b y Sarah Lolley

Her long snores and sighs are still humming in my ears as I begin to write Porcia’s story. The light in her big eyes has dulled but not dimmed. So I tell her story to come closer to saying good-bye and letting go.

photos by Laura Petrilla artwork by Kathleen Lolley

photos by Laura Petrilla
artwork by Kathleen Lolley

It’s hard to judge how much pain she is in, but her misery is evident. In her waking hours when she sits up, opening her eyes to see me with jowls drooping downward in her permanent expression of disdain and disapproval. She talks to me in her many silent conversations.
“Am I still here?” she seems to infer with her heavy eyes.

You’re still here! I exclaim.

“Why?” She will groan and turn her head away burying it in a soiled blanket.

She is paralyzed from a degenerative spine condition that plagues French Bulldogs. I knew from the beginning that this day would come and I always told myself I would care for her no matter. But dogs won’t tell you when its time, they are dependent on your mercy and I am a selfish person, as all people generally are when going to sleep is forever. I have grown accustomed to her gargoyle face and those bat-like ears that point skyward, a lightning strike of white down her face so you can see her in the dark, a creature from beyond my dreams, sent to fend off the evil spirits and keep me safe, and she did.

“I could have done more if you had let me off the leash. You Americans! Always with your leashes. Where I come from there are free-range bitches.” That’s her talking to me.

Once a Russian peasant, who emigrated from a puppy farm with her mother and siblings, Porcia was imported from the Mother-land with an illegible Cyrillic birth certificate only to be toted around in puppy princess bliss after surviving quarantine. As her adoptive mother she was my first born child, torn from a distant land of abuse, and torn again from my separation from the adoptive father. She was snooty and snorty, a real bitch and I loved her.

photo 1
It was 2003, I was living with a British con-man, who incidentally married me without my consent. Long story short, he forged my name and had a stripper pose as me to take out loans. I found out and he bought me Porcia to coax me to stay calling her ‘our baby’. I took her and moved out of the penthouse townhouse into my childhood room with the flowered wallpaper.

“I could’ve had a golden collar if you had waited a little to leave him.” That’s her again.

Never having trained a dog without help of my parents, I did what most first-puppy moms do: sleep with their puppies and wake up with poop on their pillow. It wasn’t her fault; I was a down in the dumps dame. However, it was because of her I came home early those nights when I could have drowned myself in a vodka tonic. I had a baby at home.

“That doesn’t stop you now.” Shhhh, Porcia I am talking.

Snoring at window-vibrating octaves, she could set a car alarm off. As it turned out she had allergies! There we were two allergic girls dosing on Benadryl together. I would love to say she and I laughed at each other’s jokes, but no matter the punchline she looked at me like I was crazy.

“I didn’t hear no punchline.” She says cocking her head at me.

And I was a little unstable. While she was peeing on my father’s 30-year old carpet, I was burning candles to hide my cigarette smoke from my dad, making my own puddles of wax. Long nights of watching my little brothers DVD collection on my computer, holed up talking to Porcia about where my life went wrong, I probably deserved poop on my pillow.

“I would have done it again for you my friend.” No thank you Porcia.

These were my nightlife days when I hid her in a handbag to get her in the clubs because she was underage. With my long nails and short skirts, I called her my little slut because she adored men over women. She rolled on her belly with her legs spread as soon as they saw her, and peed a little in excitement. That never stopped after puppyhood.

“Never stopped for you either.” We will pretend she didn’t say that.

When she first came into heat, I freaked, and took her directly to a vet. The day I brought her home all dosed up on pain killers was one of my favorites. She was so drunk I wished we could drink together more often.

“You weren’t wearing the Victorian collar!” Porcia again.photo 3

I was a mess, a hot mess, prone to the kindness of strangers just like her. When the offer to escape to New York City came, I took it, but no dogs allowed. So I did what any good mother would do and dropped her off at my mom’s in Kentucky. When I made that trip, I was confronted with my granny who told me that I was a bad mother to burden my own mother with my child. It was weird, but I knew my mom was thrilled.
“That was a lovely time. I was like her granddaughter because she didn’t think you would have any.”

