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The Dog I Never Wanted

October 27, 2022

I am not a dog person. I like dogs, but am not one of those people who’ll risk her life stopping in traffic to save a dog I don’t know. My friend, Carolyn will do that. God bless her, I admire her bravery, but that’s just not me. That’s why it took me a few margaritas to start on the long road toward loving a dog, I never even wanted.

We were visiting friends at a cool, old beach house in Malibu in 2005 and our friends, Andy and Charen brought their adorable Corgi named Maggie. Margaritas were served, but there were no snacks to soak up the alcohol and after margarita #2, I was impervious to common sense.

Our kids were there playing with Maggie, and my daughter, Milena was smitten. The begging started with, “Can we pleeeeeeease get a dog like Maggie? She’s so cute.” It continued and continued.

My ex grew up with a Corgi and loved it, so he was completely sold. We already had a chocolate lab I never wanted named Cosmo, who had devoured my favorite, new, expensive, pink Victoria’s Secret panties and several Malibu lights, which had been firmly planted in our yard. I was not sold on having another panty/light eater in the house, so I balked.

But alcohol and whining kids have a way of wearing you down, so I gave in. I figured Andy and Charen, who lived in Montana, would never actually breed their dogs like they said they would, and if they did I could claim I was in an alcoholic stupor when I agreed. (Don’t worry, we finally ate and were sober on the drive home.)

A year later, we got word that Maggie had done the deed with a fellow Corgi named Harley and delivered several adorable pure breed Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppies. Andy called saying there were still a couple unclaimed puppies and asked if we still wanted one. The runt of the litter was an adorable golden brown puppy they called Peanut.

Milena saw his photo and was smitten. So, we decided we needed a family road trip to Montana to retrieve this new offspring. I felt like the clueless character you see in too many Hollywood movie plots who ends up with a child after a night of debauchery.

Meeting Topper (left) and another Corgi – could be Maggie, his mom.

As soon as we walked through the door, Peanut came charging out with a red ribbon on his neck and couldn’t have been cuter. He jumped all over us with irresistible puppy energy and with one lick we were smitten.

So, after a wonderful visit with Andy and Charen in Montana, where every vista looks like a postcard, we sat Peanut in the back seat with Anderson and Milena and took off for home.

For a puppy, he didn’t cry much on the way home, but I do remember him putting Anderson in his place when he got in the little dog’s face and invaded his territory. We named him Topper after an old 50s TV show, which was apt because he was the top dog, no matter how big the other dog was. He, at about 25 pounds – fully grown, and Cosmo, at about 90 pounds, had a few run-ins but Topper never backed down.

When we got home, it was clear Topper would get no training unless I did it. I urged/dragged him up the street because he was terrified of cars and loud noises I forced him to face his fears. Treats and a little discipline worked and we became walking partners.

Even when I was young and at my very hottest, I never got as much attention as Topper. He was a people magnet. A Corgi specimen so perfectly proportioned you’d swear he was a stuffed animal. And he was so fast we named him Topper Banana Lightning Mills. Those legs may have been short but he more than made up for them with his speed, catching at least one stunned squirrel (that we had evidence of).

A girl and her dog.

A couple of years later, after I filed for divorce, Topper became part of my therapy. We walked the streets of Glendale in the evenings when I just needed to get out and talk on the phone to anyone who would listen. And two years later, when I moved across the country after the divorce, I ended up with both the dogs I never wanted. Cosmo didn’t do well in the cold, so we shipped him back to my ex in So Cal where he ended his days quietly in the warmth of southern California.

Topper spent his days running in my dad’s park-like Pennsylvania yard chasing balls my father threw. “Perky , go get it!” my dad yelled as he threw ball after ball, never remembering Topper’s name. Topper, not caring what you called him, flew after the balls, until he grew bored with the routine. Then he’d look my dad squarely in the eye, abruptly turn, and prance right into the woods where he was not allowed to go. No amount of yelling or threats could get him to turn back. (Clearly my training fell a little short.) When he did return, he usually reeked of sewage from the creek deep in the woods and ended up in the tub.

Topper, champion door guardian and mail destroyer.

Topper returned with me to So Cal where he was happily adored by Andy, Milena and their friends. He was a champion paw giver, (click on that highlighted phrase to see) and photogenic eye candy for every dog lover out there. He let the kids wrap him in blankets, make movies with him, hold him in the most awkward of positions, and never got testy with them. Milena’s friends used to borrow him just to take him for a walk in the park because he was so cute.

He guarded us as best he could for a dog about a foot tall. He sat by my front door and jumped up to grab the mail that came through the slot in the door as if it was an armed intruder.

