For a lot of dog owners, there’s definitely such a thing as love at first sight. They feel it the first time they lock eyes with the four-legged friend they take home from a shelter or from a breeder.
For me, I fell in love with Zoey the first time I saw her photo in a newspaper classified ad that had been placed by a Richmond rescue group.
I saw that tiny black and white image and just couldn’t take my eyes off her face. She was listed as “Josie,” a golden retriever and spaniel mix. I never truly saw the “spaniel” part, but there was no denying the golden part, from her color and her personality.
But when I called that day that the ad appeared, I was told that she had already been adopted. I was so disappointed that someone had beaten me to her, that I set aside the search for a new pet completely. I don’t know why, exactly…I really wanted another dog at that moment. But I wanted her.
About a month later, I picked up a copy of the newspaper at my office and thumbed through that same classified section and was surprised to see that same picture again. It must have been either a mistake or a marketing gimmick, I thought. But I called anyway, just to be sure. It turns out this frightened, timid dog had been adopted by a family with young children. The children, naturally, wanted a dog they could play with, but for “Josie,” their idea of play was just too frightening. The adoption just didn’t work out, and she had been returned.
I made an immediate appointment to meet her and she went home with me that day.
I’ve heard from a lot of rescue dog owners that their dogs know they’ve been given that second chance at life. “Josie” became Zoey, but she knew, too. Every night, after I fed her, she’d come to me with a big, exaggerated smile on her face and raise her paw, waving it at me like she was trying to tap me on the shoulder. When I’d lean towards her, she’d give me a big kiss as if to thank me for feeding her. My other dog at the time, a cocker spaniel I’d had since he was a puppy, made no effort: to him, I was just doing my job. To her, it was a special gesture she appreciated.
It touched me and saddened me at the same time. No dog as sweet as this one should ever have been abused. She should never have known what it was like to be unloved and hungry.
Over time — a lot of it — her “thank yous” became increasingly infrequent. Not, I think, because she became to view me feeding her as my job the way the other dog did, but because she came to understand that this was her home, she was my dog, and she no longer had to worry about where she’d find her next meal.
My favorite picture of her is one I snapped of her on my bed, a few months after I adopted her. She was curled up on a pillow on my bed, just sacked out. I’d heard her get up there, something I never objected to, and let out this big sigh of contentment after finding just the right spot. And every time I heard that big sigh, it made me content, too.
All of this, as you’ve probably surmised, is a setup to this next line that I really don’t want to even think about, much less type: I had to put Zoey out of her suffering early this morning.
Her condition had been deteriorating over the past three weeks. Prior to that, by all indications, she was fine. When I got her, the vet estimated her to be 2 or 3 years old. That would put her right at 10 now. But that was a guess. She could have been 12 or older than that.
Without going into a great deal of now-unimportant medical details, the three primary possibilities seemed to be either an aggressive blood clotting disorder, liver failure or cancer, none of which, at her age, was likely to end well. The vet was meticulous about going over options and cost, but in the end agreed with me that she was just too good of a dog for me to put her through some ordeal of treatment that was really for my benefit more than hers.
It was hard to think about, almost impossible to imagine, until they brought her into the exam room so that I could be with her for the end, and I heard her labored breathing. When I heard that, I knew it was the right thing to do.
She still knew me. She still relished having her ears rubbed and having me put my arms around her and tell her she was a good girl. But she was miserable. And tired. I could see it in her eyes.
As I held her, the end came very gently, without the slightest struggle. No more pain or discomfort. No more labored breathing. Just peaceful rest, just like in the photo of her on my bed, her head on a pillow.
I could say that I wish I had more time with her, but the time I had with her was wonderful. She gave me more than a lifetime of love in just almost seven years.
I live in a dog-friendly apartment complex, so there are plenty of canines around to provide that extra level of security for their home and the neighbors and to provide a little dog contact when needed.
There’ll be another dog at some point, but not just yet. But I look forward to a new round of memories with a new friend…even though I’ll never forget this one that I just lost.
Thanks for caring enough to have read this far. I appreciate it.