Monday, October 12, 2009

Sweet Sophie

I lost a good friend today. 

She was beautiful.  Black.  Short-hair.  Four stumpy, skinny legs supporting a rotund barrel of a body and a petite, sweet face.

Sophie.  Our first baby.

We brought her home from the shelter a year before we brought home our baby boy (the 2-legged kind).

She was this sweet little slip of a thing in a puppy crate.  She wagged her tail as we neared her - and we believed that we'd found ourselves a laid-back angel.

We were wrong.  She turned out to be an angel, but more of the fire-cracker variety than the laid-back variety.  We marveled over the transformation we witnessed in her from Day One to Day Three.  Day One:  she timidly tip-toed about the house, shying away from the three cats who already resided with us.  By Day Three: she whipped wildly about the house, handily cornering one cat under the bed and another atop a dresser - while the third feline, Sebastian, discovered in her an adversary.  He faced her, wound up his front right leg as if throwing out the first pitch - and slapped our little angel across the cheek, repeatedly punishing her to little effect.

The day Jay and I brought Sophie home (we were weeks away from moving into our very first house - and the landlord had given us special permission to keep the puppy there in a crate until we officially made the move), we received a phone call from the shelter.  Sophie was one of a litter of five.  All of her siblings had died - I forget from what, but I think distemper - and whatever it was that had killed them was likely to have infected her as well.  They gave us the option of returning her for a refund - or exchanging her - or simply taking our chances. 

We took our chances.
A vet check revealed that she had some minor issues (again, do not recall what) which we treated - and in two days time - she emerged from the mask of illness this happy-go-lucky little vixen.

Jay and I took her for long walks in the hilly wooded area near our apartment complex.  Sophie was a daredevil.  She LOVED height and would run to the tippy-top of the monstrous dirt mounds that had been dug up by construction companies, daring us to follow - and when we did, she would dart off in the other direction.  She loved the wind in her face - her joy correllating directly to her speed and her height.  I swear she smiled every time she paused to track our whereabouts, her tongue hanging lazily out the side of her mouth as she caught her breath. 

It hurts so now to think of her this way.  In all her glory.  I'm not much of a crier, but tears are racing headlong down my cheeks just like that crazy dog on a dirt mound - and my nose is dripping along so as not to be left out. 

Today was so hard.  But just now I'm feeling it.  The house is quiet.  Jay and the boys are asleep - and I am here at the computer which is not at all unusual - except that I've just one dog laying at my feet tonight.  And the other - will never do so again.

Most nights, Sophie - and her pal, Kota (who is here with me right now) - would spend "quiet" time with me.  Sophie was the demanding one.  I'd be working online - or settling down for a movie - or perhaps even heading to bed - and her royal highness would decided she was hungry (this was signaled by a sharp bark directed at her food dish) or she would like to go outside (this a sharp bark at the door) or she was thirsty (this a sharp bark at the toilet lid which someone - probably me - had put down).  Yes, in spite of all the obedience and agility training we did with Sophie in the early days, she trained us. 

But, tonight ... there are no sharp barks at the door, or the food bowl, or the toilet.  And I miss them SO MUCH.  What I wouldn't give for just one more.

Her body is cold and lifeless in the garage, wrapped in an old blanket which I offered to return to the vet, but was kindly told would not be necessary.

Today started out so well (this is what 8-year-old, Tobey, keeps saying), but ended up so sad (this is Tobey, too).

I had dropped the kids off at school and returned home to work.  As I sat at the computer checking my mail, I heard Sophie scratching repeatedly at the desk leg.  I was first annoyed (what does she want now?) and then mildly amused.  She looked as though she simply could not get up.  She was on her side, slightly on her back, and was flailing her legs in a paddling motion as if trying to right herself.  It occurred to me that she was getting old and tubby - and as such, was having trouble rolling over.

I dropped down to assist her to her feet - and that's when I felt that her muscles were tight and stiff.  She was having a seizure. 

