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 Matilda Tanya “Tillie” Romberger

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Matilda Tanya “Tillie” Romberger

  • Birth 2 Jul 1970 Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Death 1980 Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Burial Cremated, Location of ashes is unknown, Specifically: Disposed of by our vet
  • Memorial ID 38318783

After our first family dog, Maggie, had passed on, we did not get a dog again right away. My parents did let me get Jill the gerbil as a consolation pet, but held off on getting another dog, thinking that since it was summer, we could go on vacation without attempting to board a new puppy. That would have been unfair to the puppy, and would have interrupted any training. Finally the summer was over, and my folks began "dog shopping" by reading ads in the local newspaper. I couldn't wait; I still missed Maggie terribly. There was no replacing her, but as an only child, I missed having companionship in the house too. Whatever dog would be next in our lives would end up essentially being my sibling, and that day couldn't come soon enough.

Probably remembering his boyhood hunting dogs, my dad was keen on getting a Brittany Spaniel. Still, in the course of looking at ads, Dad also found one for an Australian Terrier. None of us knew what that was, but we agreed to go see it. Dad lined up two appointments for one evening, the first to see the mystery dog, the Aussie, and then ending with seeing the Brittany.

We got to the first place - an Allentown apartment where a gent named Al Caputo lived. He greeted us at the door, invited us in and whistled. A whole troupe of dogs, maybe eight, came running into the living room. They were all different breeds, all small. One named Tanya looked vaguely like Toto, and she was the mother of the puppy for sale. The puppy brought up the rear of the flying pack. She was tiny, black and tan, smiling and enthusiastic. Her tail and ears had already been docked as is customary for the breed, but her ears did not yet stand up completely, so the tips fluttered up and down with each step as she ran. She was very social, greeting us all, and playful and brave. We all found her enchanting. In particular, my mother was falling for her, this little girl with spirit.

After asking questions and visiting a while, Dad said it was time for us to go and thanked Mr. Caputo, saying we had to move on to see the Brittany Spaniel. By this time, Mom was holding the puppy, and looked at my dad with puppy eyes herself, saying, "Oh, Gil, I don't need to look any further."

Thus did Matilda become our next family member. She came with papers since her mom had been a showdog, but she had no name yet. It was only days until we saw her love of dancing on her hind legs, leading her to be named after the Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda" and "Tillie" for short.

Tillie was the last to leave home, the runt of her litter, and thus not considered a good show prospect. She also had a "hernia" (at least that was what we were told it was) - a protrusion from her belly, like an elongated belly button. We had been assured that with some daily massage it would shrink or fall off, or somehow disappear, but of course that didn't happen, and it was surgically removed when we had her spayed.

When she came home, Tillie could rest in your palm with just her little front and back legs hanging off. She was my first puppy, since Maggie had been mature when I came along. At first, Tillie broke my heart. Not yet trained to ask to go out, she was barricaded in our foyer with newspaper at night. Used to the companionship of other dogs, Tillie found the idea of sleeping alone terrible. She whined and cried, and my folks said it would take some time for her to get used to her new home. We did the loud-ticking alarm clock thing, but a clock is not your mom, and she really suffered at first. I used to sneak downstairs as often as I could to console her. That is when I learned exactly which steps on the staircase creaked, and to avoid them.

To Tillie's credit, she caught on to toilet training and the house routine rather quickly. Mom's strategy was to give Tillie a little snack each time she came back inside from doing her business, and it worked well. She wanted to be a good dog which made everything easier. When she still had the occasional "accident" Dad would only have to say "Tillie, shame on you" and she'd sit at his feet with downcast eyes, ever so sorry.

Used to our dear old Maggie, who was maybe 35 pounds, we had some rethinking to do, since Tillie was our first dog with "lap dog" potential. Dog lovers understand the progression of relaxing the rules. The dog stays on the floor. The dog stays on the floor except she can sit on the stool in the upstairs den next to the couch. The dog stays on the floor, except she can sit on that stool, or at the end of the older couch in the upstairs den. The dog stays on the floor, the stool, and on the upstairs couch, except when she jumps up on something else, then must be put down... but that got very tiring, and besides, what was the harm? Finally it became, "Ok, the dog can be up on the furniture except the antique rocking chair, because we don't want her toenails wrecking the paint."

