Chapter 25: Saying Good-Bye to Tiki Barber at the Border

One bright, hot and humid Saturday morning, my phone rings right as I am in the middle of running errands all over Brooklyn.  It’s my Mom, and as usual, she has impeccable timing (insert sarcastic snicker).

“Hey Mom, what’s going on?”

She sounds like she’s outside somewhere and excitedly exclaims, “Chris, I found her!!!”

Utterly confused, I ask, “You found who??”

“Your pug baby!!! I’m at the groomer, and they have a gorgeous fawn pug baby in the window. She’s so playful Chris! What a face!!! Wait ‘til you see her…YOU. ARE. GONNA. LOVE. HER!!!”

It was August of 2004, and I was coming upon my first wedding anniversary with my now ex-husband, the Chupacabra of Joy.  I’ve wanted a dog since we got back from our honeymoon.  Partially for companionship and partly to begin our preparation for a family in the next couple of years.  As someone who grew up with dogs and cats, I couldn’t imagine raising a family without having animals as part of the picture.

My Mom knows that I specifically wanted a pug.  I was obsessed with them.  We lived in an apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn at the time and based on what I read about pugs, they were perfect for our lifestyle.  They love to sleep, be cuddled, go for short walks and generally great with children.  Plus, you know, they are insanely cute; as the expression goes, they are so ugly they’re cute.

I’m beyond excited, yet slightly guilty for my earlier annoyance at my Mom’s interruption.  Fuck the errands! The dry cleaner can wait!!!

I tell my Mom, “I’ll be right there!”

Within an hour, I’m outside of the store and as soon as I walk in and meet the three-month-old pug baby, I fall; I fall hard!  She looked me right in the eyes and started to run around and play, as she nibbled my fingers.  It was love at first bite!  

Here’s a pic of a pug baby that looks identical to my Tiki (I couldn’t find a damn picture of her as a puppy…I’m still searching)

I didn’t stand a chance! Could you?  Resistance is futile against that freakin adorable face filled with wrinkles, flat nose, and soulful eyes! And that chubby little body!  My God! I can’t!!!!

And so began my 15-year relationship with Tiki Barber (she was named after the Giants player who at the time was very popular, and the Chupacabra was a HUGE Giants fan).  Tiki was the sweetest, sassiest, little flat-faced pug I’ve ever seen; that I’ve yet to encounter again. I felt very, very lucky and so very happy.

When I take her home, I’m overwhelmed. My heart bursts and I realize this is my first glimpse of parental love.  My first baby, my first true love.  And of course, I proceed to pamper her like a baby.  We even let her sleep in our bed for many years before having MSP.

Tiki enmeshed herself into our lives as we began “adulting”; she was “the first” as my Mom likes to say.   Tiki was crazy playful; her favorite game was tug of war.  She wanted to be chased and would run like a crazy person from room to room and then in circles while I chased her.  It was her way of expressing joy or so I liked to believe. 

Her eyes were so expressive, and there were times I felt she could read my soul.  She had a sense of humor and irresistible sweetness about her…anyone who met her just instantly fell in love.

And then there was the playful, mischevious part of her like when she was teething and ate through all my shoes and bags.  I could not leave anything on the floor without it being ripped to shreds.  She was little, but damn her jaws were strong.  I couldn’t get mad at her though.  It was hard to reprimand her when that face looked up at me as if she was saying she was sorry with her best Puss In Boots face.

I took her to dog parks, joined a pug club and went for on long walks on Shore Road (for a pug that means about 10 city blocks on a good day; she couldn’t walk far in the extreme cold or heat).  We cuddled on the couch and watched movies together.  When it was time for bed, she would curl up in the crook of my knee but would end up sleeping at the top of my pillow, on my head, as pugs are known to do.  

Tiki was mine, and I was hers; there was no doubt about it. She was, is and always will be my “soulpet.”  We were connected in a way that’s difficult to explain unless you’ve experienced this type of connection. Tiki taught me what it meant to love someone else unconditionally, to the point it made my heart swell. 

When I cried, she licked my tears and stood on my chest trying to cheer me up. And boy, when she looked at me with that little flat-face, it made all the pain melt away and transform into giggles.  She would lick my hands and feet, the inside of my elbows and sometimes she would nibble there if she were feeling sassy.  I never doubted her love for me, and I did everything I could to demonstrate my love for her. 

SIDE NOTE: just when the crying stops and I think I’m in a good place, I write this freaking blog, and it’s all bubbles up again and the river of tears flows anew. UGH

Tiki was my life witness and partner in crime.  She was with me when I was first married, then the first time we were nearly divorced (three years into our ten-year marriage).   She was there when we decided to get back together and when we welcomed our adopted pug, Spike to the house.  She was patient as he adjusted to our home as he was severely abused in his previous home.  They became best buddies (or as MSP says, husband and wife) and they used to sleep together as shown here in this pic…

She was there snuggling against my belly when I was pregnant and when we took MSP home from the hospital.   Tiki just stared at her… and then at me… and then back at the baby… and back at me. She was so confused.  The question in her eyes, ”what the fuck is that thing?”

