What a community of kindness and love that surrounds us. From the small group of compassionate and patient humans, who took care of Teeny daily during her decline to those who knew her as a young spitfire in LA. You’ve all come out to show your support and love during this very difficult time and I love you all. Every single one of you. I will have your back always. When we hold each other up we are able to continue the good fight. When we feel we can’t walk or breathe or do the simplest of tasks, we guide each other on the path forward. What an amazing thing.
Death is not the worst thing. This is something I tell Ophelia when she inquires about why living creatures must pass on. Death can be as beautiful as birth. I don’t believe it is an end. Energy can never be destroyed. We simply change form.
Those life lessons imparted to our almost 6 year old are getting us through. As are YOU.
As I read about how lucky Teeny was to land in my world I can’t help but insist that it was SHE who transformed ME. I was on a path. One of “success.” But success doesn’t mean the same thing to me as maybe it does to someone else. Because this path took me away from my family. My culture. The heart and soul of my home. Along the way I learned so much and gained friends, who became lifelong family. And one little rescue dog, who would change it all for me. Settle in. Teeny would settle for nothing less than a novel in her honor and a novel she shall receive. Our story spans nearly 14 action-packed years.
Teeny was the runt of the litter and the only female on an unwanted mama dropped at a very busy rescue in West LA. My ex and I were looking to rescue, and found her litter online. We went to meet them and her brother peed on us right away. He claimed us. They brought out each puppy for us to meet, and while we knew what would be Cooper was our dog, I could not put the whiny brown tiny female down. She needed me, man. She looked like a little alien. With ears she would never grow into and the most delicate paws and the fur of a baby dawn. The stack of applications for these dogs was high and sitting right in front of us. In true Francine fashion I asked what would happen to our approval odds if we took two of the pups off their hands? And there we were. Two very busy film industry up and comers with two very active and needy puppies. What a learning curve this was. With the help of a very talented trainer we befriended on “Pirates” we learned the art of clicker training and reading canine body language with our two.
A fire started to grow inside me when I saw how effectively we could communicate on a whole different level than all my family dogs of the past. I had been volunteering at LA County Shelters bringing all the unwanted Pitties and Chihuahuas to rescue events in the little spare time I had and practiced the basic training I knew before my clicker education started. I learned that dog walkers had pretty amazing gigs. Laurel took the two to Laurel Canyon dog park (a magical wonderland I still visit every time I visit LA) almost daily. She wrote little notes about their adventures with their friends that I got to read after my horrible commute home from work. I learned that pinch and slip collars are for assholes or lazy dog owners. The kids started out on slips with fabric inside the links (I did not purchase these, but a pet store employee had recommended them apparently), and I quickly trashed them when I saw what would happen when they pulled just to smell a new tree or see a new friend. I learned that stopping in my tracks and carrying treats taught my little babies to check in with me to release the tension on their necks and walk as politely as possible to their next enjoyment on our walks. I also learned that my friends loved the company of my little buddies. They too were in the market for unconditional love in an industry and place, where that can be hard to find. I never had an absence of sitters willing to care for the kids when I had to travel.
I also learned that dogs can be brought on to planes in little Sherpa carriers if they can fit under the seat in front of you. Teeny was no stranger to air travel. I made my way home 3-4 times a year and have Sherpa will travel. She loved all the attention she got from her Nana and Papa and her Uncles (yes, even Ralph will admit that Teeny had won his heart. He always said if anything ever happened to me he would take her. And only her.). But the favorite was one very special Auntie Jean. Oh, how they loved each other. More on that later.
Her second year with me I became very ill. I ended up hospitalized by what I thought was migraines and exhaustion, but what turned out to be Lyme meningitis. Likely contracted by a tick that hopped a ride on one of my babies during a trip back East. Oh, the irony. Jo was at my condo when I was discharged and she was hell bent on getting me well. I learned that not all partners are good at caring for others when things get ugly and I thank god everyday for my SATC boss, who demanded I see her doctor because I “looked like hell,” and my friends who came to the rescue when I was too sick to care for myself and awaited a diagnosis.
Where is Teeny in all this? Curled up behind my knees or in my belly under the blankets of course. Never understood how on earth she could breathe under there. Her brother was spooning me wherever she was not while I recovered with Jo pushing me every day to let the light in. Literally. Meningitis left me with a horrible light sensitivity and during the recovery that included spinal headaches and passing out from pain, I had to hibernate like a vampire until my strength came back. But the sunlight returned for me. Thank Christ because Teeny LIVED for basking in the sun until she was well done and limp. My California Girl.
I got a call when I was resting one day and it was a production coordinator asking if I would like to work on a Boston-based movie for a long period of time and that was the call back East for me. I had TEN days until work began. My mom assured me it would be no problem to get me healthy enough because you know she wanted me under her watch while I recovered! On Valentine’s Day 2008 my mom, Teeny and I boarded the first class cabin of an AA flight (from a wheelchair in the airport mind you) and that was the last time we would call LA home.
My Auntie Jean was elated to watch Teeny daily while I worked. She and Auntie Rita lived with my parents while I lived in the finished loft of the barn on their property. My Aunties had been rescuing animals all their lives and were over the moon that I also felt this call and brought a very spunky, very easy dog into their lives. They were in their 80’s by then and the perfect caretakers for my Teeny. She needed sun, snacks and a soft place to curl up. She loved to run, but that was on my watch. And by run I mean leap in full double suspension gait across the yard like a gazelle. It was a remarkable site to see. She could outrun any dog with grace and beauty. How agile her long legs and streamlined body made her. She felt almost hollow when you picked her up. Made to fly!
