March 7, 2011

Because All Dogs Go To Heaven

Dear Mom,

I experienced two significant deaths in my life between the ages of three and five. The first was Dad's mom; I have no memories of Granny, but I really wish I did (I'll have to ask Dad to tell me some stories!). The second was my baby cousin who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) while you were babysitting her at our house. I was much too young to understand what occurred at the time, but I do have a faint memory of a police officer questioning and consoling me in the driveway.

Despite the impact those deaths had on those around me, I managed to escape without any severe damage (although I recently realized that my cousin's death may explain my nervousness around babies and the hesitation I have felt my whole life regarding having children of my own at all). Unfortunately, I wasn't that lucky for long because about five years later, I was handed my first real, heaping plateful of grief.

Dixie was the first dog I ever had. I'll never forget the day Dad brought her home unexpectedly, and she came bounding through the door. I still laugh when I watch the home video of me screaming in fear and climbing up on the back of the couch desperately seeking refuge. Eventually, I realized that she wasn't a rabid, child-eating creature, but instead a cute, cuddly black lab who would become my greatest childhood companion. I'm sure we still have pieces of the old, wooden bunkbed that I not-so-secretly carved "SAM + DIXIE = BF4L" into with a pair of sharp scissors I snuck out of your office (that is kid code for "Sam and Dixie are best friends for life", just in case I stumped you with that acronym).

To me, our friendship was the real deal. I spent all my free time playing with her and loving her (but not brushing her, feeding her, or giving her water since I was so sweet and had to leave something for Dad to do!). I loved everything about her, from the way she laid there while I read her stories to how she always sensed my moments of sadness and quietly rested her head on my lap til I felt better. The silky smooth fur on the top of her head was like crack for kids, and I was addicted to petting it! She slept on my bedroom floor most nights, and sometimes I'd cave in and let her curl up next to me in bed (which was a short-lived treat since she took up 2/3 of my twin-sized mattress). I even started teaching her how to stop and hit my brother's soccerball back to me with her nose when I kicked it to her. She was absolutely fabulous, and I simply adored her.

When Dixie's stomach started getting bigger all of a sudden, I told Dad, "YES! She's going to have puppies!!!". This didn't seem far-fetched to me since, in 1996, most 9-year-olds had no idea that she needed to come into contact with a male dog in order for this to occur, or that being "fixed" means this option was eliminated completely. We brought her to the vet and had to leave her there while they ran some tests.

A day later, I remember having a family meeting and asking Dad when she was coming home. "Well... she's not," he said. I screamed a long, drawn out, "NO!" at the top of my lungs and can still remember clawing my fingernails into the arm of the couch, straightening my arm, and burrowing myself as deeply into the couch cushion as a little girl could possibly go. I wanted to disappear. I felt so overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated that I thought I was going to crawl right out of my skin. I had never felt that way before, and I later learned with your passing that this is what true devastation feels like.

Dixie ended up coming back home for a little while. The vet drained her stomach, wired her shut, and had her sport a vivacious, purple doggy-diaper to catch any liquid that seeped out of her incision (which we later learned was liquid from a strain of Hepatitus, which thankfully, after lots of blood tests and shots, we were told none of us had caught).

You even covered a comfy chair with a pink blanket and finally let her up on the furniture. She was really confused at first because: A. you were never a "dog person", and B. according to you, dogs were supposed to eat, sit, sleep, and live on the floor and nowhere else. You letting her sit somewhere besides her dogbed was huge. She probably thought, "Oh frig, she's patting the chair cushion and motioning for me to hop up. Yep, I'm a goner."

I remember her last night alive quite vividly. You and Dad were in the newly spruced up basement watching TV, and I was upstairs in the living room doing the same. I kept hearing Dixie coughing in the kitchen (I still panic now when a dog coughs actually), and I finally went out to check on her. There were small piles of vomit all around her, and I ran downstairs to tell you two. Dad, who wasn't nearly as alarmed about dog vomit as I was, went up a few minutes later during a commercial to see what the problem was. He immediately yelled down to you, "Barb, there's blood everywhere. I'm taking her to the vet. It's time."

I was absolutely horrified. I froze. I refused to see the floor-- or her-- like that. I couldn't bring myself to go upstairs and say goodbye... so I didn't, and I never saw my best friend again.

I missed her terribly. I had never known sadness quite like what I felt that night when I rolled over and she wasn't curled up in a ball on the floor next to my bed. I was so overwhelmed that I felt compelled to do something I had never done before. I didn't know how to do it, but I heard somewhere that it would ease the pain.

So, I closed my eyes, clapsed my fingers together just below my chin, and, with tears streaming down my face... I began to pray.




  1. U brought tears in my eyes.. U made me remember my first puppy sunny.. Sunny i miss u badly

  2. Aww.. we will never forget our first pets. I still miss Dixie too!

  3. Hi Sami, crying here. I had a black lab when I was growing up. I'll never forget the day we had to leave her at the vet. So heartbreaking. We never forget our dog friends. Did you ever have another dog? I hope so.

  4. What a moving post. It sure captures what it means to have a pet you love. And how they impact your life.
    When I got engaged I told my husband my dog comes with me. And he did. We loved him for another 6 years. Then it took till my son was 10 to get another dog. He was with us for 13 years through graduations my first diagnosis , treatment , remission my daughters wedding and my recurrence. Oh how hard it was when I realized that there was nothing to give him to make him better.
    Last Sept we welcomed another dog into the house. She just makes me smile even on those dreary and sad days. Can't wait to read more.

  5. Stacey- I did get another dog shortly after that (I think my parents hoped that would ease the pain, but that wasn't the case!). He was a husky named Shadow. Great dog. I had just arrived home from college for winter break two years ago, and my dad and I walked in to find him immobile and in piles of his own vomit on his dog bed. It was terrible. We were told 6 months earlier that he had cancer (just a few months after my mom died, ugh) and he wouldn't make it through the weekend, but he perked right up from new medication and kept on going. He HATED going to the vet and would freak out in the backseat, so to look back and see him just laying there and hardly breathing was heartbreaking. He did claw his nails against the walls as we brought him down the hall though... he knew :-( Losing ANY pet it just so difficult. After 11 years of life together, they become our family!

  6. Dee- WOW your dog was there through so much! I would love nothing more than to have another dog; there is just nothing like them and the companionship they offer. I'm hoping that by this time next year I will have a furry friend to come home to every day. Regardless of the heartbreak we always feel in the end, it's nice to know we loved them and made their short lives the best possible.

  7. Sami, As you know, I love dogs, so this post really touches my heart. Those pet losses are very real losses too. We love them so much, how could it not hurt so badly when we lose them? Great post. Everyone who has had a pet and lost a pet understands everything you write about here.

  8. I wish you'd publish a book or something because your writing is sooo... captivating. for example, I could be reading a post like this about dogs and BAM! you totally just made me want a dog (not like I physically can ever have one), but never thought I'd say that I even WANTED one. regardless, so sad for your furry family member loss <3

    total sidenote: I'm gonna start inviting you to all of my newborn sessions to help me pose the babies so you aren't nervous anymore. newborn babies > puppies ;) not like I'm suggesting you get a baby instead of a dog or anything!!!

  9. Nancy- I was hoping you'd approve of my post because I know you love them so much :-) Thank you!

    Danielle- I just laughed out loud at that last line hahaha. I would definitely help! I need to start loving kids and not being afraid of them! I love that I made you want a dog despite your ridiculous allergies haha, that is the greatest compliment from you seeing as on Friday you wanted nothing to do with them ;-) It makes me so happy that you find my writing so wonderful! xoxo