The kids grew up and left, leaving the two of us on our own. Topper and I grew old together, but even there he outdid me with seven years to my one. But at his last vet appointment in the spring, I was told his body was shutting down. He was 16 years old, which is 112 in dog years, so it was understandable. There was nothing I could do but try to enjoy him as much as possible and help him out when the pain became too much.

After years of never letting him on the couch, I put a towel down, and sat him beside me for my Friday night movie watching. One hand on him as he slept, the other in the popcorn bowl. I began taking more time to cuddle him when he whined and did what I could to comfort him. But there were a few times when he got me up at 2, then 3, then 4 a.m. when I was sleep-deprived and not so sweet because I had to get up at 6 a.m. I regret that now. He couldn’t help it.

We had to put Topper down a few weeks ago and I am still heartbroken over it. Milena came home to help me, thank God, because I couldn’t have done it alone.

She put it succinctly when she said, “Wow, now you really are an empty nester.” It’s true, Topper was my last “child.” The house is so silent when I walk in now. And I still have a little twinge of fright when I forget and think, “Oh I better get home so Topper can go out… then I stop myself, remembering he’s not here anymore. After sixteen and a half years, it’s going to take a long time before I’m used to it.

I got his ashes the other day and put them on his dog pillow in the corner because I feel like I still need his presence here. I didn’t think I’d find it comforting, but I guess any Topper presence is better than none. I thought I’d scatter his ashes in the places he loved to run, but I think I want to hold onto them for a while.

Topper proved to me that sometimes what you think you don’t want is the very thing you end up loving the most. Topper even inspired my friend Mandy to write the poem below, which sums it all up pretty sweetly. Farewell my wonderful companion Topper. You are missed more than I could have ever imagined…for a dog I never wanted.

Milena giving Topper her love in his final days.

Nothing quite prepares you,

 And yet one must be strong,

To let one’s pet, leave this life

And grieve when they are gone.

And grieve we must because we know

That is the way of love.

But grief does soften and what remains

Is all they brought to us.

The cutest puppy, the happiest dog, running in the yard.

The avid walking partner that worked you out real hard!

The friends he made, the travels he paved,

Your buddy all the way,

Through thick and thin and snow and wind,

Milena and Topper, the puppy she so badly wanted.

Beside you till this day.

Be kind to you Fran and know it’s true –

Every hello has a goodbye.

Your loving gift to let him pass

With you both there by his side.

A great dog’s life and easy passing,

What couldn’t be more proper?

And that was you – you lucky boy,

We’ll always love you, Topper.

  • Reply
    October 31, 2022 at 2:14 am

    Oh Fran, I’m so sorry. I know the feeling, I’ve lost several dogs, cats, even a ferret, my heart breaks every time but I always end up with another. Fiona, my current sweetheart is 14 and I worry every time she is in a deep sleep. She’s been my savior since my husband passed away over 9 years ago. One of my neighbors has a Pembroke puppy and she is adorable and loving, this from a lady who has never been a big fan of corgis. Fiona is a yorkie/bichon mix rescued from a puppy mill. Hugs to you♥. P.S. Your friend has written a beautiful poem.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      November 1, 2022 at 10:06 am

      Thank you Daedae. Everyone says I should get another dog, but I can’t imagine going through that again. You are a stronger woman than I am! Thanks again for your sweet words and for reading and taking the time to write! xo

  • Reply
    October 29, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    Aw, Fran, I’m so sorry for this deep loss. Your words are so beautiful. And we all feel your love of Topper and his of you by your sharing of them. Much love to you.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      November 1, 2022 at 10:03 am

      Thank you Denice for reading and taking the time to respond. That’s very sweet and it means a lot to me. He was a sweet dog I’ll never forget. I hope he’s chasing balls somewhere now. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    JoAnn Jones
    October 28, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    Absolutely love your post about Topper, very sweet, and shows how things we do not want turn out to be super special at times ❤️❤️❤️

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:44 pm

      Yeah, I guess that which you don’t want can grow on you, can’t it? Thanks JoAnn for reading and taking a moment to respond. It means a lot to me!

