The first time I rescued an animal was almost 15 years ago, while I was on hiatus from my band, Garbage, in 2007. Shuffling around Los Angeles with little to occupy my time and my catastrophic imagination, my husband suggested we might consider adopting a rescue dog from one of the local shelters. I was a little hesitant at first. It struck me as a massive undertaking (I was not wrong) and I was unsure I had the emotional capacity to engage in the love of a small, defenceless, living thing.
My mother had just been diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a criminally aggressive form of dementia that can take a person, as it did my mother, out of the game in less than two years from the day of diagnosis. I was deeply disturbed by the course her disease was taking and finding it hard to connect with life in any joyful, meaningful way.
One evening, my husband slyly showed me a picture online of an irresistibly cute litter of terrier puppies that were up for adoption at a local pet store. “Let’s go and get one,” he suggested.
By the time we arrived at the PetSmart Charities adoption centre, the puppy that had most caught my eye had been rehomed, but there were three others squirming and squealing in a nearby pen. “You can lift them up if you want,” I was told. I eagerly complied but despite enjoying the heat of their tiny wee bodies and admiring their adorable faces, I didn’t experience any real connection. One by one, I put each puppy back in the pen. My husband looked crestfallen. “Not feeling it?” he asked, with obvious disappointment.
The lady in charge of adoption quickly asked if we might be interested in an “older” dog as the mother of the pups was also up for adoption. She brought over a scrawny, ginger little thing and dropped her in my arms. I turned to my husband, grinning. “This is my dog,” I said.
We had exchanged something deeply profound in that moment, me and this dog. A vow had been made. For life, we agreed. To the exclusion of all others, we said.
Her name was Veela and she was not so very old after all. Our vet reckoned she was aged between six and nine months. She had been found wandering the streets of South Central LA, homeless and heavily pregnant, by a teenager whose parents agreed to let her keep Veela in a little cardboard box at their home until she had given birth.
Shortly after we officially adopted her, my parents came over from Scotland. It was a fraught visit as my mum’s illness was progressing fast and she appeared extremely diminished and vulnerable.
Veela sensed this. She kept close to my mother, squeezing up next to her on the couch, in the car, in the garden. I treasure a slew of photographs from this time with the two of them intertwined.
One afternoon, my mother and I were watching TV together with Veela on my mother’s lap. An advert featuring an elephant came on. “What kind of an animal is that?” asked my mother, her cornflower blue eyes drilling into me with alarm and confusion. “Mum, that’s an elephant,” I said gently. She looked confused and scared. I reached out and held Mum’s hand in mine, brushing up against a sleeping Veela. A coiled little croissant. Hot, soft and comforting. My mother smiled. I smiled back as reassuringly as I could. Breathe, I thought, matching Veela’s deep breaths. Breathe.
When my mother died, less than 12 months later, it was Veela who spoke directly and most effectively to the pain I was experiencing. Around that time, I was filming a sci-fi television show in which I played an almighty and powerful Terminator who experienced no human emotions. In real life, I was struggling to process my mother’s death but whenever I came home from work there would be Veela, dancing on her hind legs, demanding to be walked, to be fed, to be cuddled, to be engaged with. Slowly, I began to heal.
Losing a mother, losing a great mother, is to experience unfathomable loss. I doubt I would have survived without the profound teachings of my little red dog: live your life, humans. Live curiously. Eat well. Exercise. Take a nap. Stay enthusiastic. Don’t be afraid to express your love. Be silly. Have fun. And go, go, go.
I continue to adhere to Veela’s philosophy as best I can. I don’t always get it right, but I don’t always get it wrong. Despite her advanced years, she remains the greatest teacher and I continue to learn from her as I move through my own life and all of my seasons.