After a few months living against the sun trying to claim the nightlife fame as I did in Pittsburgh, I came home. But not before I was offered a ticket to the Grammies with my dog included by the manager of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs. So was my life as a hard-nosed journalist.
“You mean soft-faced celebrity gawker.” I didn’t hear that Porcia.

Back at the wallpapered cell at my dad’s place, I got a job through a friend at a Real Estate Development Company and my own apartment over the office. It was to my mother’s disappointment I reclaimed my daughter. I finally had place just for me and my grrl. Porica sat in my chair at work, barking at the doorbell, wrestling with the boss’s fluffy white Samoyed, and generally looking like the bitch on the block.

“The good ole days, when I was free to pull a dog’s face to the ground with my beautiful under bite. They would never see me coming from below.”

She was prone to try to take down the biggest female dog at the park. If you were a male dog, then she was in love. However, if you were a big bitch, she wanted to take you down, bulldog style. I will never forget the time she tried to take on a greyhound. Before she could get halfway across the field the greyhound was headed the other way. Back and forth until Porica only took half steps jumping back and forth watching the blur.

“You had to bring that up.” Porcia is giving me her big evil eye look.

Boy did she have a growl. She had the lungs of a pit-bull, vicious and direct. People would hesitantly open the door to see this huge-headed, pointy eared gremlin, but midget sized. All you had to do was greet her and there it was, a fountain of gleeful belly rubbing pee. She was my man magnet, charming them into walks and couch cuddles.

“I am a better time than no pussy… cat!”

Still in a Benedryl haze, and fighting horrible debilitating allergic reactions, my doctors began to recommend a break from my love affair with Porcia. I scoffed at such a suggestion. Give me more steroids, drugs, shots, anything but Porcia.

“What about my allergies to you! Smoking like a chimney when you took me out, tut, tut.”

I would shower with her to wash away the offending allergens, smoking because the shower steam hid the cigarette smoke. She wasn’t the problem! She was my cure, my partner in crime. The only living thing I could depend on to only judge me with those ‘you’re crazy’ looks and then sit on my feet.

“My butt hurt and you have big feet, what can I say.” Porcia is still talking if you haven’t caught on.

Those days living in what amounted to a room with a kitchen she still had a lot of puppy in her. She would randomly take off jumping on the couch, dashing through the halls, sliding on the hard wood floors, slamming into walls. She was just like me! A demon with angelic charm and wit.

“But I kept my fur on!” That’s very funny Porcia, I don’t have fur.

“Well, if you did, you would have let someone shave it off.” That’s not true. I would have dated a bear.

Of course, I then did what a young woman always does and fell for a stupid boy ruining our grrly harmony. I had settled my court cases with the aforementioned forged-husband and was looking for another path. So I gave up my lease and hid in the closet because I was petrified of moving in with another man. Consequently, I took a room with the aforementioned friend who had lent me her place in New York City. This time she was in Pittsburgh, and still no dogs. My sister took her in and gave her the fame and attention she was lacking from my dizzy dialogue.

“Those were my Golden years, the ones I dream about on a lazy day with my head in a sun beam coming in the window to warm my nap.”


appearing in Louisville Magazine

She appeared in magazines with my sister as her muse. My sister is an artist who can bring to life the complexities of demonic innocence and beauty. Porcia was happy with her, they were soul mates. On the other side of depravity, I languished in my own direction. Finally I took an apartment alone living beside a graveyard where I swear bats would fly overhead as a reminder to the little creature I longed to be at the edge of my couch.

“I was sending my spirit creatures to keep an eye on you. You were fine, by the way.”

My sister truly and deeply loved Porcia. They were both happy and I didn’t bother that bond until the day came I could give Porcia the family I thought we both wanted. I got pregnant. It was a bitter and sorrowful handing over custody for my sister, but she became a mom soon after… to her own Frenchie.