I held her body as her legs continued to paddle and the rest of her tremored uncontrollably.  Soon she began to work her mouth frantically, opening it wide, and then her teeth chattered together violently - and finally, finally she relaxed and commenced to breath deeply before staggering to her feet (and I mean staggering, like a drunk who's lost his equilibrium) and tottering on uncertain Bambi legs across the room and towards the front door.

I let her out, but her legs continue to betray her, scootering about beneath her as if they were not her own.  She falls down the stairs and into the snow where she relieves herself before falling and rising, falling and rising, and then finally staggering back up the stairs to the door which she leans against until I open it ... and she falls in.

I call the vet.  I've made an appointment to update her shots on Wednesday - and am wondering how urgent this seizure is.  Should I bring her in now?

"Is she okay now?" I am asked.

"Yes, yes.  She seems okay now."

So, we make plans to look into possible causes on Wednesday.

But, then a half hour later the same scene plays out.  Almost identical to the previous scene, except that this time I am at the computer and hear a crash in the bathroom followed by repeated scratching against the wall which I now recognize as the leg paddling associated with a seizure.

I run to the bathroom - and sure enough - there she is - again on her side.  We repeat every detail of the first seizure, she and I, right down to her falling down the stairs and staggering back in.

This time, she recovers, but then again 15 minutes later, another seizure.  And 5 minutes after that, another.  And now she is bleeding.  She's bit the tip of her tongue - and on her paw, a nail has ripped away from beating against the wall or the desk or the tub or something?

I call the vet back. 

I'll be seen in 45 minutes.  I'm to detail the seizures - how often, how long, what does she do. 

By the time I arrive at the vet's, she has had 10 seizures in a 2 hour period - and is bleeding profusely from the hole where her nail used to grow, so I've bandaged her paw with gauze from the first aid kit.  Her chest is damp from from the heavy drip, drip, drip of saliva during her seizures - and she either can't or won't walk, so I carry her in to the office wrapped in Tobey's fleece Jeff Gordon blanket, the one that she curls up in with Tobey every night on the lower bunk in the room the boys share.

I set her on the scale to weigh her - and she seizes.  We move her to the exam room - and again she seizes.

The vet gives her a dose of valium to relax her.  We decide that I'll leave her there until 4:30 (it is 1:00) and then pick her up.  In the meantime, they'll study some bloodwork and a urine sample - and hopefully we'll know something. 

At 3:15, I pick the boys up from school and tell them that Sophie is not well - and that we will pick her up later at the vet's.  They sort of joke about it.

We get home and the phone rings.  It is the vet.

Sophie has advanced diabetes.  (What does that mean?!)  It means that she's in bad shape.  We can either send her to the University hospital for treatment after which (assuming she pulls through) she would require twice daily insulin shots - and a highly specialized diet administered at regular 12 hour intervals.  The doc says the other option would be to put her to sleep.

Sophie is 10 - almost.  Make that, WAS almost 10.  We knew this day would come.  I just commented over the past 2 weeks that 1) Sophie seemed to be losing weight, and 2) her eyesight seemed to be going - she would no longer catch food or toys when they were tossed to her (of course, now we know that these were associated with her worsening diabetes).  Jay and I chalked it up to getting old - and even commented that we sure would miss her when she was no longer with us.  We fretted over how difficult losing here would be for Tobey who sleeps with her nightly - and is very distressed when she is not willing to go to bed at the same time as he.  If our life were a story - this would surely be foreshadowing.  But, of course - we weren't writing this story ...

The vet stresses that she will make absolutely no judgment on our decision either way.

I call Jay.  I know what we will decide.

I tell Tobey first.  I hate watching his face - blank, then puzzled - and then complete anguish and grief.  He runs wailing out the front door, sobbing to anyone who might hear him, "Sophie's gonna die!  Sophie's gonna DIE!"

I gently turn him about and draw him back in through the door.  4-year-old Xander comes racing in from outside where he is playing.  Tobey continues to cry, "Sophie's gonna die" to which Xander runs back outside and announces to the neighbor girl, "Tobey says that Sophie's gonna DIE!"  At this point, he seems to simply relish that he is "in the know".

