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A Heart Dog's Origin Story

We knew we would name her Quincy before we even knew she existed. A Boston Terrier clearly was intended to have a name for a famous Boston landmark, or that was our logic at the time. We decided that she would have a middle name, too and Bean seemed logical, since the Boston Baked Bean is a lovely sweet treat that people only get to have once and awhile. We talked about who “she” was, imagined what our life would be like with her by our side, considered how life with a puppy would be hard but a great start to the family we were going to build together, our hypothetical children and our concocted Boston Terrier who already had her names chosen.

When we got married, we were still living in our tiny loft style apartment. NO DOGS ALLOWED stated the firm language on our lease, drafted by a lawyer or culled from a form document found online. One day, we found a stray. More aptly said, he found us, in the parking lot of the apartment complex, shivering and lost. He had a tag (hooray) but no one answered the number listed on it, so we, feeling brave, snuck him into our apartment to keep him warm. I sprang into action, got a bowl, bought a small bag of food, and a cheap leash and we welcomed him into our apartment that had been furnished with hand-me-down furniture and a mishmash of decorations that are more grown up than a college dorm, but not by much. He immediately peed on our grandma-style swivel rocking chair, which to us was the exactly right choice, and we laughed as he looked at us, head tilted. His tag said “Brady” so we referred to him by his given name as we danced in the living room and I gave his ears a scritch.

We had just gotten our very first Christmas tree as a couple. Freshly cut from a nearby farm. He peed on that, too, but he also helped us to decorate our tree for the first time in our apartment as we played holiday music to mask his giveaway dog noises that might travel through the shared air ducts. We kept calling the number on his tag, left messages, and gave our address. After hours, we got a call back from a person who didn’t seem AT ALL concerned that their dog was not on their property as she crankily grumbled that her teenaged son would swing by to grab him.

Forlorn, I got Brady’s stuff together to ease in the hand off, I took him out for one more potty break, sneaking down through the back porch instead of through the front hallway. I snuggled him, and we played for a bit, and then his family member was knocking on our door. No thanks were given for us finding him and keeping him safe. His human snatched his newly purchased leash from us, and pivoted on his back heel as he made his way down the hallway that always smelled a bit like hamburger helper.

I cried. Genuine, “I’m gonna miss him,” tears. I was bummed and a little mopey for days after he left our apartment. We daydreamed together about finding where he lived, creating a diversion, and taking him to live with us as his owners clearly weren’t as loving as Bill and I could be, or at least that’s what we told each other on our futon after dinner.

It was after our short-term guest’s departure, that we looked at each other knowing that we needed to find a place to live where we could have a dog. And, with that shared thought, I started to research dogs like it was my new job. As innocent newlyweds who hadn’t had our own dogs that weren’t family dogs while growing up, we immediately believed a puppy would be the best choice for us. We didn’t consider my travel responsibilities for work or the fact that we were both working full time. We also decided that a Boston Terrier would be the breed we’d go with. Compact and comedic, seemed like a good choice.

We got married on September, 27th, 2008. In the summer of the following year, we found our house, by mistake, when trying to find a different home that we were scheduled to see with our realtor. We put a low-ball offer in, it was accepted, and we broke our lease on our tiny loft apartment. As soon as we had moved our stuff the 2 miles down the street to our new home, we also put a deposit down with a breeder for their next available litter for a Boston Terrier of our very own.

She was born in September. A virgo like me. We got an email saying we were on the list for her litter and I squealed with excitement. A date was set for us to drive to New Hampshire to pick her out four weeks after she had been born. On September 27th, our one year wedding anniversary, we met “our” Quincy for the first time. Her mom, a brown Boston named Koda, was gently resting with her brood as we approached, her father, Red was bouncing in the backyard, giving a “hey, how are ya?” bark with each hop.. We were allowed to visit with them all, and held a few squeaky brown and white balls of fur, no more than a pound. One brown pup fit perfectly in the palm of Bill’s hand and she promptly fell asleep under the watchful eye of her mother. It was her, we knew it, our Quincy Bean.

