I never thought of myself as a person who gets tattoos. I could never imagine enduring the physical pain that enables the process.
So when I sat down in the tattoo artist’s chair in September 2008, I wondered whether I’d finally lost my last marbles. No, I reminded myself, this is in the name of dog and to gain a permanent piece of a life that is ever so fleeting. Dogs’ only flaw, a writer once penned, is their short lifespan. So yes, Tattoo Man with arms laden with ink, make me one of you, allow me to be your canvas for an hour.
For my 40th birthday, I gave myself the gift of a tattoo. For me, this intensely personal experience would mark me with indelible ink, to serve as an emblem of honor and love, long after the pitter patter of my dog’s feet traipsed their way across my heart.
But would it hurt? Undoubtedly, this is one of the most commonly asked questions customers pose to tattoo artists, and it did give me pause. One of the artists at the tattoo parlor told me, “The physical pain is really more temporary and passes much quicker than the pain of losing your companion.” With guts and a “now or never” mantra intact, the question of what ink would mark my spot still remained.
It hit me one night during dinner. My dog, Brandy Noel, had jumped off my lap a few moments earlier. In doing so, she left a temporary paw imprint on my skin. I decided to have her imprint inked on my leg, where she would rest her paw forever and walk with me through the rest of my life.
The day of the inking, I flipped through catalogues of clients before me: entire dog faces etched across a shoulder blade, names of canines loved and lost but forever written across an ankle, and full-body replicas captured on a biceps. I am not alone, and the way we immortalize a beloved dog reveals itself in many ways across our largest organ, the skin.
We inked Brandy’s paw in fashion similar to getting fingerprinted. The finished product wasn’t quite what I imagined. In fact, it was more Rorschach than Rembrandt. Plan B: Take a picture of her paw and hope the ink man could create magic on my leg from a photograph.
Though my dog was not allowed in the studio because of the health and safety code, a family member sat with her outside while another snapped some shots of the process. Christian was the man who would ink me, and yes, he reported, he could easily sketch an exact replica of this paw, first on stencil-type paper and then onto my flesh. Goody!
If you’ve ever had blood drawn for testing and been scratched by a cat simultaneously, that’s about what it felt like to be tattooed across my fleshy upper leg. I decided, as I do for routine blood work, not to look when the needles met my skin. The snickering and giggling and “Ooh, here it comes” remarks from my family member provided adequate taunting.
It took about an hour. The tattoo artist owns the shop, and I did my research. I knew what to expect. Afterward it felt like a really wicked sunburn in that spot for about 24 hours, and then just sort of annoying for a day or two. It was not as painful as I thought it would be, and it healed up nicely thanks to the Tattoo Goo I slathered on it.
Three weeks after having this done, I lost my little girl to what was believed to be liver cancer and complications of inflammatory bowel disease. She was one week shy of her 15th birthday. The tattoo artist was right: The physical pain really is temporary and dissipates quicker than the pain of losing your dog. This much I know is true.
“Can you add initials to it with a heart?” I had asked the artist during the process. Bravery and pride swelled over me as the needle piercing went along, so why not go for it, I told myself. My dog, the love of my life, and a heart to bring them all together, now serve as an eternal remembrance and could be checked off my bucket list.
And then Brandy fluttered her angel wings on my path again. Deciding to open my heart to another dog, and realizing I could never be dogless, little Dexter entered my life in November of 2008. His initials are the same as my partner’s: DJB. As fate would have it, Dexter has the marking of a heart imprint in his fur. Talk about messages from the angels.
In 2009, Dex marked his spot, and I got a second paw print right under that of his departed canine “sister.” He will be 4 years old in September. Would I do it again? Without hesitation.
Do you have any tattoos with a beloved dog in mind? We’d love to hear about them!