We both lie awake at this ungodly hour, staring into each other’s eyes, knowing what needed to be said, but neither one of us wanting to be the one to speak first. We knew it was the end, we had seen it coming for a while, but that doesn’t make it easier. Twelve and a half years. It seems like a long time, but it’s never enough.
I started to realize he wouldn’t say it out loud until I did, so I started searching for the right words, to make it as gentle as possible. Then it all came rushing back to me; the first time I saw her.
It was a beautiful summer morning. She was standing in a parking lot with some bad boy type, (stitches in his face, “probably was in a bar fight or something,” I thought to myself), and though I’m typically shy, I had to introduce myself; she was stunning.
Her guy was looking at me some kind of way, but I only had eyes for her, the way the sun made her glimmer, and her eyes! Oh, her eyes! I’m not usually one for brown eyes, but hers were like melted chocolate, deep, and soulful, yet full of wonder and joy, taking in everything around her.
As I approached she locked eyes with me, I gave my best smile, and she started to wiggle and snort, chasing a tail that was no longer there. She gave me some of her best kisses, and I gave her a little piece of my heart, as I did all the puppies that came through my classes. Her name was Mustang Sally.
She excelled in puppy class, and I learned that her handler got his stitches from a pair of vice grips that fell at work. She came back for my beginner class twice, and then intermediate. At graduation from the intermediate class, her handler, who still looked at me some kind of way, asked me to a movie, and I said yes.
I brought my dogs with me: Heidi, my soul mate, and Peanut, the baddest bitch to ever live, and certified joy incarnate.
Do you believe in love at first sight? I do, because I witnessed it first hand.
Peanut and Sally had an instant connection. They ran and played for four hours straight, collapsing on the kitchen floor in exhaustion, still licking and chewing at each other’s jowls. And she took more of my heart.
Through the years we started calling them Yin and Yang, two halves of a whole, light and dark. Many other dogs came in and out of our lives through fostering, sitting, and training, but they saved their best love for each other.
When one was sick, the other would stay close by. If one had a quarrel with another dog, the other had her back. They always had each other, through everything.
Sally became my demo dog for training when I had to retire Heidi. We started agility training together, and I’ll never forget her heartbreak when I became pregnant with the twins and we could no longer go. She was always so eager to work with me, to learn new things, and to snuggle.
Once I had the time to get back to training Sally was a bit old for agility, so we trained for therapy work. She passed her test with ease and was certified through TDI. She loved the visits and saying hello to everyone she could, but the shiny tile floors of the medical facilities were hard on her, so we had to retire from visits.
Dogs age so fast, sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happened. Sally was starting to get grumpy in her old age. As she grew less patient with puppies at training class, she had to retire as my demo dog. It was hard on us both.
White fur took over her little black monkey face, but her rich, chocolate eyes remained. She started growing lumps and bumps, but most seemed to be old lady warts, or lypomas (fatty tumors). We had a benign mass removed from her mouth, and in another year when something else grew, we had to leave it alone. The foul smell of her breath telling us that something more was going on. Something not fixable.
But for a while she was still happy, and would wiggle and snort, despite her now white face, and the silver creeping down her neck and up her legs.
Then Peanut passed unexpectedly. Sally didn’t want food the next couple days, and had a hard time sleeping, but Tilly and Porkchop did their best to give comfort, whether Sally wanted it or not.
A couple weeks after Peanut passed Sally collapsed in a seizure. When it was over and I was cleaning her up I begged her, “please don’t leave me too, my heart can’t take it.” And she held on.
She had her bad days, a random seizure here and there, but we also had so many more good days. Days where she would do her silly-Sally-donut-dance, chasing a tail she never knew. Trying to instigate play with Porkchop, our newest addition, only to have Tilly intervene with concern for Sally. Nights where she would snuggle up next to the kids and let them read her stories.
But tonight… Tonight she wouldn’t eat her dinner. Not even after I put bacon on it. Tonight, she made the woman who has been commended for keeping her cool in some tough situations feel like a scared child. Barry was asleep, and I was drifting when our youngest three dogs scrambled up from bed to check on Sally.
It was 2:30 AM, she was standing in the corner, and I thought she needed out.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing the violence of the seizure she had on the deck. The sting of the cold burning my bare feet in the snow as I tried to keep her safe and comfortable until it was over. The sound of Porkchop barking in alarm or the sound of panic in my voice as I called for Barry’s help. The look of confusion on her face as she tried to figure out how to open her mouth for the Valium.
And now, here we were, Barry and I, lying on the floor, staring into each other’s eyes. Barry’s filled with pain, mine swollen from crying. Sally looking at us with love, and then confusion as another mild tremor passed through. Tilly and Pixie watching over us three, giving nose touches for comfort when I would become racked with sobs, but retreating when I composed myself again. Porkchop trying to get as close to her as he could to snuggle, as he had done since Peanut died, barking in a panic whenever she would start to relax. They all knew what was coming.
It was morning now, and she wasn’t getting better. She didn’t seem to be in pain; she still wagged her little nub if we spoke to her, telling her what a good girl she was, and how much we loved her, but she could no longer stand. I still hadn’t found the words I was looking for, are there words gentle enough for this?
“Well, what do you think?” So grossly inadequate. So crass. They disgust me, but that’s what I finally managed to ask him. Because, though she had become my dog in many ways, she would always be his baby.
“I didn’t want to have to make this decision.” And God, how I related to those words. The pain and the anguish in them. And he finally cried, as he buried his face in his hands, admitting that this was the end.
I texted my mom to let her know, because she loved her too, and I needed the comfort from her, but couldn’t speak aloud.
I sent a text to my sister/coworker/vet tech, to let her know we’d be in the office first thing.
I had him call his mother, so she could say goodbye to the puppy she helped him find twelve and a half years ago. The puppy that shared her birthday.
We told the kids that Sally was sick, that there was no way for her to get better, so the doctor was going to give her some special medicine so she would fall asleep, and then she would pass away, and go to be with Peanut. They hugged her, and kissed her, and cried.
Barry’s sister, who works at the vet office gave her kisses and snuggles. Then my sister, the vet tech, and our Veterinarian, who had treated Sally for twelve and a half years sobbed as they too said their farewells.
Barry wrapped his arms around her, holding my hand for strength and comfort, and with her head on my lap, I looked in those beautiful brown eyes one last time and we said, I love you.