My heart is broken. I woke up this morning to the sound of clicking toe nails on the hardwood floor only to realize that is was in my head. It couldn’t be you because you are no longer here.
You and I have had such a journey. I’ll never forget sneaking down to the Orange County animal shelter, and telling your soon-to-be dad, “that I was just going to look at her” – her being you since I saw your picture on Petfinder.com – “just going to look, I’m not going to get her.” At least I didn’t the first time.
Yes, I walked away that first day even though you were stuck on me like glue. I was afraid your dad was going to divorce me after the Siamese cat drama, but that’s a story for another time. Still, I perservered and drove the forty-five minutes to the shelter every day to look at you and pet you, and ultimately, to fall in love with you.
Of course, there was a little drama, too. Your dad was going away for a big business trip, and wanted to wait until he got back to make a decision on even getting a dog. This is where your grandma comes into play. When dad left, grandma said, and I quote: “Just go get her, honey, and see how it goes. If it makes you panic or doesn’t feel like the right fit then you can take her back before he gets home.” It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, and so I followed her advice and went back to the shelter to get you. They only took cash so I had to go down to the local gas station, and get cash out of the local ATM, which is probably the only time in my life that I’ve used my debit card. Thank god I could remember my PIN number because I never have money in my wallet much less the $65 bucks required for your adoption fees. It must’ve been fate because the number worked, and less than an hour later, you were riding in the back of my car, both of us unsure of what was going to happen next.
Those first couple of days were rough. I won’t lie. After giving you a bath, wow you were really stinky, and feeding you three cups of dog food, god, you were ravenous, I didn’t know what to do. And the panic set in, too. I’d gone against your dad’s orders, and knew I was in big trouble when he got back plus now we had a dog and lots of responsibility. What had I just done? And how was I supposed to entertain you? So I cried. A lot. And panicked. A lot. I finally broke down and called your dad to tell him what I’d done, saying I’d made a big mistake. He was in a taxi in Chicago with some EA big wigs going to dinner. You can imagine how that conversation went, but your dad was never one who panicked (that’s my job) and so he said we’d deal with it when he got home less than 24 hours later. That made me feel better, and somehow you and I survived those first two days by ourselves.
Your dad wasn’t overly happy with me when he got home so your grandparents said “Bring her to us and we’ll take her. She sounds like a good dog.” So we got in the car and went to see the grandparents. Once we got there, not only was it obvious that you were a great dog, but also, you didn’t leave my side the whole time, and wouldn’t let grandma’s two dogs anywhere near me. (Less than three years later, one of those golden retrievers would become your brother even though we didn’t know it at the time.)
Needless to say, we kept you and you’ve pretty much stayed by my side ever since. At first, you weren’t very keen on your dad, and we had to get Karen the trainer in to help. We were never sure if you were abused by a man, or were just an anxious dog by nature, and you’d pee on the floor in the house on Locust Avenue every time your dad tried to put a leash on you to take you for a walk. Never for me – always for your dad. But we got through it, and became a family of three. You settled in nicely in our routine and we took you everywhere with us. You still weren’t keen on kids or crowds, but it didn’t stop people from remarking on how beautiful you were or how well-behaved, and honestly, you were so well-behaved, probably the best, well-mannered dog I’d ever seen. You aced all your training classes, and you could’ve easily been a service dog if it wasn’t for your anxiety. You tried so hard to please me.
Your health, of course, was never perfect. You were Lyme’s positive when we got you, but that never went away. You also had a bit of a limp some time, but you never let it slow you down no how many times dad threw the chuck-it squirrel or the tennis ball. You’d drop dead of a heart attack before you’d let it get away.
It wasn’t always easy. We had some moments along the way. Louie the cat picked on you a lot, and no matter what we did, he seemed to have an axe to grind with you. Luckily, he didn’t stick around long, and the whole family was relieved to see him move onto greener pastures. There was also your increasing arthritis. You had mostly good days, but as you got older, your elbow bent out more and more until you looked like you were paddling down the street. You were also a notorious food stealer on occasion, and we still can’t figure out how your petite lab frame was able to get all the way to the counter and pull off a loaf of bread and eat the whole thing except for the plastic. You always knew how to get the wrappers off like somehow you grew fingers instead of toes. Even the pound of butter was no match for you although you promptly threw it back up on the cream living room carpet, which never quite looked the same after that.
This letter would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Bailey as you know. We weren’t expecting to take in another dog, especially not an overweight 116 pound goofy, golden retriever who was so out of shape that he’d foam at the mouth just trying to walk down the street. But man, he adored you. From the moment he got here, he was all about you, and eventually you were all about him, too. The two of you were two peas in a pod – where you went, he followed. He also used you as an impromptu pillow most days, but you didn’t seem to mind. Yet, it wasn’t all one-sided. Bailey really did bring you out of your shell: you were better with your dad, better with strangers, and generally less anxious all around. If Bailey was our gentle, goofy giant, you were our old soul who always seemed wiser for your years. You were our serious dog, and you made us work for your affection, but it was a sweeter victory for all the effort.
And now you’re gone.
It’s so hard to write this part without the tears. Waking up to find you missing felt like someone had stabbed me in the gut over and over again. To see all your beds gone, your medications removed, to not let you out even before I got my first cup of caffeine . . . all those things are slowly killing me today. All the gaps where you used to be, all the times where you came first, and now there’s only me (and dad). Your last moments yesterday before Dr. Cook administered the injection are permanently etched in my brain – I would’ve done anything, made a pact with the devil, to keep you if only for a little bit longer.
But you were tired, so tired. The kidney failure that had begun to eat away at your life couldn’t be kept at bay any longer. I had always worried about how we’d know when it was time, and I constantly fretted about that, drove your dad nuts in fact on a daily basis, wondering how we would ever be able to gauge that point.
Even now I doubt myself. Even after you stopped eating on Thursday, even as the falls got worse, and you laid on your bed all day sleeping and hardly moving. Even when on the final morning when I had to pick you up and move you to your comfortable bed in the living room so you could be closer to us. Even through all the signs, my heart held on. Because this is my truth:
You are the heart of my heart
You and I were inseparable, and now it feels like a piece pf me is gone. It was bad enough when Bailey left, and I thought I knew grief, but the loss of you feels like part of me is dying. I wish I believed in god or an afterlife just so I know I’d get to see you again, but I know that you are truly gone, and it’s broken me.
People will say that you’re just a dog, and in time, I can get another, but our bond can’t so easily be replaced. You were mine and I was yours, and I truly believe that that sort of connection is a rare and beautiful thing.
I miss you already, Hazel. You will always be the heart of my heart.