The first.

I’ve sat down to write this more than a handful of times over the last week or so, trying to share some recent and sensitive news with everyone.  Every time, I carve out an hour and I just start to type.  And every time, my free-flow of emotions settle differently, my “message” varying with each writing session.   When people use the cliche, “…all the feels”, let’s just say… I’m feeling them.  So I’ll just get right to it…

I lost my dog.

My old girl, my “first-born”, Deliah Maye (or as we called her the last few years, “Doodle”) is gone.  And it hurts far more than I expected, with all kinds of self-reflection consuming my thoughts lately.  But instead of sharing a bunch of deep, introspective shit right now, I’ll just share our story.

With the temperament of a little old Grandma from the very day I got her, she was my baby.  I was fresh out of high school and had just moved to Nashville.  Upon arrival, I had never driven my car through fast food drive-thru, never wrote a check, having literally nothing to my name but an artifact Nokia phone that my parents let me take down to Tennessee with me.  I was young, clueless, and inevitably, homesick.  I was living in a garage apartment in my managers’ home in Kingston Springs and had just released my very first album.  Musically, things were busy and incredibly exciting.  However, I completely lacked any kind of social life, which made being on the brink of adulthood much harder.  All my music peers were considerably older than me and after sessions, it left me feeling pretty lonely at the end of the day.  A few months after being in Tennessee, my managers suggested that maybe a dog would do me good and help with all these big life transitions.  Clearly, I did not need to be talked into this.

Enter: Deliah.

I was raised with shelties growing up, so I knew exactly what I was looking for.  I found an ad in the classifieds inside the Tennessean (yeah, it was that long ago) for sheltie puppies and I was sold before I even saw them.  That weekend, we drove over an hour to a remote farm, with all the puppies being kept in the barn.  This liter of pups, no bigger than guinea pigs, toppled over themselves and each other, and immediately sent me into sensory overload.  I had no idea which was which, they were too tiny to tell apart.  So I decided that whichever pup let me hold him/her and didn’t try to squirm out of my hands would be “the one”.  I picked them up at random and when I came to Deliah, she snuggled into my easily, almost like she was relieved to be plucked from the pack.  You see, from Day 1, Deliah didn’t want be amongst the “common folk”, being regarded as just a dog.  In all honesty, I think the word “dog” offended her, like she couldn’t relate.  This early perception of herself would epitomize Deliah the rest of her life.  Her demeanor would also ruin me for life by giving me the false impression that all dogs were as “chill” and lazy as this one.  

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I came up with the name Deliah from the flower, Dahlia.  Years earlier, my Polish grandfather gifted me a few baggies of Dahlia seeds when we were moving him out of his house and into a nursing home.  That memory never left me.  I thought the pronunciation of “Dahlia” was kind of weird so I improvised with Deliah (Del-yah).

The first few days of having her, she wouldn’t eat or drink when we’d put the bowls down.  I had no idea what to do.  My managers said they thought she was younger than 8 weeks so she might not be weaned from her mother quite yet.  So each night, I’d lay down by her tiny water/food bowls, crying and begging this little nugget to eat, but she wouldn’t.  Then I’d eventually fall asleep on the carpet, right there by the bowls … waking up to the sound of her eating or drinking beside my head.  

Those first 6 months or so, I’d take her to every co-writing appointment, recording session, I even took her to my first few industry showcases, keeping her in my puppy purse underneath a table up in front.  I even wrote a song about her, “It’s Not About Me Anymore”.  Yes, seriously.  And it’s actually a fucking great song so don’t judge me, ha.  (You can listen to teenage RayRay on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/track/6Rpr6ZBVyku5SP9ma7AII7?si=CACK1ajVSaKfD0ga1sdpCQ)

After our first year together, the vet informed me that she needed to lose weight.  How you get a dog too fat in it’s first year is still, to this day, one of my more humorous life fails.   Aside from changing her diet, I had to get this lazy pup to exercise more.  We lived out in the country and our road didn’t have sidewalks, making daily dog walks more difficult.  So instead I’d sprint back and forth across the lawn and make her chase me.  Or I’d take her to the park and walk fast around the trails, having her follow me off the leash.  Eventually, we both lost our “baby fat”, with me dropping weight right along with her.  (She wasn’t the only one allergic to exercise back then.). I was nervous that she’d gain it back without younger dogs around to play with, especially when I was on the road.  Less than 2 years after getting Deliah, I was given the green light to get another dog.  Delaney.  I was now 20 and a “single mom” of two.

