She Had Me at Hello

Jedediah Bila

By Jedediah Bila

Dedicated to the memory of Griffen Levin.

 She sat on my lap looking up at me for a few seconds, then let out a big yawn. She tilted her head, darted up my chest, and found a home on my left shoulder. She was so tiny – a mere 1.5 pounds of white fluff – and she seemed to be searching for a warm nook to crawl into. I covered her with a small fleece washcloth and rocked her to sleep.

That was the first time I saw Emma. And I guess you could say she had me at hello.

Her photo had instantly caught my eye two weeks prior. She was so expressive. I had seen hundreds of photos of puppies that month. So many of them were adorable, but something about Emma was different. I can’t explain it, but I had to see her in person. So, my best friend and I drove up to the Catskill Mountains to meet her.

I knew from the first moment she looked at me that she was mine. But just to make sure I was convinced, she let out a tiny bark of disapproval when her owner took her out of my arms. Let’s just say I was quick to sign on the dotted line.

I named Emma after a wide-eyed little girl I’d met in Manhattan one night. She wasn’t more than six and had complimented me on my American flag pin. “I’m Emma and I love America,” she had said. Someone in her family had done something right.

I had to wait four weeks to bring Emma home, as her owner wanted to keep all the pups with their mom until the twelve-week mark. The wait was torture, but it gave me time to puppy-proof my apartment and get ready for her arrival. I bought baby blankets, a puppy playpen, toys, food, dishes, and treats. I was a little nervous. I knew that caring for a dog would be a big responsibility. And it certainly has been. But it has also been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life.

Emma has made my house a home.

What’s she like? Well, she loves to play tug of war and is very much a tomboy (like her mom). She adores people and likes to explore New York City streets on quieter days and nights. If you’re a dog lover, she’ll sense it, jump all over you, and want to give you kisses. She’s not afraid of big dogs and often scares the heck out of a neighborhood Rottweiler as she charges over to sniff him. She’s been to New Hampshire and even attended Sarah Palin’s Rochester book signing in November of 2009. My best friend was kind enough to come along and babysit her while I conducted interviews for a column.

Emma loves to sleep, mostly because she’s wild about blankets. And she knows so many words. Outside, walk, chicken, grandma, look, blueberry, carrot, go, liver, hungry, bedtime, mommy, and cookie are just a few. She loves to watch television and barks at the TV when I’m on. How the heck does she know it’s me?

She is also an avid reader. Ahem. Her favorite book to nibble on is Michelle Malkin’s Culture of Corruption. (Sorry, Michelle!) One of the pages of David Limbaugh’s Crimes Against Liberty has been stained with sweet potato. It took me three days to get Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny away from her.

Oh, and she has quite a wardrobe. Mostly conservative, but there’s always room for jammies and hoodies. Every now and then she goes rogue.

The truth is that I can’t imagine life without her. And I’m sure that many with pets who have touched their hearts feel exactly the same way. When I have a bad day, hearing Emma’s excited squeaks as my key turns in the lock immediately brings a smile to my face. When I’m sad, she knows it and rushes to my side to try to make it better. When she goes out for a walk with my best friend and I surprise them at the park, she runs toward me at full speed with excitement. And when I sense that she’s not feeling well, my heart breaks and I wish that somehow God would make her talk and tell me what’s wrong.

Perhaps Mark Levin said it best when speaking of his dog Sprite in his touching book, Rescuing Sprite: “But the truth is, Sprite did more for us than we ever could have done for him.” I feel exactly the same way about Emma. She has taught me more about trust, loyalty, commitment, and honesty than I could ever have dreamt of teaching her.

Emma will be two in February, and she has already shown me that a dog’s wisdom is invaluable. It’s like they’re able to look right past the nonsense, clutch what’s really important, and put it before your eyes. They also have an incredible ability to assess someone’s character in an instant. They’ll show you by their actions who is worthy of trust. And they’ll leap to protect you from what they sense might cause you harm.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for bringing Emma into my life. I’m a better person because of her. And I know that no matter what happens in life, I’ll carry her in my heart every single day.

Life can get busy. Jobs and financial stresses can take a toll. Relationships aren’t easy. At the end of difficult days, never underestimate the power of your pets to teach you so many of life’s lessons.

Kiss them, hug them, thank them, and take a moment to discover what you might never have learned without them.

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10 years ago

I just retired from 30 years medical practice.and If I had a dollar for every time I asked myself “Why didn’t you become a vet,” I could feed all the dogs in the world.

ron jossendal
10 years ago

animals are so much smarter than people and their love is unconditional!

