How Pets Influence our Lives: A Story About Polo

Screenshot 2019-07-16 at 14.00.33.png

I never planned on becoming one of those people. You know, the ones that talk about how their pets are part of the family. Well I did and I was. That was clearly evident when we received news that our beloved Polo had lymphoma and he was deteriorating quickly. For a week he had refused his food, had labored breathing and declined our long walks around the park. I noticed the symptoms but attributed them to a cold and then the bladder issues began and there was no turning back. I am aware this may be too much information for some, but for me, I woke up with a pull to write Polo's story because it was so intertwined with our family's. And I miss him. A lot.  

Our girls had petitioned us for a dog for years. I believe since their brother had been born, so we were going on at least three at the time we started considering the notion of adding more crazy to our chaos. It was then, with my husband Jared and I both working retail management positions full time that we agreed to "get a dog". The caveat was that Thing 4 needed to be potty trained before said pet could be acquired. Ha. At the rate that was going I seriously believed that I had a few months, at the least, before we would be asked again.

Little did I know that a few weeks later on a rare day off as a family of six the things and I would wander into a pet shop and discover it was adoption day for the local animal shelter. Hmmm. We looked through the glass and then we spotted him. I am almost certain the kind volunteer took one look at us all and thought "this one’s in the bag". He opened the kennel and brought the sweetest, most rambunctious pup out to meet us. "Oh, we're just looking,” I said. And then two minutes later, after being introduced to "Mohamed", his name at the time, I was calling Jared and asking him to meet us in the back of the store. Ahem. So much for a united front and waiting until that whole potty training thing happened. I could not resist the cuteness. First, of my Things talking in sweet, high pitched voices and secondly of this odd, yet endearing pup that was staring through my soul with his big black, eyeliner eyes.  

If you're wondering, yes, Polo did become ours that day. Although he wasn't able to join us at home for a week, which left us more than enough time to purchase all gear puppy related. Never mind an actual training class or a book on dog behavior. We were parents of four children under the age of five, we had this one in the bag. Laughable I tell you, that's what that thinking was and is. Anyhow, after spending a gazillion dollars on all the necessities, we welcomed our pup home. The big decision weighing on everyone was his name. With four Things all invested in this process we tried to be democratic. Which means, everyone (the kids), wrote their two top choices for his new name on a piece of paper. Our plan being that which ever name was drawn out of the hat would be his name for life. Needless to say that did not go exactly as planned.

Doggy-dog was the first name drawn, after that Mohawk and it digressed from there. The noise level was rising and everyone thought theirs was the best fit. That is when I looked across at Jared sporting a "Polo" brand shirt with the trademark embroidered polo player and I might have shouted, "his name WILL be Polo". And there you have it folks. Democracy out the window, order undone. Parent rule wins. He has been Polo ever since. Or Polo-lolo, or Lollipop, or Marco-Polo and any other of 100 names he has been called. Some of which do not need to be mentioned here.  

So life with a dog and four things under the age of five commenced. Kennel training was a nightmare, the puppy had more energy than any of us had to give and he thought he was herding sheep for a while with our four chasing him around the yard. Thing 4 was just the right size for him to jump on and paw at. Funny enough, none of the Things seemed to mind. They would chase him around the back yard for hours. All four taught him how to climb our stairs and patiently carried  him up when it was time for bed. It was all too sweet. Most of the time. I had no recollection of what life with a puppy would be. Exhausting and frustrating would be my two choice adjectives. The dog was insane. He would jump over our bed, mess the covers and dart from room to room, snagging the berber carpet we had at the time. Better yet, when I would try to stop him, he'd stare me straight in the eye and run the other direction. Yes, funny. At least now it is, at the time, not so much. 

We survived those early puppy months and then Polo had his first plane ride. In June of the following year Polo boarded his first flight to GA, where Jared and Uncle Jeff would be meeting him and then driving him to TN, our soon to be new home. I owe Uncle Jeff and Aunt Natalie a debt of gratitude for all the time they invested in Polo. He had his first taste of a normal schedule, boundaries and rules at their home, along with his cousin Bobby Jackson, the Horel's new puppy. Polo learned not to jump on the counter, or people, and he also learned how to walk properly on a leash. Go figure. It wasn't all roses over there. I love hearing the story of Uncle Jeff catching Polo with his paws on the counter and then how Polo skidded across their floor trying to run away from his master at the time and Uncle Jeff tackling him. The dog was fortunate not to be sent away at that point.  

Soon after the rest of his family arrived and he took up residence with us. The Things could be found chasing him around the neighborhood. That is after they had left the storm door open and he darted out of the house thinking this was a fun game of run away. We did get to know our neighbors well though. There are countless stories to tell here. Trust me, I could go on and on. Polo spent so much time in the backyard here, it was fenced in and one spring day we were planting a garden with the Horel's and Bobby Jackson did not like what Polo was doing, Polo never was a fast learner and so he got the worse end of it was a piece of his ear missing. I was devastated, wrapped his ear in gauze and didn't want to leave him because it wouldn't stop bleeding. He was fine. Here's the thing about Polo he was resilient and forgiving.  