I distinctly remember thinking that Deliah would hate Delaney.  Deliah didn’t necessarily take to other dogs.  Or kids.  Or basically, anything with energy that tried to get in her space, besides me.  Delaney was a rescue dog that I found online and instantly fell in love with when I saw her photos.  When I went to meet Delaney, she was 5 months old and the fastest running dog I’d ever seen in my life.  The moment she was released from her kennel to meet us, she took off in a sprint, running circles around me, with no signs of slowing down long enough for anyone to pet her.  I remember saying, “I can’t take this dog.  She’s too much, Deliah will hate her.” But I did take her.  I was so nervous the entire hour drive back, with this new dog in the car and Deliah waiting in the backyard for us to return.  I hesitantly opened the gate and brought this new dog into the yard, bracing myself for the worst.  Instead I witnessed these two dogs immediately start running through the yard, chasing each other and playing.  DELIAH WAS RUNNING?!  I swear to God, I cried tears of joy seeing how they instantly took to each other.

Deliah and Delaney were sisters without coaxing and right away, I had two best friends.  Eventually, I did make friends my age.  And when I did, they all knew that I came with 2 sidekicks almost everywhere I went.  My first house, out on my own, was a little one-bedroom, 400 square foot house on a dead-end road in East Nashville.  I had just turned 21.  I cut my own lawn, hand-washed my dishes, and watched the same 5 DVD’s over & over on the same small TV from my childhood bedroom.  I stole a weak wireless reception from my neighbor and didn’t have cable, but I had my dogs.

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A few months after this photo was taken, Deliah was viciously attacked by a neighbor’s pitbull in my backyard.   I was in the studio when I got the call from my roommate.  I rushed home and will never forget how she was like a limp noodle when I tried to pick her up, still in shock.  The vet stayed open an extra hour, just to see her.  Her recovery was long, and honestly, in no way for the faint of heart.  The operation was $3000, or there was the option to treat the wound naturally & safely, with the warning that it wasn’t going to look pretty for awhile.  I chose the ugly.  It was tedious, but I never thought twice about it.  I guess I do have a maternal instinct in me.

Deliah would recover.  But she’d have a small lump and a gnarly scar where the fur would never grow again.  I thought her battle scars were cool.  It showed character, also, she sounded like a total badass.  

I’d move multiple times throughout my 20’s.  My bungalow house off Shelby Ave with a neon green kitchen, a doggie door, and a front porch swing.  The gorgeous tri-level home, with a big island counter in the kitchen and a huge front AND back yard for the dogs.  The perfect house for entertaining, only all my friends thought Hermitage was “too far” back then, ha!  And then eventually to my “barn” house in 12 South.  With a large screened-in porch, a pathetic little white picket fence in front, and big bedroom windows that opened up and made you feel like a princess up in her tower.  I’d acquire a list of different roommates, guys I was dating, guys I thought I was dating but actually wasn’t, a major tour, new friends I’d make, friends I thought I’d never lose but did … and Deliah & Delaney would bear witness to them all.  

With every new house, I was hopeful for the “new beginning” I assumed came with it.  But my “fresh starts” were usually short-lived.  The reality is, I was so busy stressing out over my love-life and career, I didn’t have the awareness of how badly I was treating myself.   I think a lot of women would agree … I wish I would’ve loved myself / forgiven myself / shown more grace to myself in my 20’s.  But I do know one thing for certain, I sure did love those dogs.  So any love I was withholding from myself, I poured into my making my dogs true companions.  When I needed to clear my head, they’d come along, however many miles I needed to walk or drive.  They’d hear every tear cried.  They would see the very worst days and love me through them all.

About 4-5 years ago, Deliah started having a hard time walking.  She’d struggle to get up off the floor and I didn’t know what was going on.  The vet said that the x-rays showed a benign tumor pushing down towards the back of her vertebrae, interrupting the signal from her brain to her back legs.  The vet assured me that she wasn’t in pain, but that Deliah was probably frustrated because she couldn’t understand why her back legs weren’t doing what she wanted them to do.  That entire summer, I carried her in and out of the house when she needed to go to the bathroom.  I borrowed/bought a bunch of old rugs and made a pathway around my hardwood floored house, so that she didn’t slip.  I carried her upstairs to my bedroom every night when we went to bed.  Eventually, it got much more manageable, but never a full recovery.

The move to Michigan was brutal.  It was the dead of winter and I was incredibly lonely and second-guessing everything I’ve ever done in the history of my life.  I felt like I was betraying myself by leaving Nashville.  But every night, my dogs served as the reminder of who I really was … the good I still possessed, no matter my missteps.  I mean, I’d kept them alive this long, I couldn’t be all bad, right?  Ha.  

Enter: My husband.

Delaney was/still is the crowd favorite, particularly with males.  I had a few that told me, point blank, they preferred Delaney over Deliah.  What assholes. I always slightly catered to Deliah because of the adoration the general public had for Delaney.  Jon and I had been seeing each other a month a half before I brought my dogs over to meet him and his bulldog, Stella.  Although Stella did not particularly care for her new visitors (I mean, I wouldn’t either if I had new dogs in my crib) … Jon loved them.  Both of them.  Instantly.