She walked alongside me while I was on maternity leave and sat with me while I played with MSP on those, sometimes, lonely days.  I remember the day when MSP was ten weeks old, we were playing on her floor mat, Tiki came over to sniff her then proceeded to lick her from head to toe.  I let it happen, laughing hysterically as I watched her do this, because I knew it was Tiki’s way of accepting MSP as her own.  Tiki decided to become MSP’s BFF that day and they were inseparable ever since.  Tiki used to lick her hands and feet all the time.  Her love of MSP grew ten times bigger than she was and vice versa.

Each night I came home from work after the baby was born, she waited patiently for her turn to be greeted, knowing…infact understanding, that the baby came first.  She never punished me for this, she just started to steal my shoes and sleep with them (unlike when she used to chew on them). 

SIDE NOTE: I have to ask you all this, what other being loves you so much that they would sleep with your shoes just to get a whiff of your scent.  I can’t!!!  Animals are so much better than people, and Tiki was exceptional. 

She was there when it all came apart, and we got divorced.  She kissed my never-ending stream of tears.  She was there on the nights when MSP was with her father, and I couldn’t bear the ache of being away from my little girl. 

She was there through four different homes and adapted quickly to each of them.  As long as MSP and I were there, Tiki was content.  She’d find her spot and claim her throne. 

Tiki was the boss of Spike, the boss of MSP and often the boss of me.  It’s funny how she would intimidate any other dog, especially Spike and hog my lap.  No one else but MSP could sit on my lap in her presence and then she would just sit on top of us.  Conversely, she was a total lap slut.  She would meet someone for five minutes and be all up on their laps like she owned them.

Tiki was a pug of many names: Tiki Barber. The Barba. Tiki Mama.  The Mamas.   Flat-faced Mama. Beggins’ the Beggar. Teeks. The Pig. Piggy.  Tikiscreekee. Lil’ Phatty.  Miss Sassy Paws Claws. 

Tiki loved to eat, so much so she would bully Spike and steal his food if I wasn’t watching (ergo the appropriately earned names Lil Phatty and Beggins the Beggar). 

She was round like a barrel and had this tiny little nose hidden in all these wrinkles; she would even snort like a piggy (ergo, the nickname The Pig and Piggy).  Her right paw was slightly deformed from birth which just made her perfect. 

Tiki was such a generous spirit that even in her passing, she didn’t make it a big deal.  While Spike suffered from diabetes for two years (which required me to administer two shots of insulin per day and to check his blood work, followed by him losing his sight, hearing and then finally his ability to walk). 

Tiki just decided it was time to go. 

It was very, very sudden.  I got Tiki’s blood work done in December 2018, and all was looking great.  Fast forward to Friday, March 22, my mom came over as we were going to see Livy (The Daily Feels Blogger, The Lone Teen aka Liv Mazz) at her school musical.  My Mom noticed something wasn’t totally right with Tiki.  She’s seemed slightly lethargic but nothing crazy.  I chalked it up to her being old.

But when we got home from the play, she was acting strangely.  She didn’t beg for salami…and salami was everything to her!  She would do her chicken bark (it sounded like a clucking chicken when she begged for salami which would crack me up so no matter what she did I couldn’t deny her salami).

This was the most visible sign that something was very wrong.  Tiki also hid between my legs.  I got down on the floor with her and asked her what was wrong…she just leaned her body against me, not looking me in the eyes.

I picked her up and put her to bed and pet her until her eyes closed…something in my heart broke and I couldn’t bear it.  I didn’t want to believe that this was happening.  I refused to allow the thought to enter my mind.  It was a year and a month from Spike’s passing, and I couldn’t stand the idea of a life without her. 

So we went to sleep and woke up to the sound of her panting.  I thought she was hungry so asked MSP to go and feed her (taking care of Tiki was part of her chores and responsibilities when she’s home).

Suddenly, I hear MSP call up to me, “Mom, Tiki’s not eating!” 

I respond with a shaky voice, “Ok MSP, I’m just getting dressed, I’ll be right there to check on her.” The dread fills my heart, and everything goes into slow motion…

The next thing I hear is a loud yell from MSP, “MOOOOOOMMMMMMM, Tiki just threw up and fell down!”

My heart skipped a beat and my stomach sank.  I ran downstairs and found Tiki paralyzed in her vomit and MSP crying.  Now everything goes into warp speed…and the rest was all very quick.  I snapped out of my coma and denial, got into Mom-mode, called the vet, wrapped Tiki in her blanket and placed her in her bed then carried her out to the car and drove to the vet…both of us in a flood of tears. 

Once we arrive they triage Tiki as MSP and I sit sadly in the waiting room.  It turns out, Tiki had liver failure due to complications from cancer.  Cancer I never knew she had.  Cancer that never showed up in her blood work.  Cancer that never took her spirit until that Friday night.

This is the epitome of Tiki Barber.  She passed the way she lived.  Loving us.  Being strong for us.  Thinking of us before herself.  Making everything as easy as she could.  Bowing out of life gracefully with her spunk and sweetness intact.