After four years of living in TN we moved abroad and Polo went on another adventure, to AZ this time. He spent the winter there with Poppi and Nana and then returned before the summer heat to live with Gpa and Mema until our return. Polo logged some miles that year and learned about scorpions and desert animals and then ducks and turtles and just how tiring swimming in ponds can be. He had mellowed out a bit at this point, well, at least somewhat. It was a necessary survival mechanism living with four things and having to be flexible in your accommodations. Polo then road tripped to MN, our soon to be new home, with Jared, spent his first night in a people hotel and then had a few weeks reprieve from all of us at the pet hotel.

According to Jared he was quite the road trip companion. Once we were settled in our new home we picked him up from the kennel and I don't know who was happier, us or him. It was as though part of our family was missing. Even while living in Turkey I missed our walks and having him greet us at the door with his wagging tail. In MN Polo learned about winters and icicles on his beard and paws. He sledded and walked on the slippery ice and enjoyed our walks through the prairie.

Usually. I must share one of our favorite stories about Polo at this point because it took place in MN. All of us were gathered in the dining room when Polo realized there was a crumb left behind. It was under the bar stools and he poked his head between the slats when he was stuck. Of course this startled him and his head was lodged in between the slats of the stool and he couldn't get himself free. Once we realized he needed help we came to his rescue but anytime we are reminded of this shenanigan the laughter ensues. Or maybe the time he ate two pounds of raw Italian sausage that was supposed to be our Christmas eve dinner. Then there was the time he ate a dozen chocolate cupcakes, wrappers and all. He loved butter. Anytime sticks of butter were within reach on the counter he would help himself and then stuff the wrapper in the couch cushions, hoping to hide the evidence.

Four years later we were once again moving. This time back to TN. Polo road tripped with us, no flights necessary, and stayed in a people hotel too. His manners left a little to be desired and he dropped a nice present for all the guests in the hallway. Oops. Such is life traveling with a dog, who most of the time thinks he's a person. 

Now the present, for the past, almost two years we have been in TN, Polo included. We began noticing he was slowing down but then he would surprise us with a youthful run or play time and we would happily continue about our business. He no longer ran away when off the leash and was accustomed to sleeping on our beds, usually Thing 4's. The two of them have a special bond.  I like to think that's because they grew up together. Thing 4 would always be right in Polo's face, staring into his eyes, squeezing him, kissing him, etc. You get the picture, right? He tasted his first "pup-cup" from Thing 3's Starbucks and life was good. And then all of a sudden it wasn't.  

Screenshot 2019-07-16 at 14.00.40.png

We all kidded and talked about his demise, I think because we all believed he was going to live forever, or at least until he was sixteen. The Things would ask about getting a puppy to help Polo feel young again, or make comments about what we were going to do when he was gone. Even I would. In my heart I hated to even fathom that notion. He was my sidekick. My shadow and dare I say, my buddy. When no one else was home he and I would have some great conversations. Stirring discussions about nature, what was for dinner, if we should go on a drive with the windows down. All manner of topics. He would curl up underneath my desk when I was writing or grading school work. Polo made it painfully obvious that he was not himself any longer.

It hurt us to watch him suffer and still when it came time to make the decision regarding his diagnosis it wasn't easy. We wanted to hang on a bit longer. Go on one more walk. Have him chase one more treat around the house just so we could watch him when he looked like a rocking horse. But that wouldn't have been best for him. So we had to say goodbye. Friends, let me tell you that was not an easy thing to do. Watching our Things grieve Polo was rough. I couldn't keep it together. It was almost as if he knew. There was a blanket waiting for him in the room and he laid down immediately. We showered him with love and held his fu-man-chu face in our hands and rubbed his ears, all his favorite spots. I kissed him and cried into his neck. And then it was over.  

I woke up today looking for him, waiting for him to come running down the stairs to go outside. I walked over to his water dish to refill it, only to realize Jared had already moved it. Weird, how an animal can become so entrenched into our daily routines and our lives. Polo existed with us.; a part of our family and by doing so I learned so much. It sounds cliche and I hesitated to even write this post because of that, but he did teach me and I did love him. We all did. He taught our children about responsibility, caring for something other than yourself. I learned about forgiveness and unconditional love. It did not matter if I had punished him thirty seconds ago, he would still come to me with his tail wagging, licking my hand and wanting my attention. Especially if I had bacon. Polo was loyal. Our wanna-be courageous guardian. Although, really, he would just bark until you were close enough for him to lick and sniff inappropriately. He tried.

Regardless, I felt safer when I was the only human in the house if he was with me. The dog was not typical. He lived outside the "dog" boundaries and I loved him even more for it, which in turn is an applicable life lesson as a human too. Be you, no one else can. Polo had a gentle, mellow spirit with children, with adults, with other dogs. It was who he was. He was sad when his people weren't around. And now we will be sad without him. So here's to Polo, you are loved and you will be remembered. Thanks for loving us for 12 years, it was a good run.



About the Author: Leanna Hanson

Gathering people around the table, sharing stories and welcoming all to that space are some of Leanna’s favorite things.  Living in Vienna since 2018, Leanna also is learning to navigate the logistical and emotional journey of her three adult daughters residing in the United States (her home country). Additionally, with having experienced multiple moves, she is no stranger to the mental and emotional challenges related to living life in a foreign place - whether that be a new city, state and/or country. Leanna shares her journey on her blog, The Six Hansons.


Here at U!Shine Vienna we hold space for you to share what matters to you, in your own unique way. If you would like your writing to be featured, please fill out this form here.