You may be wondering “where is Cooper?” in all this. My ex and I had always said if we split we would split them. After much back and forth on what was best for them (we had a very amicable parting of ways) it was decided that Cooper would stay put. This broke my heart, but ended up being the best decision. They were much better pups apart. They had a love hate relationship that left Teeny with some interesting food guarding issues in regards to other dogs. She was finally the only dog, which pleased her you could tell. If only she knew what lay ahead on our journey together!
While I continued to work film and produce a short film in the Boston area I could not shake this calling to work with dogs. Film was my industry, but my free spirit and what I didn’t know was an entrepreneurial spirit made every day a struggle. Anxiety was high. I wanted more time with Teeny and my family. I went to a party one night and met the husband of a friend’s friend, who had just become a certified dog trainer via some online school based in CA (of course) named Animal Behavior College. Lord, this was a THING?! You know I wasn’t giving up my career to do anything less than legitimate so I started my research and joined up with the help (once again!) of my parents.
I’m pretty sure no one understood what the actual F I was doing including myself, but the fire was burning and continued to grow. I volunteered at a shelter and began training with the more difficult dogs there. Every moment of progress drew me in deeper. I felt needed. It was rewarding. No more frivolity. No more putting out fires for other people and giving my time and talents to the hurry up and wait game. This was tangible. Gratifying. Soul-satisfying. This work spoke to my altruistic nature beyond description. And it was all fueled by my Teeny.
The unwanted and unloved could be understood and given the tools needed to connect with a human, who could give them a chance. And all without the use of force and fear and ego. How to bring this idea to the community? How to grow this work to bring the joy and connection of me and Teeny’s relationship to others?
Sitting around the dinner table with my family and my boyfriend at the time, one Michael Coughlin, I told everyone I wanted to move away from film and to start my own business. Canine care and training. I had the pleasure of working through my program with a lovely local mentor named Bette Yip. She had a thriving business in the Arlington area and she had hired me as a staff trainer to cut my teeth. Instead of looks of confusion I was met with excitement. We brainstormed names for my venture. “The Puppy Au Pair!” ($5 to the person who guesses who suggested that.) Nothing was sticking for me. I looked down at my lap at my second rescue pup, Nelly, who was a little badass with a natural mo-hawk. “Bark n’ Roll!” (Forgot to mention I adopted a sister for Teeny much to her chagrin during a volunteer shift at the shelter. Rest assured they became best friends and cuddle buddies until the end).
And Teeny helped facilitate it all. I brought her on walks with dogs that needed some social time. She was my mini ambassador and an advocate for Chihuahuas and Chi mixes everywhere. All 13 pounds of her inspired me towards a movement that fuels my work and the work of Team BnR today.
Teeny was never sick a day in her life. Not even one tummy trouble her entire life. Once in awhile she would break her dew claw from racing and chasing bunnies (and sometimes catching them!) with her brother Finn. That was the extent of it. So in August of 2018 when my mom and dad witnessed her first seizure and came running to me with her in their arms I was shocked. Another happened a month later. And then a month later. My girl was diagnosed with a brain tumor by Dr. Silver and her team at MA Vet in Woburn in January of 2019. They were supportive that I didn’t want aggressive treatment for my senior girl and we did pheno once a day and eventually added in prednisone daily. This kept her having only one seizure a month or less for the rest of her life. And she lived it up until the end. Less racing, but no less sass. She became known as Gordon Ramsey while she furiously barked at us to make it snappy while we prepared her meals. “Yes, Chef!” “You don’t like it, Chef?!” “So sorry, Chef! I’m an idiot sandwich!” She ate at least 8 times a day over the last few months. She was restless and hangry, but so peaceful when she would settle.
It was only when she wasn’t able to keep her food down and showed less interest in her final week that we knew it was time. Prior to that she was still leaping on and off the couch, giving her siblings shit for when they wouldn’t get out of a spot she wanted to rest in, and fighting the good fight like a Warrior Queen. I was certain she would never leave on her own so we made the decision that every parent of a furry family member dreads. Dr. Couts from VCA came over and we all gathered around including Ophelia and stroked Teeny on our bed. She was purring and relishing in the love and soft blankets and peace that we all shared. And then she moved on in the most beautiful and peaceful way I have ever experienced.
Half of me feels missing. I feel lost. I want more time. I want more Teeny cuddles. I want forever. I saw her brown fur and ears out of the corner of my eye today in her favorite dog bed. It was a fleeting glimpse but unmistakably my Teeny.
There is a connection we have with our dogs that is supernatural. Inexplicable. Impossible to explain. When we truly spend the time to build a relationship based on love and respect and understanding we can enjoy something so unique and irreplaceable. I am so honored to be able to help others in their journeys with their loved ones. Nothing gives me greater joy to make the lives of our canine companions better, and to help humans to forge these unbreakable bonds.
Teeny, you did this. You sparked this fire and this fire has spread. It has lit up the lives of so many, who have sought guidance and a better life for their dogs. There is more to be learned. So much more work to do. You’ll be my guiding light no matter how dark it can get. Thank you. Thank you for being blissfully unaware of how much I depended on you every day to get up, get out and stay the course. Thank you for being true. You always chose me and I always chose you. That’s what old friends do. We always come back to each other. I’ll not take for granted the glimpses and the moments that my human mind will try to explain away. I’ll remain fully open to your spirit and always carry it inside me until we are reunited in whatever afterlife awaits.