MSP and I said had to say our good-byes.  I called my Uncle Jess to come and stay with MSP in the waiting room, while I stayed in the hospital room with Tiki.  Once he came and took MSP out, I cracked.  I buried my head in her neck and told her everything I felt for her.  I thanked her for trusting me.  For loving me.  For being my best friend.

Tiki took her last breath while laying in my arms on March 23rd, 2019 at 11:03am.

I couldn’t stop crying for hours and hours after it happened.  But as time passed I realized MSP needed me to be present and get myself together.  She needed to feel some sense of normalcy.

I asked MSP what she thought Tiki was doing now that she was in heaven.  She said that she was with Spikey Boy, who was there to greet her along with our other furry friends that have passed.  She said that she is running, playing and lounging in the sun as she loved to do; eating all the salami, she can get her greedy paws on.   Chewing on bags and shoes.  We agreed that she is likely hanging with Sing-Hi, Smoky, Bandit, Zeus, Star, Suzy-Q, Joe Boxer, Diesel, Sparky, Shadow, Vinny, and Gidget.  These are the names of some of the most incredible soul-pets that blessed my family and friends with their extraordinary love.  That taught us how to be honorable, to be loyal and brave, to accept the ugly with the pretty, to love with our whole hearts.  The pets that taught us how to be better people.

We started to feel a little better (again, I’m pulling myself together for MSP).  After hours of crying, we decided to clean ourselves up that night to attend our cousin Ella’s Bat Mitzvah.

Interestingly, it’s exactly what we needed to help us through this challenging time.  My family is so freaking amazing and strong.  We’ve experienced so much life and death together.  We know how to support each other and how to heal together. 

I’ve always told MSP, that when we hurt this bad, it means we’ve loved that hard.  We are lucky to have that kind of love in our lives, and unfortunately, death is part of the cycle of life.  We will always be enriched by loving and being loved. And when we lose a person physically…the love never goes away.  It is permanent.

My pet parents will likely agree that finding your soulpet brings a unique, inexplicable kind of love.  They don’t have words to express their they joy or their love, their pain or sadness.  We just know. 

Over the past two and a half weeks, since Tiki’s passing, we’ve done a few things to honor Tiki and keep her presence in our life. 

And I’d love to bestow some things we’ve done to help mend the pain and turn it back to joy and love.  Along with some sage advice on how to support someone who might be mourning from the loss of their “soulpet.”

  • Tell stories: Help your kids through the loss by sharing stories about our amazing soul-pets.  When Spike passed, MSP struggled as we lost him about two months after our Uncle Weazle passed away.  To help her grieve and remember the magic of Spike, I made up a story, “The Adventures of Mr. Prince Spike and Ms. Sassy Paws Claws and the Purple Heart.”  It’s an oral continuing story that always ends on a cliff-hanger.   I include ALL the pets in our family in the story (they all play a different character), and they all live forever in the story as vibrant and dynamic as they were in their youth.  I’ve told one story a week for about a year.  I included history, geography, heritage and family values within the story to help us talk about tough topics and to help her learn.  We paused on the story for a few months (she stopped asking for it, so I didn’t push).  But after Tiki passed, she asked for the story to begin again and boy oh boy, it’s going to be epic!  Mr. Prince Spike, Ms. Sassy Paws Claws and all their furry friends, are in Puerto Rico on a mission to bring food, water, and supplies to those animals that suffered during Hurricane Irma.  
  • Find your support group:  Reach out to friends who have pets or who have lost a soulpet to share your feelings.  They are usually the ones who will understand what you are going through and can comfort you better than anyone else.
  • Memoralize their sweet Face: My friend and colleague got me a beautiful painting of Spike when he passed by genevrabell on Etsy.  I just ordered one for Tiki as well.
  • Donate:  give a local shelter items, your time and your heart:  After mourning the loss of your furry baby, help other animals at a local shelter by giving their beds, leftover food, leashes, etc. then consider volunteering at that shelter.  Honor your furry soul-mate and give some deserving animals some of the love they blessed you with.
  • Finally PLEASE, please, pretty please…when you encounter someone who recently lost a soulpet, don’t ask if we are going to get another pet or if we want your pet; this is not an appropriate question on SO many levels. Period.  Just don’t do it. 

While all of this has helped, I still hear her snorts and the clicking of her nails on the wood floor.  I still wake up thinking, “shit, I have to feed Tiki.”  And then I realize that she’s gone and I don’t have to get up and then the wave of sorrow hits.  When I come home at night, I fully expect to find her at the door shaking her booty and ready to give some sweet stinky kisses (truth be told, her breath was terrible).  One of the quirks I didn’t expect to miss but might miss the most.

She was so entrenched in our lives that there’s a massive piece of our puzzle missing.  Our family is not whole, and it will take time to fill the space she left in our hearts and our home. 

I miss you Tiki Barber, Flat-faced mama, Lil’ Phatty, Beggins the Beggar, sweet baby piggy girl.  MSP and I miss you every day; we’ll miss you forever and ever and always. RIP (Rejoice in Play) Tiki Barber and Spikey Boy. I’m so glad you have each other again and an endless supply of salami.

Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 9-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP) and 15-year-old pug baby (Tiki Barber); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.

Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.

This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure.

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