“Yeah, you ruined it. You had to make me a dog instead of a dame.”

I had hoped she was happy to see me, but she remained resolute with that cynical stare.

Porcia slept on the couch and at times the bedroom, making her way onto the bed. Patrick seemed to be in love with her, taking her on walks and taking photos of her on their journeys. I was working longer hours than him at the time.

“Finally a man to myself.”

But that changed when we moved into our new house, the day Lyra was born. No more sleeping in the bedroom, no more sitting on the couch. Lyra was a preemie and as much as I loved Porcia, I knew that she didn’t like girls and she was accustomed to being queen-beeetch.

“I just wanted to snot all over her, sheesh.”

So Porcia was banished to the floor. When Lyra was crawling, she started stealing Porcia’s toys. Porcia would come over, paw me, and whine with a tilt of her head as if tattling on Lyra.

“You always took her side.”

Porica never snipped at Lyra, but instead would protest her existence, while giving me the evil-stare only a Frenchie can.

“I was casting a spell.”

IMG_9562editWEBWe were living in a four-floor townhome then, and she began to limp. The vet told me what I already knew, that she would eventually become paralyzed because she had what a lot of bulldogs have, hip dysplasia. I confined her to the first and second floors with no couch jumping. She was soon fine with only occasional disjointed gaits.

“The indignity.”

There we were a happy family. Although, I think she always resented the demotion to dog instead of high princess pooch. There is still a box in the basement with her outfits and booties that I hilariously made her wear when there was salt on the sidewalks. Looking back, it was good practice for toddler-hood, chasing around an unwilling barefooted prey with uncomfortable booties.

“Was it good practice locking me in a crate so you could go out too!?”

Porcia, always bull headed, was a terrible walker. She acted as if she was pulling sled and you were the offending cargo. I tried dog harnesses and training collars but she was as tough as nails around her neck, looking back at you as if you dare interrupt her mission. I was afraid to walk the dog and the baby buggie, because I actually had a buggie not a stroller, because she would direct me and the wheeled baby into the paths of bitches she innately hated, city squirrels that threw nuts at her, she was relentless and erratic, a reminder of myself.

“They were coming for us I swear!”

The first night Patrick and I went out as new parents, I asked my dad to babysit. Eager to apply his own parenting skills he bought Popeye’s Chicken for dinner. Never mind that she was four months old, my dad reveled on how she loved to suck the bone. Someone else got a bone that night and Porcia began yakking non-stop until I begged Patrick to take her to the emergency room. There she stayed for three days, but made it home.

“How dare he not pluck the skin off the bone for me too!”

No more people food for Porcia after that. I had to give up the time honored past time of allowing your dog to lick up your drippings. My kids have all learned to swipe the offending food away from Porcia and tattle on her when she was too quick. Porcia learned that as much as she despised the new ‘puppies’ in the house, she would sit staring at the floor below their highchair, never into their eyes, just at the floor. She was too proud to actually beg. God love her.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, I love to stare at my reflection in the floor.”

When we moved after the third baby, Lazar, was born she regained her position in the living room because we could no longer corral her to the first floor foyer. I wanted to disconnect the doorbell because every time it rang the babies woke. If someone just walked in the house, no problem, but that blasted doorbell would cause her to hyper-ventilate with bulldog fury.

“It could have been the Bolsheviks!”

At our new home she could lounge on the deck, escape to chase the neighbor’s cat, and poop wherever she roamed… outside. I scolded her in the city when she would plop on the sidewalk. Use to letting her out in our tiny fenced in yard I would let her out expecting her to never stray outside the driveway at our new house. After the initial newness wore off she would be found gallivanting around the block and even in the park behind our house. I, always the lazy, treated my dog as a cat.

“I am not a pussy!” Nope, you are not, Porcia.

Still suffering from allergies, but aware it might be the dog, I was not a cuddly mom to Porcia. I had babies to occupy my time and Porcia’s snoring became the hum of the chaos of motherhood. She no longer cared for any toys, but savored licking their fingers sticky with food. She looked out the windows, catching glimpses of squirrels getting fat off our nuts.

