The first time I met Penny, a pudgy, 2-year-old Beagle mix whose family no longer wanted her, I was a lonely 26-year-old living in the cold northwoods of rural Wisconsin, and she HUGGED me. She jumped up on my lap, put her front legs around my neck and pressed up her body against mine. I’d never met a dog who gave hugs, but it turned out to be pretty Penny’s signature move, and it instantly endeared her to me.
Not long after I took Penny in, I began to understand why her former family — who had just left a simple, “free to good home” note up in a local business — had wanted to part ways with her. Having been adopted from and returned to a shelter several times, Penny had developed severe separation anxiety. When I left for work, she jumped out of a window and through a screen to follow me. When I tried crating her, she became so distraught she broke her teeth on the door. I worked closely with a compassionate veterinarian on holistic remedies, like exercise, distractions and training, before finally resorting to medication to help ease her nervous mind.
As we worked through this, Penny and I became very close. She came to work with me at the newspaper, gnawing on a bone while I filed my stories. She went on a road trip to Ohio with me. We trudged through walks in the never-ending snow. She snuggled next to me at night, and she even woke me up once when my bloodsugar was dangerously low (I have type 1 diabetes).
Penny died as a result of a tragic car accident, less than one year after she came into my life. She taught me so much about what it means to be a devoted pet parent, and how to help others whose pets are dealing with separation anxiety. My friends, who had been touched by Penny’s hugs and gentle disposition, gathered for a memorial service. She is buried under a flowerbed in Ashland, Wis., and the memories of her loving hugs will always be in my heart.–Karen Hollish