I shoo Xander back inside and settle my young brood on the sofa where I explain what's wrong with Sophie, how we can't fix it - and that we've an opportunity to go say "good-bye".  They will come with me.  We need to go now.  They can see Sophie, but do not need to be in the room during the injection.

We arrive at the office 40 minutes before closing time.  Sophie's clock is ticking - and so is our time with her.  We are led into the room where Sophie is waiting - and are told to take all the time we need (before 5pm - which is unsaid at this point, but has been made abundantly clear).

 I am a little startled to see how alert Sophie is.  She was drugged up on valium when last I saw her, but now she is laying upright, her legs splayed Bambi-like, and watching us come towards her. 

The boys are both crying silently now and crooning to her, "Hi Sophie.  Poor Sophie girl.  We love you.  We love you, girl."

I tell them that we are going to take this time to thank Sophie for being a part of our family.  First I and then each of the boys says, "Thank you, Sophie.  You've been such a good dog, such a good friend.  We love you.  Thank you for going on walks with us, and snuggling with us, and loving on us.  We'll never forget you."

She licks each of their hands.  Xander beams, "She's licking me!"

"That's because she loves you," I say.

And she does.  I know it.

She struggles to get to her feet, but is in danger of toppling of the exam table.  I calm her - and lay her down.  She wants to go home.  And she will.

I ask the boys if they're ready.  Tobey says, "Just one more minute."  And he hugs her tight - and then he's ready.

And I open the door - and the vet comes in - and the boys go out.  They don't want to see this.

But I stay.  I need her to have me with her.  I stroke her head and say, "Good girl, good girl" ... because she is.  She is.  She is my little fire-cracker angel.

And then it is done.  The vet checks her heart.  Nothing.  "It stopped right away she says.  She was ready."

But I wasn't.

The vet gives the kids a book on grief and a clay imprint of Sophie's paw.  Tobey asks for some of Sophie's hair - so they clip some into a baggie and give us that, too.  Then, they bring out her heavy, lifeless body, wrapped in the old blanket - and we take her away.

The boys and I chose a pet tombstone at Wal-mart to mark the grave that they will dig tomorrow with their daddy.

We read the book on grieving for a pet - and after the first page, Tobey says, "Boy, this is a good book - I'm crying already!"

Tobey's such a wise old soul;  he also said, "This grief stuff really sucks - but I will probably be better off for having gone through it.  Just wish I didn't have to at my age." 

Yup.  He really said that.  And he's right.

And we are mourning the loss of one who made our lives better, and fuller, and happier - who made our beds warmer - and our "quiet" times noisier.

God bless, Sophie.


  1. We put Copper to sleep two Januaries ago. I held her while they injected her. She was gone before they finished with the injection. I was so surprised at that. So quick. I know how sad it is. Copper was a good dog, too. In that, we're lucky. Dogs are an important part of our kids' growing up. They add so much to childhood - and to life before children, I think.

  2. Oh I'm so sorry Kris Ann. That was a wonderful memorial of Sophie's last day and I'm so glad that you are able to help the boys through this and be so strong for them.

  3. FYI - With blog hops, it helps to get readers to your blogs if you click on a few of theirs and comment on their submissions and then end with "read my submission at ....and then give your blog address" I've gotten a couple of followers that way from other states. :) Jen (one of my SAMmy's-Hudson gals) gave me that hint. Thought I'd share...

  4. KrisAnn, you are such a great writer. I am not much of a dog person anymore, but this post really touched me. It really did remind me of what I felt when I read "Where the Red Fern Grows"

  5. wow. this blog really has me in tears and I'm not a dog person[although understand the impact of having a good dog].
    i'm sorry for your lose.

  6. This was a beautifully written memorial to Sophie. I, too, had to put down a dog many years ago and it was horrible, though the right thing to do.

    I want to say congratulations on your inclusion in EasyStreet's Blog Carnival, but this such a sad post, I don't know that it's the right thing to say, other than, I'm glad you were included so that I could read this beautiful post.


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