“The nerve of those squirrels!”

When I started smoking again she was my excuse for being outside. Once again she became my sounding board and that was our time. When the kids went to bed we would sit on the deck and I would rub her ears blowing smoke in her face, amusing myself at the journey we had taken to find home.

“Again with the smoke. I thought we went over this, I have allergies too!”

Before we moved three years ago, I thought she was at her end. She was limping more and sullen. When we moved to a place with a big yard the freedom enlivened her. No longer did she have to climb the stairs to join the herd, here we were. She had a cushion at either end of the most populated living area, one in the kitchen and one in the family room.

“When the kids didn’t use them to build forts you mean.”

Until now. Over this last summer she lost all control in her lower body. I would come down in the morning to a mess. I diapered her, I let her soil the deck outside all day until the cold brought her into a crate. I am not proud to admit that she has been living in a crate for most of the last few months like a prisoner. She mostly slept and woke up at night for me. We would drink and smoke together like the good old days, me dancing to the moon and her looking at me like a looney.

“It reminded me of Russia, foolish people and the cage.”IMG_1070
And there it is. There is a part of the old me in the new me. The disdain I have for my own behavior in her pessimistic, loving eyes. You are destructive and wise; You are so ugly you are cute; You are still holding onto the journey and not the mission.

“You won’t let me die.” But why?

I have a sentimental streak that holds on to relics like a treasure map. I follow these relics to the place where I hid my life’s journey; I hoard them into boxes like time capsules. When I find them it reunites those experiences with the person I am now. Porcia is my constant. She has ridden the most venomous waves of my own psyche and paddled through its domesticity. How can I say good-bye? She is my first-born, the anchor that held me back when I wanted to drift out to sea, how can I let go even when she is paper-thin floating beside me.

I am wretched, bewitched, befuddled, wrinkled, bewildered, wild, submissive, brave, and reborn, just like her. Yet, she sits in her own shit, just like me, never letting go unless someone releases her/me/us.

“You look to the past, when the future is uncertain, my friend.” Porcia whispers to me.

As I write, she snores so quietly at my feet. She has squirmed out of her diaper which means a mess in the morning and as much as I want to believe that we have more time, I know we shouldn’t. She has peered too many times at me through the confines of her crate with more than her bitch look- now that look is defeat.

“You are the strong one now.” But I don’t want to be.

I have these urges to fight, to find a wheelchair that fits, to buy a drag bag that will contain her waste when she walks. And each day I think I will be a better mom to my dog, but she needs a friend to know when to say ‘the end.’ Take that cigarette out of your mouth and forge ahead without the crutches of the past, be free from bewilderment and know when it’s time to say goodbye.

“You know your husband and your kids snore too, if you miss the sound that much.” I know, but you have been there and know my story in its purest form.

“So do you, and you can tell it.” I want you to be there.

“Well, I don’t want to eat dog food.” Okay, but Lazar likes it.

“Then feed it to him and let me go.” Do you love me?

“Do you have to hear it? Can’t I just look at you with my big eyes and you know that we were something to each other, something worth having no matter the sorrow.” I love you.

“I snort you too.” Why do you do that?

“You are not the only one with allergies.” Oh, Porcia I will quit, my little Babushka.

“Good, don’t tell your husband or he will make you stick to it.” But I want to.

“Yeah, well you wanted to kill me months ago and here I am.” This time it’s different. I told your story.

“Did you learn anything from my misery?” Was it miserable?

“Yes, but I got to snore some more and I like doing that.” I am sorry.

“I will forgive you in my next life.” What will you be?

“A big Mastiff bitch!” You don’t want to be human?

“Why? People worry too much.” You are right. I want to sleep more.

“Well, Why don’t you?” I want to write this story.
“You did, now go to bed.”

Sweet dreams, my precious Porcia. I have loved every moment of our story together.




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