I have been known to say that sometimes things don't feel real to me until I write them down. That's how I feel now about the loss of my dog.
On February 17, 2016, we lost our dear old Daphne girl.
She was the best worst dog ever. It's the only way to describe her.
For fourteen years she was our constant companion. She was, like all family members, a combination of endearing and infuriating traits. I can't possibly capture everything I want to say about her. I'll focus on a few key points in her story. Especially the ones I don't want to forget.
Chapter 1: I want a dog
Jake and I are sitting on our green furniture warehouse couch in the University family housing apartment we had rented my first year of law school. We are having a conversation we've had many times before. It goes like this:
"I want a dog."
"I know you do, but we aren't allowed to have one here."
"Then let's move!"
"We can't afford it."
"We have to. I want a dog so badly I can feel it."
So we agreed to move in a few months, and we did. Within days of settling into our new apartment, Jake's folks arrived with our beautiful, special, indignant bundle of love, Daphne.
Chapter 2: A brief backstory
Daphne was born somewhere in Oregon to a breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis. She was small. She was the alpha, they said. Cool! said Jake's folks, and they adopted her. A few years later they adopted her "sister" Ruby. It turned out that being the alpha meant that Daphne liked to pick fights she couldn't win. Ruby wasn't looking for trouble, she would just casually try to eat her food, or exit the room, and BAM! Daphne attack!! So the sisters needed to be separated. We eagerly volunteered to take Daphers.
The Christmas before we got her, I sat on the ground of my folks-in-law house petting her head. "We get to have you soon, Daphne!" I whispered to her. I was giddy with excitement.
Chapter 3: Perfecting dog ownership
Upon adopting Daphne, I mentally created the following list of things I would do as a dog owner:
- Feed her at the same time every day. Routine is comforting.
- Take her outside on a small walk every morning, and a longer walk each evening. We didn't have a backyard, so we had to take her out on the leash.
- Try and socialize her at a dog park or with our friends' dogs.
- Go running with her on the weekends.
- Buy high end dog food.
- Brush her weekly, if not daily.
- Never let her sleep in our bed.
One night Daphne got into some ranch dressing. (Don't ask how. Dogs are clever.) We freaked out. Jake called the pet emergency clinic. They were great, and they walked us through exactly what we needed to do next: calm the eff down. Was she acting normally? Yes. No vomit/diarrhea/fainting? OK. She's ok. She's a dog.
We would look back on this story for years with combination of endearment and total hilarious embarrassment. And it would not be the last errant ranch dressing container or cake slice or chunk of cheesy human food that she would get into.
Chapter 4: New family members join us
I finished law school. I got a job. Jake and I started talking about babies. Friends were having babies. We were doing pretty well at the whole dog-raising thing (we had relaxed our standards a bit, but at least she still had the coziest sleeping spot in the house - square in the middle of our bed), and in 2009, we moved into a new house that has a great back yard where Daphne could run and explore and be free.
Which was good, because our commitment to daily walks twice a day was flailing. It was a chore, and it seemed like she started to use those morning walks to hold us hostage. Daphne had the tendency to hold a grudge.
Chapter 5: We fail at doggie parenthood in several respects
Before our first daughter was born, we researched exactly what to do. You take a baby blanket and wrap your newborn child in it, get it really gooped up with newborn juiciness. Then bring that blanket home and let your dog smell it and get all up in it. When you bring the baby home, she will instantly become part of the pack.
As it turns out, this. works. PERFECTLY. We did it! We added a member to the pack without anyone losing a finger, or a claw. As time went on, parenthood overwhelmed us and consumed our every ounce of attention. I would sometimes joke that I had no idea if Daphne was fed during the first two months of our daughter's life. I felt like I had put my head down, and when I looked up... whoa. She was still there. Has anyone fed this dog?! (Yes, Jake did godblesshim.) And somehow, she still loved us. Although a little bitter about the sudden drop in walks, she had been extremely protective of the pack, especially it's newest member. For four straight days after we got back from the hospital, Daphne kept watch and followed us around with the baby and attended every diaper change (even in the night) and barely slept. On the fourth day she completely crashed.
