A Tribute to Pickles Salk

pickles.jpgThe following tribute is from one of my best friends, Pia Salk. I feel honored I knew Pickles and often called her “the cutest dog EVER!”. This tribute is a beautiful recount of what it means to save on life….enjoy..and save a life in her honor… 

A Tribute to Pickles
(AKA) Pic, Pickles Machu, Dr. Pickles, Pic-ki-yoon, Cklzina….My special little girl…

Good things do indeed come in small packages. 
Pickles was proof positive of that.

I have a small frame on my desk that asks and answers the question, “Can rescuing just one animal out of thousands really make a difference?…It made a difference to this one.”  And the little face peering at me from behind the glass is that of my beloved Pickles.  Just looking up with earnest. Genuine. Loving. Present. 
And so while the frame answers one question, that of making a difference in the life of my little Pickles, it does not speak to the other life that has been impacted so profoundly. Mine.  In many ways the love engendered by saving her life has sustained mine. My little snaggle toothed partner was indeed just that…a partner.  And I miss her deeply.
Pickles humble beginnings

“Chihuahua to die Monday.”  That was the email that began a whole new world for me.  My world with Pickles.  A world I will cherish deeply and miss more than I can possibly express. 
I received that Email late on Friday November 10th in 2000 while I was living in Atlanta GA. There was little information other than an estimated age of 8 years.
I was not looking to have a dog but knew that the little soul I’d just met in cyberspace needed a chance.  I was not planning to keep her. I just knew I could make room in my place for this little 6 pounder to at least secure her life. Little did I know that the ‘little’ space I was making for this ‘little’ dog was now opening up a place in my heart that would be anything but little.  That 4-legged gremlin quickly moved through every chamber of my heart and unpacked her things.  While I knew not what the plan was for her, I think she somehow did.  She was staying and the real ‘Pickles and Pia show’ was in full production.
I found my way to the shelter that Monday morning.  It was in rural Georgia and looked like any old house you’d see along the road if not for the government sign indicating it was a government agency.  I entered and quickly requested that they simply get the dog with impound number 008767P from the back as I knew I would not be able to handle seeing the faces of others who also needed a space in someone’s heart to settle into.  I offered up her impound number and waited anxiously. 
Within minutes, a filthy, scrappy little creature came peering around a run down paint chipped corner and I introduced myself.  I felt totally lost as I really had never had a dog of my own and knew nothing about these little ones.  Her fur was matted and crusted down with God knows what.  I learned that she had been found running along the highway with no tags, had not been spayed and likely had a few litters already.
As I filled out the paper work to take her, the woman working there decided to share that they also “had a golden retriever in the gas chamber but they had not turned on the gas yet…’ That’s exactly what she said.
My vision narrowed, heart raced and I simply asked for a second set of paper work.
So even at the very get go, Pickles impact was felt by way of her having saved one of her fellow canines by proxy.  My filthy shit covered new friends and I loaded into what was my mustard colored Volvo 240 station wagon at the time and we headed home. 
3 little souls with no real plan but lots of love to give and the ability to figure it out as we went along.  Sometimes the best kind of plan really.

Securing a home for Max the dog was a story in itself but suffice it to say that he ended up with a wonderful family whose kids considered him a sibling and he was treated with the love and respect that they all deserve as their birthright.
Pickles and I spent the following days kinda checking each other out…staring at each other curiously and considering a plan.  Well maybe I was the one considering a plan while she absolutely had to know that she would be signing the lease and simply needed to scope out which would be her favorite napping spots.
 So it all began to unfold and within a month I got to hear her first bark and the first signs of what would ultimately become the most amazing welcome home anyone could ever wish for.  Those of you who got to witness her very vocal and unusual interpretive dance when I would arrive home, know what I am talking about.  It was akin to a rain dance you might see in a hill tribe and was punctuated by sprints to and from the water bowl.
That welcome home dance is something I will cherish ever moment of my life.  Words cannot express how lucky I feel to have been its recipient.  And it so artfully confirmed the depth of love that exists in these creatures who are our kin.
A deeper understanding…

So as I reflect on Pickles life and how she came in to mine, I am aware that on that fateful Friday in 2000, I did not say, “I don’t have the space or time…” I said, “I will make the space and time.’
And it is when we make this space, both literally and figuratively, that our world opens up in ways we could never have imagined.  Each time we make such choices we continue to become who we are meant to become. 
We never know the outcome of such choices but the important part is that we make them and not remain rigidly attached to things or ideas that limit us in our ability to give and receive love.  The same goes for new ideas and beliefs.  They may serve us for a time but it is maintaining a degree of openness to change and expansion that can bring about the most profound and gratifying shifts in our respective lives. We need not set up house with them right away but at least invite them in for a cup of tea and then decide.
So pickles came in for a cup of tea and what followed was a shared life that I would not trade for anything in the world.  She made me a better person. She made children and adults smile. She made people aware of what treasures exist, young and old, in each and every shelter, in each and every city, each and every minute, of each and every day.
People say she was so lucky to have had me.  And while I know this to be true, I feel deeply that it is I who have been lucky.  She gave me the chance to actually become more of who I am.  And that is what our little creatures do for us in any ways. They allow us to experience our ability to make positive impact. They introduce us to the ways in which we can be flexible and creative; to expand our lives or alter our routines to include the very ingredients of a life well lived.
We become defined by our commitment to these fellow souls. We pick our housing, our jobs, and schedules around them.  We look for vacation destinations to include them. Sometimes we look to them for an assessment of whom we are dating.  Conversely we assess our human partners based upon the degree of respect they pay to our deserving little friends.
For some, an even deeper understanding and kindness is born of the connection they see between their own companion animal and the millions of other animals who reside in city shelters, research labs, factory farms and endangered in the wild.  It is what we see reflected in little faces like that of Pickles that plants the seeds of a greater humanity. A humanity that I know for me has come to define who I am.  And I am grateful.
For children and adults alike, many find the only solace they know in the gaze of their furry best friends.  We learn about the sanctity of life overall, not just that of the human animal.  And my hope is that we can each hang on to those early instincts that refute what the world will ultimately try to teach us about other species; That they are somehow of less value, less worthy of experiencing joy and protection from suffering.
I cannot imagine my life with out my little girl.  I feel like I’m missing my touchstone and unsure how to proceed.  But at the same time I feel calm and grateful, as I know she made a positive impact on all who got to experience her freckly little ways. And she is at peace. A feeling all animals should get to have, both during their time on earth and once they have passed on.
Pickles wore many hats. Both literally and figuratively…

