2016 has started out as a year of change – gradual or sudden, they keep bursting upon us. In January we had our Sophie girl with us and now in February, we do not. In January we had David Bowie with us and in February we do not. The same transition has happened to my grandmother with the loss of her second husband a week later. In February we marked the twelfth year since my father’s untimely passing. It’s a disappearing act, one day they are here and the next day they simply are not. Their memories and mementos lingers and you expect to see them around every corner you turn.
Our pets are our daily companions and they give back an unselfish love every moment you spend with them. With Sophie the dog’s passing, we feel it acutely and forcefully. We were her earthly guardians and ultimately also the acting agents in her leaving this earth. We willfully summoned the vet to our house and paid for her release with the doses of sedatives and drugs that stopped her lungs and heart. In our defense, we were doing this to save her from an unnecessary suffering – a silent cancer had invaded her liver and spleen and rotted out her insides long before she showed any outward sign, brave girl. In some ways, I think we are more humane to our pets than we choose to be towards ourselves when it comes to this end of life juncture.
I think that Sophie had a good life, for a dog. We were newlyweds, living in a 400 sq. ft. second floor apartment with one dog already who was just outgrowing puppyhood – it made perfect sense to get a second. (Sarcasm). But I just knew we needed another to make our little family unit complete. So I searched online and we visited one sweet pup at the APA that wasn’t “the one”. And then I saw Sophie’s rescue story on Stay Rescue’s site and saw a resemblance to Shenanigan and such sweet, loving eyes that I knew that she was ours. We put in an application and her foster parents brought her out for a visit. She gravitated towards JT, giving him big eyes, seeming to know he was the one she had to win over. I still remember her in the backseat of her foster parents’ green sedan, ears high, looking out the window at us as they drove off after the visit. We talked it over and decided to try it out and her foster parents seemed to know that despite the second floor apartment and being young and naive that we would love her forever and so it was a match.
It wasn’t without its difficulties – Sophie came to join our family in our snug little apartment next to the Botanical Gardens and we learned that her past abuse made her nervous to be on a leash and especially be on a leash near other dogs. But we didn’t have a yard for her to run in and so we’d wander around our little South City neighborhood trying to get her to do her business, only to come back in the house and find that she had snuck off to pee in a corner. We tried joining a dog park to see if the off-leash experience would be better but she made such terrible noises when the other dogs played that it sounded like she was alternately murdering other dogs or being murdered herself. So we did what rational people would do and bought a house before the first year’s lease had even expired on our apartment. As Sophie learned to trust us and with a yard for early morning potty runs, she grew to be fine on a leash and we were able to take her many places. Other things would pop up, like a brief period of chewing plastic things (the remote, the camera, my phone), an intrinsic fear of the “windman” and an unhealthy high alert stress reaction to small children. We learned to take it in stride, listen to what she was trying to tell us and be sure to keep her out of stressful situations. She’d already been through enough.
In exchange for a roof over her head and a back yard to pee in, Sophie was so sweet and loving. She preferred to be around people and never fully learned to be a dog – she didn’t play with toys at all. She loved bones though – we found one Nylabone-type thing with the end all the way chewed down and we worried she was sharpening a shiv for an escape act. Although I doubt she would have ever tried to escape at all. I fell down once while walking the two dogs after tripping over an uneven joint in the sidewalk and Shenanigan ran off to sniff everywhere he could, unconcerned with anything except his sudden freedom while Miss Sophie came to check on me and make sure I was okay. That was her way. The two dogs had a deal – Shenanigan guarded the house and Sophie guarded her people. She entertained us a lot – when she got excited about going for a walk or something she would “moo” and we always thought someday we could teach her to say “I love you”. Every morning after she ate her breakfast she would “wipe her face” by rolling around hilariously on her back, her big white belly in the air and her little feet kicking everywhere.
Phoenix seemed to agree with our dogs. My mom and I drove them down here in a two day exhaustion-fueled driving tour (JT was already here for work) and they seemed content to sit in their dog beds in the back seat and watch the midwest slowly change to the southwest outside the tinted windows. The weather here, so warm and dry, seemed better for their joints and Sophie especially seemed less arthritic and more relaxed. Her face had turned from tan to all white so gradually that we didn’t fully comprehend what that meant until it was upon us. We worried that they would miss the grass in this land of rocks and dirt and made sure to walk them to the nearby park or green space for a chance to roll around in the green stuff.
Her last day came when I was in St. Louis on a very short and stressful work trip. I didn’t want to be away from home but I didn’t have any other option. We landed and I got back in contact with JT. He let me know I needed to get home. I think she was waiting for me. She wagged her tail but was too weak to get up. I laid down on the floor besides her and she stretched out along my body. I told her how much I loved her with my eyes and she huffed an acknowledgment, breathing my breath with her breath. This and many more wordless communications of affection and love I will hold with me always.
Writing and re-writing all these past sweet and stressful and silly times with my old girl has tears streaming and maybe this eulogy of sorts is too long for a dog. It seemed like it needed to be written.
All I know is we miss her so much. And I’ve learned enough about grief to know that that’s okay.
PS – After all of these transitions, I read Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air”. It was partly because I’ve been reading Joanna Goddard’s blog A Cup of Jo for some time now and I was heartbroken to hear of the family connection (her twin sister was married to Paul) but also because I think we sometimes avoid the subject of death and dying and yet it’s so omnipresent. In the space of time since I started this blog post and publishing it, one of my sisters has also lost a significant person in her life and my heart goes out to her. I’m glad February is the shortest month.