We didn't completely fail during these years of having babies and keeping up a house. But we did fail some. And I feel inclined to at least mention it, because it is real, and it happens. Daphne didn't get the attention she used to get. The brushing, the walks, the consistent feeding times...all of that got stretched and compromised. I would feel incredible guilt at times. While laying on couch, scratching behind her ears, I'd ask her for forgiveness and say "you know we love you, right?" She would look back up at me suddenly with big brown eyes, the cataracts starting to show through. Partly, she was saying "why all the chatter, keep up the stratching, lady!" and partly (I hope), she was loving me back.
Chapter 6: Dogs get old
Sometime after her 11th birthday, Daphne's effect on the wall-to-wall carpet was grossly irreversible. We got new flooring installed and committed to putting down towels or doggie pee pads every day. What was once an occasional, vindictive "I'm going to pee here to teach you a lesson," eventually became "I'm going to pee here each and every day and never remember a time when I didn't pee right here in the dining room like it's my job." It was endearing. Almost as endearing as the tap-tap-tap of her nails on the hardwood, no matter how short we trimmed them. At least we'd never lose track of her location in the house.
I started to mentally prepare for doggie old age and the big Good Bye. But it never seemed to get that bad. She was slower, but could still walk with us on wagon rides around the block. She could still snatch a cheese stick from little Henry's hands. She had accidents, but wasn't incontinent. (We spent $250 to figure that out!)
Until, it really did get bad.
Chapter 7: All dogs go to heaven
"She hasn't eaten anything in two days," Jake told me. Well, that's usual, I thought. "Let's try to soften the food more, maybe it's her teeth," I suggested. (In addition to her crippling fear of swings, oars, and windshield wipers, Daphne detested having her teeth brushed, which resulted in a surgical removal of 5 and the mysterious disappearance of another 4 teeth.)
We tried softer food. We tried basic mush. Covered in cheese. It wasn't working. We could see the writing on the wall.
On the night before we took her to the vet to confirm things, we talked to the kids about how Daphne was quite old (14), and not feeling well, and she would probably die. We didn't shy away from the word "die," and we let them see that we were sad. We cried. We answered questions. There was one thing we didn't anticipate, though.
In the morning as we were getting ready to go, we hear Olivia: "Let's go, Daphne, let's go! Time to go die!"
Yikes...not sure we dealt with that one correctly. Or maybe we did?
The thing they don't tell you about adopting a dog when you're young is that some day the two of you will grow up, a lot. And you'll have to make the hardest grown-up decision you've ever made, and then have to explain it to your kids. Jake and I did our best, we held it together until after we dropped the kids off at daycare, saying our last good-byes and taking a few more pictures. But once we got to the vet's, the tears fell and fell.
I held her and nuzzled her head. "You're a good dog, Daphne. You were always a good dog. You know we love you, right?"
Jake got her out and whispered something to her. They had a special bond. The scene inside the vet's office was the saddest thing you ever saw. The staff got choked up, we were a mess. Daphne, in her sweet tired way, went out panting and "smiling," probably trying to tell us it was OK. All dogs go to heaven. And wherever she is now, I hope there are plenty of squirrels to chase, endless energy to do so, and never a windshield wiper.
Chapter 8: After she's gone, there's a hole in our hearts
Now that our dog is gone, we feel her absence constantly. Whenever we open the front door and start to announce our usual "Daphne, we're home!" she isn't there. When we turn off the lights at night, there's no dog to let outside. There's no food bowl to fill. There's no dog sitter to call when we plan a trip. (We are also aware of the upsides, it's true.)
I think what I miss the most is the constant unfailing love of my dear friend. Pets love us with such an intense loyalty unlike anything. Daphne sat by my side through law school, through losing my first job (I'll never forget coming home early, plopping down on the couch, petting her and crying), and through kids, pregnancies, new jobs, postpartum depression, and all the years when I felt like a failure at doggie parenting. She didn't see me as a failure, she just loved me. She loved us all, and she will always have a tender place in our hearts.
God bless you, Daphne girl.