  • Reply
    October 28, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    What a beautifully written remembrance of a sweet dog.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you Cynthia. I appreciate that you took the time to read and send a note. I hope all is well. WE are overdue for a chat! I’ll call soon. I hope all is well. xoxo

  • Reply
    October 27, 2022 at 10:49 pm

    You’ve got me crying, Fran. You were lucky to have his company, and Topper (I loved that show) was lucky to have you—and your big smooshy heart. He was a very handsome boy. You and Mandy both did him proud. <3

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:42 pm

      Thank you Linda. I didn’t mean to make you cry, but since you’ve been dealing with a sick pet, you know how awful it feels to be close to losing a beloved companion. Truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m glad I could pay him the tribute he deserved. xoxox

  • Reply
    Pam Ellis
    October 27, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    I am truly sorry for your loss. I know how difficult losing a furry friend is. They are the best. I loved the tribute which you wrote for him. I am certain that he loved it too.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks Pam. I hope Topper knew how much I loved him, even if it took me 16 years to let him sit on the couch with me. Thanks for taking the time to write. I owe you guys a phone call. I hope all is well. xoxo

  • Reply
    October 27, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    You always have the perfect and beautiful way of sharing. Topper was a little sweetheart who will be missed. Sending you a big HUG.

  • Reply
    October 27, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Your words are always beautiful and perfect. Thank you for sharing your journey with Topper. He was such a little sweetheart. Think of you often especially when I pass your place near me on Verdugo. My heart goes out to you at this time and I am sending you a big HUG. Sounds like a good time for a glass of Prosecco and Apricot. Wishing you the very best during this new journey.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:35 pm

      Oh Burse, thank you so much for that sweet note. I appreciate that you still read and take the time to comment. Yes to that Prosecco for sure. I’ve earned it with my tears. I hope you are well! Hugs to you too.

  • Reply
    The Seething Brain
    October 27, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    Dear Fran, I’m so sorry to hear about your sweet Topper. Sending lots of love.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:37 pm

      Awww, Camilla. Thank you. You most certainly understand with those sweet dogs of yours.Give them a pat for me, give one to PJ too! 🙂

  • Reply
    Colleen Rudnicki
    October 27, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    I love this. I didn’t realize you were not a dog person. But I certainly understand how this little animals can just worm their way into your heart become your best friend. Well done Franny! My sympathies on your loss.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 28, 2022 at 3:38 pm

      Yeah, the little guy was just too cool not to love. I miss him every day, but he was really weakening every day and in pain, so I’m glad he didn’t suffer any longer. Thank you Colleen.

  • Reply
    October 27, 2022 at 11:35 am

    When I hear Topper I think of Cary Grant in the 1937 movie, which I loved. I always wondered what his namesake was. Your writing always evokes pure emotions and memories. Thanks for sharing this sixteen year journey. He was a very handsome doggy. I’m so glad you had Topper to keep you company. Rest now Topper at peace. Big hugs to you, Fran. ❤️‍🩹

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you Theresa, you are so wonderful for always reading and taking the time to write. It’s certainly a chapter closed and a new one always opens. Who knows what it will bring? Hugs to you and Joe!

  • Reply
    Chas Madonio
    October 27, 2022 at 11:04 am

    I must admit, this brought me to tears. One of life’s toughest challenges is to say goodbye to a pet. I have gone thru it a number of times and it never gets any easier. But that didn’t deter me from getting another dog because the love you get from a dog during their lifetime is such a treasure. My life would be poorer if I hadn’t had all the dogs that I have loved and been loved in return. You have my heartfelt sympathy. This was a lovely tribute to Topper and your friend’s poem was very touching

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 1:00 pm

      Oh Chas, I KNEW you’d understand. You are stronger than me. I can’t imagine going through that again. My friend Carolyn, the dog saver says the same thing you do. She always has a dog around. I think Topper will be my last, but I suppose you never say never. I hope you and Nancy are well and enjoying the fall. xoxo

  • Reply
    Julia Shure
    October 27, 2022 at 10:54 am

    A beautiful memoir, Fran. So hard to lose a beloved pet.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks Julia. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I can’t imagine getting another pet. Thanks for reading and taking the time to write. I hope you, Marc and the girls are well.

  • Reply
    Howie 😜
    October 27, 2022 at 9:48 am

    One of life’s hardest endings. I’m sure he’s bragging to the other pups about what a good life he lived!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 9:54 am

      I sure hope so. Maybe they’re having a give me your paw competition!

  • Reply
    Nicol Z
    October 27, 2022 at 8:57 am

    I hope you can feel the hug I am wrapping around you and sweet Topper’s spirit as I read this. We love you.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 9:53 am

      I can feel it! Thank you Nicol for always reading and taking the time to comment. xoxoxo!

  • Reply
    Charles Burkett
    October 27, 2022 at 7:38 am


    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 9:53 am

      Thanks Chuck. I wish you could have seen him in his prime. He was awesome.

  • Reply
    October 27, 2022 at 7:17 am

    🥲 Sweet boy – what a lovely tribute

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      October 27, 2022 at 9:52 am

      Thank you Ashley, so good to hear from you. I will always remember you merrily dancing with us around our island in that great kitchen I used to have. I hope you are well and happy! You are an amazing woman.

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