It’s taken me a few weeks to get my head together enough to write this, and part of me wants to put it off a while longer. It needs to be done, though, if for no other reason than to stop some of these thoughts from rattling around in my noggin.
Two years ago today, I wrote my first post here on the blog. It was about my Pekingese Sally going deaf. Entitled Sally’s Gone Deaf, it dealt with the ways that sweet old dog changed as she got older, especially after our other Pekingese Misty passed away in October 2017.
Between the time I wrote that piece and this past summer, Sally aged rapidly. Walks took less and less time. Her interest in snuggling dropped to the precious, stolen moments we could find every few days when the mood struck her just right. And the surest sign of aging: her old body parts were starting to fail her.
When I was laid off in the middle of March, my wife following suit a few weeks later, Sally had something she’d never experienced before. We were home all the time. A few years ago, this would have been a non-stop party for her. But now, she mostly just kept to herself and slept a lot.
When my wife Alison and I created our new gardening space in early spring, Sally stayed inside, despite her love for the outdoors. When the weather warmed enough for longer walks, she made it about half the distance we’d normally go. She looked up at us with tired eyes, letting us know it was time to go back. So we did, carrying her on the last leg of the journey.
The spring and early part of summer were really tough on Sally. Unseasonably and unreasonably hot, she struggled despite our best efforts to keep her cool. We knew our time with her was drawing to a close. Then we got a reprieve.
Near the end of July, a large raccoon was hit and killed by a car right outside our house. Someone from the town came by and collected it, and life moved on. Four days later, life turned upside down.
Over the span of six days, six baby raccoons emerged from the swamp where they and their late mother lived. They were in various states of hunger and health, and we cared for them until a wildlife rehabilitator could take them in.
There are a million stories that came out of our nearly three weeks of caring for the babies. The reason I’m bringing it up here, though, is that those raccoons reinvigorated Sally.
She’s always had strong mothering instincts, even though she was spayed and never had a litter of her own. She served as a loyal nanny to a litter of kittens, and she was a guide dog for Misty while she was with us.
The six baby raccoons brought that back for Sally, along with a burst of excitement and energy that hadn’t been around in quite a while. When we worked with the raccoons in the backyard, she kept them from wandering off. If they nuzzled her belly, she’d lay down on her side and let them “nurse.” And sometimes they’d climb on her back, and she’d walk them around for a bit until she got tired or they fell off. Whichever came first.
We said goodbye to the raccoons on the Fourth of July, sad to see them go, but relieved to know they’d be cared for in a better way than we could provide. Nearly four weeks later on July 31, we found ourselves saying goodbye to Sally, too.
We’d taken her to the vet that morning. She wasn’t eating much or going to the bathroom like she should. She couldn’t get comfortable, either. Given the pandemic situation, poor Sally had to go into the clinic without us. She was examined, and we were told her organs were starting to fail, and the time was close for making the hard choice no dog owner wants to make. But Sally had been given medication to hopefully improve her condition, and we could have the weekend to think things over and spoil her.
By early that evening, the choice was made for us. Sally was in bad shape, and she went there fast. Within a matter of minutes, she declined, and we made the call to the emergency vet an hour away.
I never want to experience another drive like the one we made that night to Williston, VT. Along the way, we contacted our kids, and by the time we arrived, everyone else was there. Again, because of the pandemic, there was no going inside. The clinic was particularly busy that night, and it was a long wait in the parking lot.
We took turns holding Sally and talking to her. She strained at one point to get down and walk. So we did. My last stroll with Sally was about 50 or so feet from the clinic sidewalk into the parking lot and back again. I had to carry her most of the way back. Along the way, I felt my heart break a little more with each painful step.
A technician brought us all into a private patio area where we could say our goodbyes as the drug was administered. It was the closest gathering of people I’d experienced in over four months, but whatever worries I had about coronavirus exposure were washed away in the tears we shed together over our sweet little girl.
Once we’d processed things a bit and felt settled, Sally was taken inside to be prepped for the ride home. After she came back out, I carried her cardboard casket to the car, we all said our goodbyes to each other, and we drove home.
Alison and I had to work the next day. It was tough, but we work at the same place these days, and we were able to support each other in our grief. It was a long day, and Sally haunted me via Spotify throughout the day. Songs I’d not heard in ages – Hold Me In Your Heart by Warren Zevon, Goodbye by Patty Griffin, Goin’ Out by Sarah Harmer – played throughout the day, making food prep with a chef’s knife a bit tricky.
We both blinked back our tears, though, and got through.
Sally is buried now in our backyard, to the right of Misty. She’s got a little rhododendron bush planted at the head of her grave. She loved laying under the old rhododendron in our front yard on sunny days (you can see it in the background of the picture of her down below).
It took well over a month before I started waking up in the morning and not thinking that it was time to walk Sally. But the memory of her lingers, and her portrait – painted by my talented sister-in-law, Susan – watches over us from the living room wall.
But life goes on.
Two Months Later
I wanted to wait until spring to get a new dog. At least my brain did.
Alison and my heart had other ideas.
And now we have Ziti, a mostly pit bull with at least a bit of pointer in her. She was rescued from a puppy mill in Georgia and brought to A Canine Gem, a rescue facility here in Vermont. As of tomorrow, she’ll have been with us for three weeks.
Ziti’s name was Zoey when we adopted her, but my step-daughter’s name is Zoe. We decided that would get confusing real fast and decided to find another “Z” name that would make for an easy change. And “Ziti” is a cute-as-hell name for a dog like her.
She’s 35-ish pounds of solid love and dorkiness. I’d never met a dog that gave actual hugs, but Ziti does, and she’s really good at it. And she’s a totally awkward goofball who’s still trying to figure out how her body works.
Ziti’s also clearly been through some trauma in her two-or-so years of life, and we’re working through that. We’re at that stage where she’s understanding our routine, and we’re understanding her needs.
It’s a new journey in the midst of strange times.
I’m glad we have each other to get through it all.
And I’m so grateful I had Sally and Misty to get me through the 15 previous years.
Good girls. All three of you.