Pickles as daughter:  She filled me with motherly pride.  I silently applauded her irreverent ways.  My precocious little girl walked proudly about.  While small in stature, she was anything but small in this world.  She had a lot of moxie and made her mama proud each and every day.
Pickles as sister:  She ruled the roost and made her feelings known as her siblings came too close.  She held court and determined everyone else’s proximity to her with a low growl.  She put her pit bull sister in the corner if she felt it was needed and everyone learned that a strong sense of self is all you really need to get your needs met.  Occasionally she would allow Luna or Max to lay close enough to have their tushies touching.

Pickles as doctoral student: When I began my doctoral work on Sept 12, 2001 (the day after 911) she was right there with me.  She attended classes and could often be heard snoring by my side as my colleagues and I navigated our course of study.  She became the fitting mascot for the pioneer class of this new program. But then, as bureaucracy would have it, somewhere along the way and with no good reason, the school decided to institute a ‘no dogs policy.’
So when I was asked to be the commencement speaker by my graduating class, you can imagine to whom I awarded the first doctorate. I began my speech by referencing a special classmate who was unable to complete the program due to ‘life’s constraints.’ Pickles was brought to the stage and hooded with all the ceremony commanded by the first ever to officially receive a doctorate from this institution.
The crowd cheered, my colleagues felt the solidarity she had come to represent for us and the faculty was speckled with those who celebrated the gesture and secretly applauded the proverbial middle finger being given to institutional rigidity.
Pickles as therapist:  She typically accompanied me to work when I was working as a therapist at a nearby school. Invariably she put a smile on everyone’s face and got them sharing stories about companion animals in their own lives.  Administrators and maintenance staff would find reasons to stop by and give her a pat on the head. She brought out the best in people. Even made grumpy people smile.
I joked that she was “the real therapist” but I meant it, as indeed she was.  She offered my clients comfort, acceptance and connection in a way that eludes even the most skilled therapist. I think they often saw themselves in her.  A little soul with a depth of strength born of hard times.  Abandoned once and needing rescue but able to forgive and reap the benefits of the love she commanded just by being herself in all her glory.  A lesson valuable to us all.
Pickles as spokes model:  Her role as the 1-800-Save-a-Pet.com ‘spokes being’ allowed others to witness the joys of adopting an older soul.  She educated viewers that our city shelters are filled with little treasures simply awaiting the opportunity to love and be loved. Her work with SAP led her to marry Mr. Winkle and pee on the set of Frasier, sending LA’s premier dog trainers into a tizzy. She ‘represented’ for her fellow critters who also need loving homes.

Pickles as stowaway: Pickles periodically attended movies swaddled as a human infant. She was a guest in many hotels that did not know they allowed “pets.” She loved carpeted hallways and we would sprint up and down hotel halls whenever we had the chance. It was a sight to behold.
I recall once having to leave her in a hotel room when my friend and I were going to dinner and because she screamed so loud when I would return, we simply screamed and laughed and sang like drunks when we came back to the room to conceal her warm welcome.
She also traveled cross-country on air carriers that did not know they permitted “pets” in the cabin. One flight in particular stands out in my mind. David (of Save a Pet fame) and I had her as our ‘carry on.’ We opened the zipper of her bag slightly so she could peek her head out.  We nodded off and were awakened by the flight attendant’s announcement, “um…is someone on this flight missing a dog? If so, please ring your call button.”
Turns out she had gone to the back of the plane for a martini.  When I went to retrieve her I could tell they were simply giving me an obligatory slap on the hand as they could not help but fall in love with her and I’d like to believe she made them see the absurdity of their policy. She never got her martini. Nor did I.
Pickles as companion: This one might be the hardest loss for me to bear.  She was my partner.  My equal. Really more than my equal but I like to think we had a fair amount in common.
Sounds a bit grandiose, but I saw myself in her in many ways. Small. Scrappy. A little disheveled. Cute but not pretty in a traditional sense.  Well-meaning feisty little souls. Quirky and unaware of how awkward we can be at times. 
I sit and reflect on what I, and others, can take away from knowing my little friend. I guess it’s that we can really only be who we are.  And that to love the imperfect in ourselves and in others is as genuine a love as there is.  We need not be perfect- or some societal version of perfect.  We simply need to be ourselves, and love is born from there; The kind of love that does not allow ‘imperfections’ to lead it off course but is in fact strengthened by these very anomalies; A love that celebrates the under bite, freckly feet and low growl in each and every one of us.
And so my beautiful little Pic, I bid you farewell.
I hope and pray that someone up there is doing a welcome home dance for you like the one you always did for me.
Your snaggle teeth. Freckly Dr. Seuss paws. Tongue peeking out. Spittle on your chin.
All your gremlin ways….I will miss you so very much.
Rest in peace my amazing little girl…
I will love you always and I’m so proud to have been your mama.
Thank you for sharing your life with me.

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