The rocking chair, of course, was Tillie's favorite. It had a nice pad on the seat, and her little body fit perfectly into the chair's frame. She knew she was not to be up there, so she would jump up on it when no one was around. Then, if she heard you coming close, she'd quickly jump down, sit on the floor and look up at you with total innocence, not knowing she was betrayed by the chair rocking back and forth behind her from her leap off it. Ok, the dog can be on the rocking chair too.

The one rule that my parents insisted on was "The dog can't be up on the bed." Both my parents considered sleeping with any animal out of the question. I never understood what the big deal was. We pet her, play with her, allow her on furniture, why is the bed any different? Once potty-trained, at night Tillie slept in the upstairs den with a stool blocking the doorway to keep her in, but she could easily have jumped it or slithered around it if she were not by nature a good dog. So she never slept with us at night... though during the day, I took suddenly to taking naps and doing any reading on my bed so I could invite her up. My hot pink bedspread had this wonderful shag texture which made it extra cozy, and soon Tillie was spending time with me snoozing on my bed. Tiny and adoring the companionship of laying close, she could fit into any curve or corner of your body. At first, whenever she'd hear someone on the creaky stairs she'd jump down, but eventually she got the gist... during the day Mom was the only one in the house with us, and she learned that Mom would turn a blind eye, so the only time she jumped down was when she knew Dad was at home. Finally even Dad tired of being the bad guy. There's only so many times you can yell at your dog and your daughter, especially when that dog would get down, look up at you with hurt confusion and loving sincerity in her big brown eyes. He began to parody himself, still going through the motions but in a comic way, fists on his hips, shaking his head, asking "Tillie, what are you doing up there?" and she'd jump down and wriggle all over, smiling, and he'd have to smile back.

She was a terrier, and terrier fans know that terriers are not slavish dogs. Sure, they'd like to listen to you, but from their view, surely you understand you could be wrong. Tillie would always comply with a request, but she would moan or whine or bark with soft indignance if she thought you were being unfair. When she felt truly wounded, she'd let loose a frustrated "Ooo-WOO-hoo!" Frankly, I liked when she'd get a little stirred up and let you have it because I knew it meant she had her own mind and wasn't afraid to air her thoughts.

Tillie was an equal opportunity dog, and went out of her way to spend time with all of us equally. Her time with me was after-school walks and on the bed while I studied. With mom it was any time during the day, especially in the kitchen doorway, or later at night between Mom's ankles on the couch, while Mom watched TV. With Dad, it was downstairs where he read the paper. Tillie never flouted the furniture rule with Dad (though once worn-down, I doubt he'd have enforced it) but slept very sweetly at his feet, her little head on the instep of his shoe. Sometimes she'd sleep exactly halfway down the stairs, equidistant between all of us, with her head stuck out between the banister supports. This became another favored perch by day, because it gave her the perfect vantage point to see the approach of the mailman through the living room windows. She had nothing against him, but knew that soon after spotting him, strange stuff would come flying into our home through the door slot. Tillie just knew we needed to be protected against that, so she'd attack the mail as it came sailing in, her sole display of aggression.

Smart as a whip, she was, quick to learn whatever you had in mind, and enthusiastic. We spent countless hours playing one-sided "hide and seek" where I'd leave her in the upstairs den, tell her to stay, go hide somewhere, and then make a few inviting "kiss kiss" sounds to let her know she could come look. Aussies were bred to protect the gold mines and have exceptional hearing; she always found me, and we'd have a big, slobbering reunion each time she succeeded. She loved to tussle, whether it was hanging off a toy you held in the air, or hanging onto your hand with her teeth, with just the right pressure. For a small dog with a short stride, she was always fast, whether you were playing fetch or walking her. The best part of her walk to me was not the walk itself, but asking her if she wanted to go. Any dog lover will attest that there is nothing cuter than a dog looking at you very sincerely while cocking its head. I would ask Tillie "You wanna go-for walk?" and she'd gaze at me, turning her head one way and the other until I confirmed "Let's go-for walk!" followed by her rejoicing. It got to where I had only to say "gopher" for the show of intense interest from her. She was game for anything, and had boundless energy, which is why I sometimes called her "Spunk" or "Spunkin".

Everyone liked Tillie, my parents' friends and mine. Tillie loved parties and was well behaved, trained not to beg but knowing full well she was so bloody cute that someone would slip her something.

Like all dogs, Tillie loved to eat. She enjoyed her reward snacks every time she came in from outside, as well as her biscuits for breakfast, or her evening meal, served in a dish at the side of the refrigerator next to her water bowl.

