Milo, a Portuguese water dog, arrived in our neighborhood in 2007. He moved here from Belmont, Mass., with his younger, mouthier sister Ella and his two humans, Nancy and David. When I met him, he was 7 and his bossy sister was just a puppy.
At the time, our family’s pet portfolio included two lost cats, eight dead zebra finches (never substitute parsley for carrot tops) and one or two starved goldfish.
Our eight dead finches started out as two beautiful lovebirds given to me on Valentine’s Day. Their size and color were irresistible, and the fact that they might make babies, in their cage, in our house, witnessed by our 10-year-old child, seemed like the perfect live-action experience.
When the first clutch (that’s what you call a finch litter) hatched, it was like a dream: Four miniature birds, each the size of my baby fingernail, made their presence known by shoving one of their mates over the side of the nest. Mercifully, my husband was there to see it and scooped the half-inch bird from the bottom of its cage with a piece of paper, returning it to its bed.
Watching baby birds turn to teenage birds and then to adult birds was fascinating, until the incest started. Two finches turned to eight in less than a year. Eight mutant zebra finches, just in case you are considering buying one, make a squeaking noise that sounds like a chorus of dog toys.
One night, when I arrived home after everyone else had gone to sleep, my husband woke up just long enough to say, “We have a bird problem,” adding, in a mumble, “Jonestown.”
I pulled back the blanket that we draped over the birds’ confines at night to muffle their annoying squeaking and witnessed all eight finches supine at the bottom of their cage. Never substitute parsley for carrot tops.
I’m too embarrassed to tell you the cat stories.
Needless to say, we were not mature enough for a dog. We justified this by telling each other that a dog was too much work and that someone would have to pick up the poop.
The same year that Milo, Ella and their humans moved to our neighborhood from the suburbs of Boston, our daughter, who was 10 at the time, started having panic attacks (no connection between the two events).
She did not feel safe in crowds. Walking down a busy street with her was nearly impossible. We discovered, however, that dogs, including Milo and Ella, calmed her down and made her feel safe. We began to reconsider the idea of having a dog.
When a friend’s female setter gave birth to 12 adorable puppies, my husband took our daughter to meet them. By the end of the visit, she had named and claimed the runt.
Millie, now 6, is part of our family. We are completely neurotic about her. Millie will never be fed anything that might harm her. She sleeps wherever she wants to, and she is the only one in our family who everyone is nice to, all the time.
Last year, in the middle of the Boston Marathon bombing, 14-year-old Milo, who had been sick for months, took a turn for the worse, forcing our friends Nancy and David to make a decision all pet owners have to make: wait it out or put him down to end his suffering.
On April 19, 2013, they said goodbye to their beloved dog.
Too sad to face friends, they hunkered down in front of the TV to watch the most bizarre reality show in history: snipers in their old Boston neighborhoods and helicopters flying over streets they knew well. A tragedy so much larger than putting their dog down, it somehow brought them comfort. Like watching a really sad movie when you are really sad.
If we are lucky, Millie will live for many more years. (I am the only one who picks up her poop.)
Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at: