A cuddly ball of fur comes into our lives to teach us love, compassion, and how to clean up an accident and disciplining while trying to hide our laughter so they know we mean business.
I knew the love and compassion part, but the cleaning up an accident while disciplining and trying not to laugh? I only learned that a few years ago.
Our beloved ball of fur, a salt-and-pepper Chihuhua named Daisy, left us on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
These are words I’ve never wanted to type. I’ve never wanted to speak them. I’ve never wanted to use the word “Daisy” and “die” or “passed away” in the same sentence. I held out all hope that when she suddenly began acting out of character, that maybe she was just having a bad night or a bad morning, and that the veteranarian would know how to fix it. That she’d be Daisy again, and go on to live forever and conquer the world. Or just our neighborhood. Because anytime she had a scare (like an allergic reaction to a flea collar last November), she bounced back.
I knew it wasn’t going to be how it ended this time, but it was a nice thought.
Normal Routines and “The Usual Day”
The day before, Daisy woke up in her normal way. She climbed out of her dog bed, did her double stretches (downward and upward, with wagging tail), cleared her trachea (she has been dealing with a collapsed trachea for three years, it caused her to make a distinct “honking” sound whenever she got excited), had her water, and then watched me in anticipation to go downstairs and put peanut butter on toast.
Daisy loved bread, and she especially loved peanut butter. I always put a small plop on my plate for her to enjoy after I finished eating my sandwich. That morning, she really went to town on it, and James (my fiancee) thought I put too much on the plate. I guess I did, but I didn’t care. She was happy, and I wanted to share that special treat with her. It was how we bonded in the last two months.
When I got home from work that afternoon, she greeted me in her usual way by running down the stairs excitedly honking. It was how I was greeted everyday since her and James moved here in June 2016, and I loved it. Who doesn’t revel in the glory of a small ball of equal parts fur and unconditional love tearing lightning fast down a flight of stairs to see you? No matter how I felt about my day, work, or life in general, that greeting was the guarantee that someone appreciated me just for walking in the front door.
At dinnertime, we had McDonald’s, which was infrequent, but that night, I’m glad we got it. Daisy loved french fries, and we always gave her some. That night, she did her usual begging, and we obliged. We went out for a walk with our friends. She was happy to see us coming back, but it also seemed to take everything out of her to greet us. She jumped up on the couch and laid on her favorite blanket, which was the same color as her. It has her scent and her hair all over it, and I have no plans on washing it anytime soon, nor will I move it from that spot. She can have it a little longer.
And that’s when something seemed off.
The Longest Night
It was at that moment that we noticed her breathing – shallow and full of struggle. She just seemed off, like she was having a bad night. She would start to fall asleep sitting up (something she did in front of us on more than a few occasions, which always made us laugh), but wake up again. Her normal “honking” was gone, replaced with this raspy breathing. Why would she breathe like that? She also refused to lay down. She kept sitting up and doing this strange breathing, falling asleep in the process. We kept dismissing it, but something seemed off, and we started to think about something we’ve obviously discussed (she was approximately 12-13 years old, perhaps older, after all): maybe this was the end. Maybe she was dying. I never wanted to think this could happen, but all the signs were there.
Upstairs in her bed, it was the same thing: fall asleep sitting up, raspy breathing. She wouldn’t drink from her water bowl, and when James called her up on the bed for “beard water” (she loved to lick his face after he’d brush his teeth), she came up half-heartedly to lick. We wanted her to sleep with us, to sit with us, but she kept looking at us before retreating back to the floor. We spotted her trying to get under our bed. She never went under there. There was absolutely nothing she could possibly have been looking for under there. When I talked about it with a co-worker who lost her cat within the last year, she said that Daisy was looking for a place to die. Animals will try to hide somewhere so they can die peacefully. Meanwhile, her two parents were so adamant on seeing her, they put her back in her bed. Silly parents, she didn’t want to die there.
The Longest Day
But she stayed there all night, with James staying awake for small stretches during the night to pet her, comfort her through what was obviously her worst scare yet. When I got up at 6 am for work (exhausted from interrupted sleep and worry), I checked on her. I always checked on her in the morning. I would pat the blanket she hides underneath and feel her stir and snort (always making that little piggy noise!). Today though, she was lying outside of the blankets. Surely she was freezing, our air conditioner was on and this dog hated being cold! She stared straight ahead, her eyes vacant. She wouldn’t hold my gaze. I rubbed her back and told her everything was ok (what else could I do?), while she made that noise that replaced her usual snorting and honking.
By the time I was ready to leave for work, James had carried her downstairs. She had no energy to follow me down for peanut butter. I knew at this point that it was much more than simple illness, it was much more complicated. Her tail wagged slightly, but she was otherwise…not there. I gave her kisses when I was leaving for work, telling her I loved her, and if God wanted her today, she could go with Him. We wouldn’t be mad at her for leaving us. Sad yes, but never mad. We loved her and only wanted the best for her beyond what we could give her. James sat on the couch with her, not bringing himself to take her outside to see my mom. My mom brings treats daily when she comes to pick me up for work – it is tradition for Daisy to jump in the car to get to the cupholder. She would excitedly honk, and when prompted, bark twice for “thank you.” She struggled because of her honking, but she always “said” thank you.” On Tuesday, she barked three times. I’m trying to figure out why, it was different. So was all of this.
By the time I had gotten to work, James called me. He had been crying since the night before, since he sensed something was not ok with her. He knew after twelve years that this may have been the end, or very close to it. Daisy had gotten worse by this point, and he called a veterinarian to see her that day. He knew what would happen next, but he wanted to take her to see someone who could help ease the process. I held out futile hope. I texted our closest friends (also our neighbors and members of our wedding party), as well as my friend in Indiana who had visited us and knew Daisy. I told my best friend in her office (we work together). Everyone was holding out hope for her. But I think we all knew.
I regret, even now, ever going to work that day. Something told me not to go, to stay there and help Daisy in her final hours, and to help James with coping and caring for her in those hours. My co-Secretary and our receptionist (who have so compassionate, crying with me as I broke the news), encouraged me to go home and that they would handle everything. As afraid of the inevitable as I was, I should have listened and left work.
Before leaving for the vet’s office, James took Daisy to the pond in our neighborhood. He sat there with her for 40 minutes, talking to her. He let her know that he was going to take her pain away, and that everything would be ok. By this point, he was able to take off her leash and she wouldn’t have run off. There was nothing left of her energy. Her beautiful, wonderful energetic self was gone, all of her years visible.
Daisy’s appointment was 11:45 am. James took her to a local vet’s office. We had a regular vet who had a mobile practice and came to our house, but we could never have gotten them out today. Thankfully, this practice was local and the person on the phone was compassionate as my fiancee cried for our dog, whom he knew was running out of time. He later told me on the phone that at the office, she passed out in his arms, her head lolling on his shoulder. He knew she didn’t have much time left. Once in the vet’s office, the vet felt sedation was all she needed; however, they followed through with putting her down. It was better off that way.
As she was fading away, she got a final moment in on James, the one that has comforted us and made us laugh, because this was so Daisy: she sneezed right in his face. Big and snotty. Her worst yet. Daisy sneezed all over James’s arm in excitement anytime we took her in the car. When we played with her and would bat at her body and face, she would sneeze. Always on him, never on me. So she got him right in the face. He said he laughed, but after that, she was gone. Our little ball of fur, full of love, life, and happiness, was gone. Twelve/thirteen (maybe older?) years old, James’s loneliness on the east coast during his first post-college job, a move to Michigan, finding love and happiness during a weekend trip to Chicago, another move (this time to my hometown in Southern New Jersey), and an engagement (that part is a great story, but a separate story in itself) with a promise that I would always be her “mehm,” Daisy had passed on. I wasn’t there, but I can picture how it happened.
As peaceful as it sounds, it doesn’t help to think of her end.
The biggest concern was putting her down and having to know that we were doing this to her, that she would never forgive us. The reality of putting her down was different – by the time she was about to die, she no longer looked like Daisy. She looked every one of her years. She looked undeniably old. Her life was gone, that spark and excitement (even that honking she was known for) was non-existent. She was a shell of who she had been in life. Letting her go was the release she needed, and what we needed so we could have memories of her.
It was fast – just over twelve hours from the time we first noticed this was happening, to the time she passed away. She wasn’t dying for days, weeks, or months. We’d noticed subtle changes in her breathing and energy over the course of the month, but we also knew it was getting warmer, and she was getting older. We didn’t deny it, but the reality of everything just came all at once. And once she’d passed, the pain she felt was also gone.
Our spunky, funny, beloved ball of fur left so we could be spared bad memories of her end.
When I started piecing my thoughts together the morning after Daisy died, I was thinking of things we’d done with her since I’d moved in with James last September. We went away the week after Thanksgiving, but were home for Christmas. We bought her an ornament that looked like her at a much younger age, as well as a Christmas stocking. We filled it with presents and gave her an amazing Christmas.
In April, we took her on a road trip to Holland/Grand Rapids, Michigan for James’s work trip. I never went on these trips, but we just got engaged and his dad lives in Grand Rapids, so he wanted me to come along. We took Daisy so we didn’t have to put her up at the kennel, taking care to get a pet-friendly hotel. We walked her around the hallways, took her off her leash, and played hide and seek in the mostly vacant hallways. She played and had fun, got to see James’s dad, who loved her. Daisy took a second to recognize him, but she was happy to see him.
The Saturday before she passed away, I was laid up after food poisoning the night before. She came downstairs in her usual manner, saw me sitting on the couch, and jumped up to be my companion for about an hour and a half (she farted and ran away). James took her to our condo complex’s happy hour for dogs (“Yappy Hour”), where she played in a pink kiddie pool, ate vanilla ice cream, and socialized (the best she could) with other dogs.
Special thanks to my friend Heather for taking these pictures. She shared them with me after Daisy’s passing.
On Sunday, she walked side-by-side with our friend’s German Shepherd, Nymeria. James and our friend Ken both talked about it. At the end, Daisy showed she had a new friend in a much bigger, much younger dog.
Thinking about these “last times” has made me feel a sense of relief. Daisy’s full life was well-lived. She had the best of everything and everyone. Above all, she had two parents who loved her right up until she couldn’t show her unconditional love to them anymore. I’m not sure, maybe she didn’t recognize us, but I’m sure somewhere in her mind, she knew us. But I know she never stopped loving us, even if she couldn’t show it.
Daisy’s passing left its mark. Our friends are devistated. I’ve been talking to them pretty much ’round the clock. We’re holding up well, but we have our moments. Whenever I get texts from him during the workday, it is usually around 12 pm. They’re always a picture of what Daisy is doing at that moment (usually sleeping). At 12 pm on the day I started writing this (24 hours after her passing), I’m aware that she had passed. I cried. It isn’t easy. Why should it be easy? My little love has passed away. I’ll never get 12 noon texts about what she’s doing, afternoon walk videos, my customary after work greeting, or all the snuggles, kisses, snorts, and yes, honks I’d grown accustomed to in the last few years. However, I have so many funny stories, moments, videos, and plenty of photos of her at her best.
I’m happy that in her final days, Daisy still had the best of everything, with all of her best qualities and faculties still within her. Most dogs decline gradually, but ours showed decline subtly until it just couldn’t be helped. All of it just happened so fast. We felt like we didn’t have all the time in the world with her, but in reality, we did. We were a happy little family right up until her final hours. We gave her the best of everything, including the best way to let her go. It was only right to let her leave this life the way she lived it.
“It Gets Better, and Easier”
You know the saying that time heals all wounds, and that it will get better? It will. It won’t be immediate. I have moments where I smile about Daisy alternated with moments of grief. I miss her. I miss the thought of her. I miss her smell, her adorable noises and mannerisms, her love. I called her “stinker,” “Boo Boo,” and “Gabooboos” (a combination of “Goober” and “Boo Boo”). I loved giving her kisses (and getting them back!), rubbing her belly, and having her turn over lazily so I can rub it.
I kept going back to this one funny moment we had with her a few months ago. We were playing with her on the floor, and she stuck her head in my bag. She found a wrapped sanitary napkin, and flung it at James. The look of horror on his face when he got hit with a (clean) maxi pad was hilarious. My brother’s dog has done far worse (he took tampon applicators out of the trash!), but a clean sanitary napkin is the worst possible offense. I have not stopped talking about it in life, and I’m never going to stop talking about in her death. Memories like this one, and so many others, along with pictures and videos of her at her best, are what will make this easier to bear.
We’ve been taking walks in our neighborhood at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with our friends. It’s nice to take the same path we always took with Daisy. Over by the pond where James took Daisy at the end, we have noticed this one turtle (I guess its the same one) poking its head up every time we come there. If I ever needed a sign, we’ve taken comfort in knowing this turtle keeps spotting us. Perhaps this is Daisy reincarnated? I have no idea, but it brings us comfort.
You know what else has helped? We say good night to our girl every night. Not like she ever responded when she was alive, but we still feel like she is around. Her bed is still in our bedroom, her blanket still on our couch. We gave away the puppy pads to a neighbor with a new beagle, got rid of a water dispensing bowl, but we’ve kept her porcelain bowls, leashes, harnesses, and toys around. We’re not ready to get rid of anything yet. And that’s ok, we’re still taking time to process. We’ve chosen to have Daisy cremated, so we’ll pick up her ashes. This time, I will schedule the day off so we can claim them together.
Our house is quiet, and it still seems unusual. But, we’re getting back into a normal routine. Our friends/neighbors have kept us busy. We’ve had great days (like the day I’m finishing this up), and bad days (like the first Saturday since she died). I’ve left her favorite spot in my home office set up the exact way it was before she passed.
We’re not planning on getting a new dog anytime soon, since we’re getting married a year from now, and taking a nice long honeymoon. We’re excited about the future and what it holds for us. Will we get another dog? Perhaps, but definitely not right now. Maybe after the wedding and honeymoon? We shall see.
Daisy, you were such a good girl, and you gave us every reason to smile, laugh, and celebrate your existence. We hope that life is as good to you now as it was when you were still alive. We love you, and you will never be forgotten.
I’ll always be your “mehm” forever.