There's a reason dogs are called "omnivores" - her palate knew no boundaries. It was fun to throw Tillie a grape, just to see her bat it around the house before eating it. She knew all the signs of when food might become hers, and recognized patterns... like how my dad always liked a late evening snack before brushing his teeth before bed. He would stand at the kitchen sink and have a few Ritz crackers with peanut butter, and she'd sit beside him waiting, because she knew when he was done she'd get one too. He'd hand it down to her, she'd take the whole cracker in her mouth, and for the next 10 or 15 minutes would chew and smack her way through it, licking madly back to front to get the peanut butter unstuck from the roof of her mouth.

Another routine was my nightly cleanup before bed. I'd be in the upstairs bathroom brushing my teeth, and she'd stand outside the open door, quivering in anticipation, knowing that when I was finished, I'd put a dab of toothpaste on my finger and offer it to her to lick off. She and I both enjoyed the ritual. Sometimes one of my parents would say "That can't be good for her" and I'd counter "When else does she get to freshen her mouth?"

The years passed nicely. Always a great dog, Tillie just got smarter and more tuned in with age. Going away to college was hard for me for a lot of reasons, and one of them was missing her. She always welcomed me home wholeheartedly, and I felt the same.

When I returned home after final exams, I greeted both my folks while scanning around for Tillie, who was usually first at the door. My folks seemed funny somehow, tentative. Once in the kitchen, I noticed it felt bigger, and realized Tillie's bowls were not by the fridge. I felt alarmed and blurted "Where's the dog's bowls? Where's Tillie?" and the guilty look that passed between my parents made me feel sick to my stomach. You could tell they had discussed how to tell me, but hadn't really gotten it down because it came out all fractured and disjointed.

The gist of it was that Tillie seemed to have had a stroke. She had been walking wrong, and sometimes in circles. Sometimes it seemed like she couldn't see properly. She'd been having trouble with the stairs. Worst of all, in her confusion or pain or fear, she had gotten snappy, making my mom think she was going to bite her. My parents had agreed Tillie couldn't live like that, nor could they. She'd been put to sleep.

My head was reeling. I'm not sure which stunned me more- that Tillie had gotten ill, that they had put her to sleep, or that they'd gone through all this without a word to me. Granted, I'd been away, but still, didn't my feelings count? Shouldn't I have had the chance to see her or say my goodbyes? I could almost accept that Tillie had developed serious problems, and accept maybe that nothing could be done, but could not accept that my veritable sister had been disposed of without my reassurance, and without my being told. I felt I'd let her down terribly, while also feeling betrayed. My folks explained that this had all transpired while I was winding up the semester and they thought they should not disrupt my studies and exams by telling me. Logical, perhaps, but it didn't ring true. It felt sneaky, done to avoid my objections or my emotional response. I felt handled, and in that handling, had not been there for my little sister.

As an adult, I can look back on this now and better understand my parents' thought process, but I had a hard time with it then. It felt like losing Maggie all over again; a parental decision had been made, the deed was done, I was not present, and by the way, again, no remains had come home so we could not honor her with a home burial. She'd been cremated, and her ashes would join countless other animals' ashes and be dumped summarily somewhere.

It feels like a falsity to say "We all loved and valued Tillie" while what's left of her is in a landfill, or some unknown place. My parents didn't ask, so they had no answers for me. There was not even the reassurance that her ashes would be honorably scattered with other beloved pets. We don't know where she is, and we should have asked.

Perhaps in large part it is the loss of my two dogs that years later made Find A Grave make sense to me. I understand, the body is an empty vessel, the soul has flown, it really shouldn't matter how we, the living, treat the remains. But it does matter to me. What we do with those remains is a reflection of our love and regard for that soul. Cremation itself is not what I object to, assuming the cremated remains are treated well; it is the absence of honor, the absence of taking a moment to acknowledge the loss together, all of us who once shared a life with and loved the soul who has left us. Doing the right thing is necessary whether we believe we are observed or not. The honorable treatment of remains and the acknowledgment of the soul is a final kindness; a kindness to ourselves, so we can move on, and to them, whether they know what we've done or not.

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  • Created by: sr/ks
  • Added: 14 Jun 2009
  • Find A Grave Memorial 38318783
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  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Matilda Tanya “Tillie” Romberger (2 Jul 1970–1980), Find A Grave Memorial no. 38318783, ; Maintained by sr/ks (contributor 46847659) Cremated, Location of ashes is unknown, who reports a Disposed of by our vet.