Six months into dating, we decided to try living together.  It was a completely foreign and terrifying experience for me at first.  I’d had roommates in the past and even lived with a couple guys before, but never in SOMEONE ELSE’S house.  It was always my place,  my sole name on the lease, my furniture, my domain.  That way, if it wasn’t working, they’d leave and I’d stay.  With or without a man.  With or without that friend/roommate. 

Now I’m moving myself & my 2 dogs into someone else’s house.  Someone else’s furniture, silverware, tacky wall decor, AND someone else’s dog who has had this man all to herself for 8 years solid.  To say this was a big life transition would be a huge understatement.  But having Deliah & Delaney helped me maintain some normalcy in this unchartered water.

Just before our one-year anniversary, I convinced him that we should get a puppy.  I wanted a baby Deliah, another Sheltie puppy.  Maybe that would help rejuvenate Deliah, make her more of a “mother hen” in her elder years.  My good intention did not pan out as smoothly as I had hoped.  Deliah was over more “life changes”, so this rambunctious puppy was not her idea of a good time.  Little did Deliah know, her last chapter would prove to be just as important as any.

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My Mom had an almost unbearably rough time between July 2016-July 2017.  She lost her two brothers less than a year apart.  When we had to put our family dog down around the same time, the void grew even more.  She kept telling us she needed another dog, but none of us thought it was a good idea.  A new dog would be a lot of work that my parents did not have the energy for, nor did they have a fenced in yard to accommodate said dog.  There wasn’t a worse idea…

Then I needed Mom to watch Deliah over the holidays.

When I came back to town a week and a half later, it was abundantly clear to me what was happening.  I watched as my Mom made cheese-toast, only to feed it all to Deliah.  Then justifying it with, “Well, if she doesn’t get scraps from me, she gets it from the food your niece flings from her high chair.  And the baby isn’t here today.”

And just like that, Mom had a new best friend.  And Deliah got to live her days being the lazy, old Grandma she’s always been.  No other dogs.  No hardwood floors.  And all the table scraps she could consume.

When we got married, having the dogs down in Tennessee with us was completely non-negotiable.  We’d struggle to find an Air BnB that allowed 3 dogs, but eventually, we found one.  Everyone was worried with how Deliah would handle the trip.  She had not ridden in the car for a long-distance trip in almost 3 years.  My family was bracing me for the worst, expecting our travel to be difficult with her and the other 2 dogs in our vehicle.  Lo and behold, it was easy and without incident.  Once we got to Kingston Springs, we all understood that Deliah wouldn’t be able to go up and down the porch steps.  Like clock-work and without hesitation, I’d lift her up, walk her down to the yard, sit with her awhile, and then carry her back into the house.  (Clearly, my mom’s cheese-toast feedings were taking place by the truck load because she weighed a ton.)  But I didn’t care.  I’d done this very thing a hundred times over in our 13 years together and I wanted to do it for her now.  She adjusted back to Tennessee right away.  She grazed along the yard, she slept heavily, she followed me with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in years.  My girl was happy to be home.  My wedding day was chaotic, with literally everything being a last-minute decision.  In all the craziness, the dogs almost didn’t make it to the ceremony.  I was bummed but willing to take responsibility for not organizing their transportation to and from better.  At the last second, a miracle was pulled off and the dogs were there… with a dear friend carrying my fat little Deliah, decked in a bridal tutu, down the aisle.

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Our wedding trip is how I’ll always remember the last days of Deliah.

As a lot of you already know, my husband lost his beloved bulldog, Stella, earlier this summer.  Being there for him throughout the entire process of losing Stella truly prepared me for marriage in a way I can’t fully explain.  I had never so easily stood strong for someone else before.

And less than 6 months later, he now had to stand strong for me.  Literally.  Deliah passed away in Michigan while I was in Tennessee.  He handled everything.  Including talking to her as she went and hugging my Mom when I couldn’t.  It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, but it did.  I’m so thankful for Jon.

And now, like him, I understand the gravity of losing your “first”.  It goes far beyond missing their presence, calling their name, crying over photos.  These dogs lifted us through life in the times when no one else could.  These dogs saw us through every break-up, big move, professional achievement, emotional meltdown, new love, and so on.  We mourn the journey too.  

It’s kind of poetic in a way.

I called a truce with Stella in her final days, promising to take care of Jon as good as she had.  Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the wedding.  And now, a few weeks after our wedding, my Deliah has joined her.  We believe good things happen if we keep showing up.  So I did, with Deliah by my side….and the good found me.  Thanks for seeing it through, Doodle.22008437_10159443032525581_1799044674878134136_n