Four weeks later, we made the trip to New Hampshire, plastic crate and travel bowls in hand. Quincy was four pounds. Four whole pounds is all it takes for a dog to completely unearth everything you thought you knew about love. She was perfect. Her brown fur matched her mother, Koda’s as they spent some time together before our trip home. Many of her siblings had already been brought to their homes, so it seemed like Koda knew this time together would be her last moment with Quincy. She gave her face some reassuring licks and watched us as Quincy was transferred into her crate for the long ride. We got a travel crate intended for a cat, it was too large for her, so we bundled some blankets and towels so she had a comfy space to rest.

Everything we had for her, her collar, her bowls, her harness, were too big. Off Bill went to the pet store for supplies that would work for her until she grew into what we had. Even then, we needed to use a small shallow bowl from our tupperware collection for her food. I threw it away not that long ago, it had bite marks on the edges when we did meal time in her crate to help with crate training. Now, I regret no longer having it, those bite marks were part of her.

I had a firm rule. NO DOGS ON THE FURNITURE and I was prepared to enforce it so we had a comfy bed waiting for her when she got home. We played with her on the floor, she couldn’t make her way over our outspread legs, and had to climb over them like they were mountains. After some time playing, and some pee on the floor, we could tell she was sleepy. In that moment, no more than fifteen minutes after her being home, we abandoned the NO DOGS ON THE FURNITURE rule, and she snuggled next to us, on top of us, and sometimes under us for the rest of her life. Dogs know how to break the rules that need to be broken.

We had a long weekend to spend with each other and get used to our new lives together. I slept on the couch and took her out every couple of hours while also making sure she was comfortable in her crate. She would hide behind our legs when we went outside to go potty if a breeze hit her just right. She didn’t like dew on the blades of grass and found a way to sit on the tops of our shoes to avoid it.

One ear flopped back, one ear eventually stood up, both were softer than velvet ‘til the end. Her tail was crooked, like a right angle, so when she wiggled it, it looked like a comma swaying back and forth. It’s like her feet had springs, bouncing on the couch with no need for running and jumping. She would play fetch with herself by bringing toys up the stairs, dropping them down, watching them bounce down the stairs, and running down to grab it.

Licking was her love language. I think it soothed her as much as it soothed us. She would find any exposed toe for some licking, your damp legs as you got out of the shower, your inner ear canal if you were sitting next to her on the couch, and directly down your throat if you didn’t fully close your mouth and your face was nearby.

Sun spots and observing the neighborhood from the back edge of our two couches were her main joy generators. She would sound the alarm if any unknown dog, or squirrel, or wind blown leaf would make its way into view. But, mostly, she just liked letting the sun warm her brown body and white little paws. She would squint in the sunlight, open her mouth, stick out her tongue, and smile.

She was crate trained, she liked the comfort of her own quiet space to tuck away, so it wound up being easier than we would have anticipated. That said, it was apparent pretty early on that one of her super powers was snuggling. Under the covers, curled into a ball, and positioned either in the crook of someone’s knee if you were sleeping on your side, or between your legs if you were on your back, or between your side and outstretched arm. Always the little spoon to our big spoon. Each morning, she would wiggle her way onto my chest while still laying in bed. It was there that I would help clean her eye goops/crusties and she would lick every inch of my face. She slept with us, each night, for the remainder of her twelve and a half years. Not waking up next to her has been the hardest adjustment so far.

With the quiet calm of the morning before work, she would sit on the back of the couch and use your shoulder as a base for support, or would sit in your lap under the folds of a bathrobe. She would climb into my arms, front legs crossed over my shoulder and kiss my cheeks while I tried to sneak a sip of coffee.

The longer days of spring and summer allowed for neighborhood walks, sniffs, very frequent heel dragging, ‘I must stop and pee on this’ breaks. She was always curious, always smelling, and her little front paws would bounce up and down like she was prancing instead of walking. If you looked down at her, she’d smile back, tongue sticking out the side of her mouth. As with all things she did, she was joy in dog form through and through.

She was our one and only for four years. In that time, we experienced the excitement of pregnancy and we daydreamed about our dog helping our child grow up into a new little human with a personality all their own. We also experienced the crushing loss of our pregnancy and were comforted by Bean’s snuggles and kisses. She was our family, our first being we were tasked with caring for, and we embraced the love she had to give in our time of suffering and loss.