Arbie Taylor
10 years ago

What a great insight into the true value of “man’s best friend”. We purchased a miniature Schnauzer for our daughters. Due to their allergies, we needed a dog that did not shed. She has been a real learning experience! We call her a little neurotic, because she literally cries when we leave and screams when we come back home. She sleeps under the covers at the foot of our bed and follows my wife like a shadow. No matter what kind of day we have had, she is always ready to play and give us her unconditional love. We now live on three acres and my wife is already wanting a bunch more dogs. Dogs surely are one of God’s finest examples of how to give unconditional love!

10 years ago

Thank you for a very touching column. May you, your family, and fans have a blessed day.

Tom Harrison
10 years ago

Few things more heart warming than a loyal, loving puppy. One of my most wonderful experiences was the birth of 11 puppies by my golden retriever when my 3 kids were young. It taught me and my children a lot and was a fantastic time in our lives.

10 years ago

Thank you. All the best in 2011 !

Conservative Pup
10 years ago

Very nice, Jedediah, very nice. I too believe, as another person said above, that the dog (d-o-G) is one of God’s greatest gifts to us and shows us what unconditional love looks like. I’m so glad you found Emma; I can’t imagine life without a dog. Mine make me laugh every day, they are a joy.

It was very nice of you to dedicate this in Griffen’s memory.

Rhonda Richardson
10 years ago

You are so right about how you get a dog. One of my dogs especially picked me. There were about 10 to 15 Blue Heeler dogs running around. Some completely ignored me, some hid and some were playing with each other. Then this one came over to me and looked at me. I picked herup and she sat in my arms and basically asked me when we were going. Since getting Sadie 4 others were added. The personalities of each dog different from one another sometimes a little crazy in this house but wouldn’t trade their devotion and love for anything.

10 years ago

After ten years of having my heart stolen, I will be taking my Babe to the vet for the last time tomorrow. Like you, it was love at first sight, and the weekend the shelter had to keep her (to “fix” her, how was she broken??) were the longest two days of my life. After a short battle with cancer, my little (once 52 pound Staffordshire mix, now 42 pounds) Puppyface won’t be there to greet me anymore. I know I’ll make it through tomorrow. But life won’t be the same without my Babe. I first met her at PetSmart. We were looking for a little buddy for our dog Angel (a whole other story) who spent days alone as we both worked. She was sleeping in the little caged area and of course they let me carry her around in my arms in the store. On the radio in the store, Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” was playing. Angel passed away two years ago at 16. Babe will only be about 10 and a half. We picked December 1 as her birthday. Tomorrow will be the first time in 30 years we haven’t had a dog in the house. But, like you, she had my heart from the first. I know that she will be there to greet me when it’s my turn, along with Sydney, Myrtle, and Angel. I can only hope to grow into the person my dog thinks I am. Babe has made my life so better.

Lisa Cawelti
10 years ago

Thank you for this story. It has truly touched my heart. ;)

10 years ago

I got a great PowerPoint “presentation” about dogs in the e-mail on the same day as I read your appreciation above. This is turning into quite the wonderful doggie day.
I thought that if I got myself a pug, I would call him “Nacious.” But I’m keeping my eye out for a cream colored French Bull.

Greg Chamberlin
10 years ago

Thank you so much for this story. I have always believed there is a symbiotic relationship between dogs and people – as if God gave us dogs to help us understand what is meant by unconditional love.

A keeper of four furry friendsm

Terry Aperavich
10 years ago

I made the conversion from dogs to cats about 25 years ago, and simply do not know how I’d end the day without my five furballs making a big fuss about me when I get home. Ghandi was right when he observed that you can tell a lot about a country by how they treat their animals, but what he forgot to describe was just how futile a person’s life seem if there wasn’t an animal around to share their love with us. So please tell Emma that Lilly, Molly, Gracie, Daisy, and Harley send their regards from Florida. :)

dennis czajka
10 years ago

Mark Twain once said: “If you take in a stray dog and feed it, care for it and cause it to prosper, it will not bite you. This is the difference between dogs and people.”

Eddie Zingerman
10 years ago

I loved your article about Emma…it brought back memories of Sissy, my female Visla. Sissy could judge a person’s character in a heartbeat and she had a specific sounding warning bark to alert me. At the end of the day if Life had bruised my soul Sissy was aware and wouldn’t stop bothering me until she had my complete attention. It was then she would let me know that everything would be okay. She knew just how to heal the wounds caused by living. It was as if she could feel my innermost feelings and knew exactly how to fix them. Today Sissy is running through God’s Heaven waiting on me! Thank you for your article…God bless Emma!

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