SAN ANTONIO — Kelly Irish never planned on falling in love that day seven years ago. But a friend called, saying a dog was at the pound and about to be put down, and pleaded with Irish to save her.
So Irish ran to a pet store, frantic, buying three different kinds of collars and leashes, not knowing what would work, as she'd never had a dog before. She always wanted one, but growing up, she and her single mom didn't have the time or money. So Irish had cheap pets; a mouse, a snake, a parakeet.
Irish couldn't catch her breath, she was so nervous. What am I doing? she thought, shakily signing papers and handing over money at the shelter. But then a worker brought out the dog — a Doberman named Libra, who was sick and old. The worker let go of Libra's leash and the dog walked over to Irish and lay down at her feet. It was an instant connection.
"Now I understand the whole 'man's best friend' thing," she said.
"I swear to God, we could look into each other's eyes and know what the other was thinking."
Irish became that pet owner she always scoffed at before. She painted Libra's toenails and put her in outfits. They went to the beach and Libra slept in the bed. But then one day, after five years together, Irish came home and found Libra curled up on the kitchen floor. She had passed away in her sleep.
Irish was thankful Libra died peacefully, but her grief was deep and fierce. She told herself that she would not get another dog until she had a house — and the dog had to be a chihuahua named Bubbles. She thought it would be good to have a small dog, especially with her fondness for pet costumes.
"When you dress up a small dog, people think it's cute," she said. "But when you do that to a 100-pound dog, people just think you're disturbed."
Bubbles sounded like a nice name, as Irish — who now owns a business handcrafting natural soaps — is a bubbly person.
A few weeks after Libra's death, Irish was on her way to Paws in the Park, an event in San Antonio that raises money for Spay Pasco, a low-cost spay and neuter program. At the time, Irish worked for a blood donation organization and was going to the festival to help out with their bloodmobile.
I'm not getting a dog, she kept telling herself. She knew there would be dogs at the festival for adoption. She wasn't ready — her heart was still broken. So she made the rules specific.
If fate wanted to intervene, it could, but on these terms.
I have to own a house.
And I have to find a chihuahua named Bubbles.
A few miles away from the park, Irish got a call from her real estate agent. Everything went through on a house Irish was looking at.
"You can sign the papers now," the agent said. So Irish stopped by the office and signed the documents. Then Irish, now a homeowner, went to the festival.
At the first table she approached, there was a tiny, spotted dog wearing a green vest.
"What is it?" she asked.
"A chihuahua," a volunteer said.
"Really?" Irish said. "What's her name?"
"Bubbles," the volunteer said.
And Irish sobbed.
She picked her up the next day and took her home.
But it wasn't immediate love, as it was with Libra. Bubbles, an older dog, was skittish and had health problems. She had rotten teeth and infected sores all over her body. Bubbles did not smell good. Irish couldn't hold her because of how much the dog's skin ached. Irish found out that Bubbles wasn't a chihuahua, but a miniature fox terrier.
After a few weeks, Bubbles got better. One day, Irish was playing with different names — Bubbles didn't seem like a Bubbles.
"Tinkerbelle," Irish said, and the dog perked her ears and danced. Whatever her name was in her previous life, it must have sounded similar to that name. Because she responded to it, her name became Tinkerbelle.
A year later, Irish adopted another rescue — a toy Manchester terrier who had been run over by a car. One of his front legs had to be amputated, so Irish calls him Captain Hook. She makes costumes for both of them and paints Tinkerbelle's nails.
She used to think people who treat their pets like children were ridiculous. But then she met Libra and, when she didn't know if she could love like that again, she met Tinkerbelle — totally different, sick, stinky, scared, small, a love that took work and patience but then one day, after months, she looked into her eyes and felt that same bond she didn't know existed before, in her past, dog-free life.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.