We had health scares with Bean over the years, including the removal of a Mast Cell Tumor and dealing with allergies throughout her adult life. Daily (expensive) pills were used to treat allergies, which I believe wound up being the cause of her MCT. Later, we discovered allergy injections which were incredibly helpful for her. Bean also had other bumps removed, each checked to make sure they weren’t also cancerous, including growths of extra gum tissue in her mouth. Each surgery or visit to the vet was met with a confident wiggle and bright, cheerful eyes. All members of the staff at the vet’s office loved her, and I could tell it was genuine love and care for her. She was special, everyone could see it.

She wore her war wounds proudly. A massive scar on her right side along her rib cage where her Mast Cell Tumor had been removed; a crinkly and slightly crumpled left ear that had had a hematoma at one point before her allergies had been addressed successfully and a gap amongst her front chicklet teeth, where her lip would get stuck resulting in a gummy snarl/smile.

After four years of our tiny family, we decided Bean would like a dog companion but we also didn’t think we could handle another puppy. Shortly after making that decision, we noticed a post from the same breeder where Bean came from announcing the retirement of one of their adult studs named Yoda. Being the massive Star Wars fan that Bill is, we figured his name was a sign from the cosmos and sought to bring Yoda into our fold.

Some major life events happened in quick succession. I had won a trip to the BlogPaws conference in Nashville, TN thanks to a photo of Bean I had posted on Twitter. I brought Bill, and my parents with me and they visited tourism haunts while I attended the conference. It was at my first BlogPaws that I met people I had only known on social media up to that point. I didn’t realize at the time that those people would be the start of a network of friends in the pet space that probably wouldn’t have entered my life if it weren’t for Bean, her irresistible face, and my desire to share her grin with everyone who was willing to see it and appreciate it with me.

We made it back home after a whirlwind trip and, two days later, I was headed north again to the breeder’s home for Yoda’s homecoming. He was SO BIG compared to Bean. His head could be palmed in the cup of your hand and he filled the car with snores as we drove back home.

The adjustment to a new dog was not as easy as we thought it would be. Bean was used to all of our attention, and Yoda had never been a pet before, meaning he wasn’t potty or crate trained. There were weeks of “play” that sounded much more like fighting than playing before we started to be able to decipher what was okay and when we would need to intervene. It was at that time, we also brought Bean back to training classes along with Yoda so they could learn together and Bill and I could make sure our language was consistent with both dogs when reviewing training cues.

They weren’t best friends, not like I had imagined they would be before we brought Yoda home, but they established their own routine and eventually respected each other’s boundaries. With time, they snuggled with each other, and sometimes on top of each other on the couch, or in their bed in front of the heating vent. In spring and fall, I’d put the bed in front of the glass front door to allow sunlight to create a warm puddle for them. They would sleep, snore, fart, bark at squirrels and resume sleeping again for hours.

The first summer we were together, convinced that a tired dog is a good dog, we went for long walks in the early morning and at dusk. We also had regular training sessions together in classes and at home. I think it helped them feel like they were working towards something together, and their relationship felt much more “calm” as a result.

Yoda is round. He is ill-equipped to clean himself, or scratch, or really any other self maintenance. Bean served as his cleaner. Each day, she’d lick his ears, and clean the wrinkles on his face, wash away his eye crusties, and even bathe his nether bits for him. I, for the first time since we’ve had him, needed to clean his face this week because Bean wasn’t around to do it for him. It’s those little signs of loss and absence that hit me in the gut the hardest. I felt like I was in a room where someone had sucked all of the oxygen out on Wednesday when I saw her washed and empty bowl waiting for a meal that will never be given. She would eat food that needed to be reconstituted with warm water. For the past week, I’ve forgotten that I no longer need to run water from the faucet in advance of meal time. Each time I come to that realization, I sob.

Bean was a ground feeder, especially after her Cushing’s Diagnosis. No crumb was too small for her to swing by and lick up. I’ve been noticing bits of treats that Yoda has missed that are staying on the floor that I need to sweep up. I didn’t realize the act of sweeping would be a reminder of loss, but these are the things we fail to notice when we’re actively living in a normal that changes in the blink of an eye.

Bean was a masterful snuggler. Time on the couch while watching tv has been a gut punch. Up to now, there was always a “his” and “hers” couch, with me and Bean on one smaller loveseat and Bill and Yoda on the larger loveseat. Bean would insist on being under covers, normally lying on her back, and snoring on your face. That changed with Cusing’s, I think time under the covers was a bit too warm for her which made it difficult for her to breath. Even so, she was still always making some sort of physical contact with whomever she was snuggling with. I miss feeling her, hearing her breath especially when she was in a deep sleep, I miss her licking my toes as I drift off to sleep.

