick, opening one eye to look at me. Most days she protested even going for walks, she didn’t want to leave me home alone. She never liked being separated from me. When I traveled for work she’d sleep on the couch in the living room until I got back.
In February of 2020 we brought home a new baby, Marin. While Fuji was nervous, Nora didn’t skip a beat. She knew exactly what to do from the moment we walked in the door. She was always right nearby, never expecting anything, patiently waiting for you to give her a glance so she could smile and wag her tail. She loved nothing more than licking Marin and curling up next to her for tummy time. The feeling was mutual, Marin was all smiles when Nora was near. All you had to do was say Nora and her face would light up.
A few weeks into motherhood the Covid-19 pandemic hit. With a baby at home, we didn’t go anywhere or see anyone. We spent a lot of time at home together and going for our daily walks. I am so grateful for that silver lining. In the fall, we bought another fixer upper in Vermont, it had been a dream for years, and we were so excited to have a place where the dogs could roam off leash in the woods. Nora loved trail walks and exploring in the mountains. A few weeks after we bought the house, while Craig was up in Vermont renovating, Nora tore her CCL (the second time). We were devastated but decided to do surgery to repair. We felt she had so much time left and was otherwise very healthy, it was a no brainer.
The next three months Nora spent in recovery, short leash walks only. It sucked but we thought it was worth it because she’d have her mobility back. She recovered better and faster than her first surgery several years before. About two months after her surgery in late December I noticed she had a little nose bleed. I didn’t think much of it but called the vet and made an appointment just in case. They took x-rays and didn’t see anything, all her blood work came back normal, she didn’t seem to be in pain and was acting totally normal. They prescribed an antibiotic in case it was an infection and we scheduled a consultation for a CT Scan but because of Covid wait times were long.
The first week of February Nora wasn’t herself. All of a sudden she didn’t want to go for walks, barely wanted to get out of bed and didn’t really want to eat. I spent hours calling around to different vets in RI and Vermont trying to find somewhere that could do a CT Scan right away, our appointment wasn’t for another week and I knew we couldn’t wait that long. I eventually found an emergency vet in Burlington and drove through a snowstorm to get her there. I had convinced myself whatever it was we could fix. Whatever treatment she needed we would get it. What I didn’t anticipate was finding out she had aggressive cancer, and it wasn’t really treatable. Other than keeping her comfortable, there was nothing we could do.
I brought Nora home from the emergency vet and she slept an entire day. She was always anxious at the vet and they said she didn’t sleep at all while she was there. As a last resort the vet suggested we try an NSAID to help reduce the inflammation and a painkiller to keep her comfortable. This was the night before Marin’s first birthday. The following morning, Nora was back. She was smiling, wagging her tail, ready for breakfast, and excited for a walk. Marin’s birthday weekend was full of joy because Nora we thought, was going to be ok, at least for a while.
That Monday Nora declined rapidly again. I could tell she was in pain. She didn’t get up much that day, getting her to eat was a struggle, she would retreat to her crate. She was having a hard time breathing and Monday night she didn’t sleep at all. The thing is, dogs naturally suppress signals of pain. Nora was really struggling Monday night, but every time we would go lay at her crate, she’d get really quiet and pretend she was fine. By Tuesday she was not improving and I could tell she wanted me to let her go. I was devastated. I called the vet to do a gut check and see if she felt I was making the right decision. She confirmed. It didn’t make me feel better.
I scheduled a vet to come Wednesday morning so we could let Nora go peacefully at home. I thought we could have one more night with her, but by Tuesday afternoon Nora was really struggling and started to have bad sneezing attacks. Her nose wouldn’t stop gushing blood and I didn’t want to put her through another sleepless night, so I called the vet to see if she could come that night, we decided she’d come after Marin went to bed. I spent the next few hours with her on the couch, she slept with her head on my lap. She and Fuji spent a while cuddling in their bed, he wrapped his whole body around hers.
The vet arrived and Nora was anxious, and those last 5 minutes play over and over in my head. We brought her over to her bed and had her lay down. We fed her ice cream as the vet injected her with a solution to put her into a deep sleep. When she gave her the shot Nora cried out and I will never forget the sound she made. She knew. I held her in my arms as she fell asleep. It happened so fast. I thought it would take a little while and I could hold her and talk to her but within less than a minute she was snoring. It made me realize how tired she probably was and how long she had been struggling, not sleeping but trying to hide her pain.
I debated whether or not to let Fuji see her body once she was gone, but ultimately thought it would be too distressing for him. The only life he ever knew was one with Nora in it. When we let him upstairs after the vet took her body away he was incredibly distraught. He ran around the house barking, and we let him outside so he wouldn’t wake up Marin. He howled and he didn’t stop.
I keep reflecting on how my life with Nora prepared me for motherhood. Nora taught me about patience, strength, and unconditional love. I’ve found myself saying the exact same things to Marin that I used to say to Nora. When I think back, from the day we brought Marin home to Nora’s last day with us, which was almost exactly a year, I can’t help but recognize Nora’s quiet presence. She knew what I needed, she was always selfless. On her final day, she lay quietly with her head on my lap as I stroked her ears. She was so peaceful. I could feel her saying it’s ok, I am ready, you can let me go.
The morning after Nora passed I looked out the kitchen window and saw a family of deer. I hadn’t seen any in quite a while and it seemed kind of funny because Nora went crazy for deer. I brushed it off as coincidence, but I desperately wanted a sign. I ended up getting this book Signs the next day because so many had recommended it, and as I started reading I noticed one of the signs from The Other Side is deer. Still, I figured, probably a coincidence. But then, every day after Nora’s passing I saw deer, sometimes multiple times a day. We might see them once every few weeks, but never every day. No matter where I went or what I was doing, I would stumble upon deer. I knew Nora was with me. For 11 years, Nora was my confidant, my best friend, the one who I shared a connection with deeper than anyone else in this world. And a year after I became a mother, she knew her work was done. She taught me how to be selfless, how to love unconditionally and without judgement, how to be patient and how to find strength even when I felt I had none. She guided me for 11 years and I will carry her in my heart forever.