At bedtime, Bean would make her way up the stairs while I carried Yoda, who is too round to handle going up stairs that don’t have carpeting. For years, she would walk briskly up the stairs and wait for you to open the door for her. In fact, anytime someone would go up the stairs, she would follow, even if you just needed to quickly swap out shoes, it didn’t matter to her, she was with you. It was annoying at times, but now I miss hearing her footsteps making their way up the stairs. For most of her life, she would enthusiastically do an army crawl sprawl across the only carpeted room’s floor in the house, which is the upstairs guest bedroom/office. While she did the army crawl, she’d wiggle her kinky little tail. It was my favorite thing she would do because she looked so gleeful as she did it.

For the last year, stairs have been hard and she lost her desire to wiggle. I think she was hurting much more than we wanted to realize. We would help her up the stairs, but we had a few scares recently where she fell and nearly fell down multiple steps. She was so stubborn, though, that she would still try to make her way up them, which was stressful. When she was upstairs, she no longer did the army crawl, she no longer wiggled her little tail. It was one of the first signs I noticed and realized it probably meant she was in pain. It was then that I began to steel myself for the prospect of her departure. When a dog loses its telltale wiggle, it’s a sign.

I know it may sound silly, but I really wanted to vocalize my thanks to her before Bean crossed the bridge. After all, if Bean hadn’t come into our lives, literally every aspect would be different. I owe so much to her, her love, and the passion she helped to spark in my soul for pets, photography and animal rescue. I can look back on the past 12.5 years and see clearly all of the opportunities that presented themselves because Bean was part of our lives. That’s not a common thing to be able to see so clearly. Let me explain:

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t obsessively take photos of my dog. At first on a crappy phone, which then got upgraded to an iphone, which subsequently got upgraded to real “big girl” type cameras.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have shared those photos on Instagram. At the beginning, with a handful of friends, which later ballooned into nearly 10,000 followers.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have started to enter those photos into dog related contests, at first for fun, and later on to win prizes that I could donate to local shelters.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have won and donated over $20,000 worth of money, supplies, food and treats to local shelters.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have won a trip to my first BlogPaws conference.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have amassed a large network of pet blogging friends who have quite literally been the group of people who I have grown with personally and professionally while also finding a group of people who are some of my closest and most cherished friends.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have started a blog, which has helped to hone my writing skills and my passion for pet photography.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have won a trip to BarkWorld, a conference for a book pitch proposal almost like SharkTank.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have met Deirdre Franklin from Pinups for Pitbulls who presented at BarkWorld. It was through Deirdre that I amassed an even larger network of friends in the pet space who are passionate about ending Breed Specific Legislation and doing away with myths about pitbull type dogs.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have been chosen for a spot in the 2020 Pinups for Pitbulls Calendar.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have been selected to be on the cover of the 2022 Pinups for Pitbulls Calendar.

If it weren’t for Bean, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or opportunity to apply for a job outside of Higher Education and in the pet space, which I will be starting in less than a week.

How do you tell one little dog that you owe everything you are in your right now to who you were when we were together? The short answer is you don’t. The longer answer is, Bean never cared about any of that. She just loved and wanted to be loved, and it was in that simple act, all of those other doors opened. What a special gift. What an honor to be her pet parent. What a pleasure to have felt such unbridled love and care.

Bean was an empath, like her humans. She knew when something was off, when there was a disturbance in the force, and she somehow always found a way to be a little bit closer, and a little more affectionate during those times. She would lick away your tears and force you to hold her until you started to forget why you were sad in the first place. That’s one of the hardest things about her absence. We are so very sad. Like, “how do I move on from this?” sad. I know, if she were with us right now, she would be licking away our tears and climbing on us to be held, like a tiny brown and white weighted blanket for the soul. I know, deep down, she would never want us to be sad over her and I’m trying to hold onto her joy because of that. Even so, we have cried many tears, and I’m sure more are on our horizon.

Thank you sweet little Bean. Thank you for your joy, your snuggles, your love, and your companionship. We will miss you until it’s time to meet you again over the bridge. Thank you for being the most amazing new guardian angel a person could ask for. We love you, we miss you, we wish we could still be with you.

In loving memory of Quincy Bean Nowell.


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