11 November 2014: Tonight I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had. A year after suffering a stroke, and a few months after we thought we lost her for the second time, today she had two seizures that left us with no choice but do the humane thing and put her to rest. She was 15. I didn’t cry until after I got home and remembered how when she was young she’d nearly drown fighting through the breakers to get to me in the ocean. Her loyalty to me bordered on insanity. She was the dog of my lifetime and inspired the book Gone Dogs.
I wrote the following post in August, 2014.
When we visited the breeder, she walked us into a beautiful barn where there were horses in stables, and a litter of 8-week-old puppies in an immaculate pen lined with fresh cedar chips. Upon seeing us, the litter of puppies jumped up and charged the gate vying for my wife’s attention. I stood back watching this unfold and took note of one puppy that wasn’t pawing at the gate. Unlike its beautiful merle siblings, this puppy was mostly black but for a white front paw, and she sat squarely in the center of the pen staring directly up at me. After a few seconds of intense eye contact, she cocked her head. That’s when I knew.
Sydney the Australian Shepherd puppy became part of our family that night. Since we’d just moved to a new town, and my wife and I had full-time day jobs, we wanted our 2-year-old Aussie to have a playmate during the day. Only, when we brought Sydney home to meet Tucker, the older dog took one look at her, then looked up at me and my wife, and walked away in disgust. He knew from the moment he saw her that she was trouble.
He was right.
Within a couple of weeks, whenever we would let this little ball of fur outside to use the bathroom, she would charge the neighbors–herding them back into their apartments. Upon visiting the dog parks where we were regulars, it quickly became apparent that Sydney wanted nothing to do with other dogs. And boy did we try to acclimate her.
We moved into a house and years later after our daughters were born she became a fierce guardian. Friends who came over feared her. Not because she ever bit anyone, but because of her intense gaze that said to anyone she didn’t know (and like) that she had the potential to bite them. Even family who would visit could never get comfortable around her. And forget other dogs. Once, when she was about five, we were at the park playing Frisbee when a German Shepherd approached and got between me and Sydney and before I could react, Sydney pounced on the larger dog ripping off its ear. That was not a good day. But it confirmed the fact that we simply never knew what Sydney was thinking. All we knew was that she was the most dominant dog we had ever known.
And that she was extremely loyal to me.
A few years ago we took a trip to Disney World. We’d never boarded our dogs before that, opting to stay at pet friendly homes when we took vacation. Only, you can’t take dogs to Disney World–so we found a spa for dogs near the parks that included a pool, and all the comforts of a 5-star hotel. When we left them, Tucker seemed fine, but the look in Sydney’s eyes when the gate shut between us told me that she was not going to handle this well.
We called every day, sometimes twice, to check on them and was told that they were doing great. Sure, they couldn’t let Sydney out with the other dogs to play in the pool, but both dogs were eating and seemed fine. When we returned to pick them up a few days later, she cried as soon as we entered the facility (even though I was out of visual range) and when they opened the gate she came charging up to me and collapsed at my feet. Her ribs were visible through her fur. It turns out she hadn’t eaten, and that Tucker, who was fat and happy, had been eating for both of them.
And so that ended our experiment with boarding.
Tucker passed a few years back, and we’ve since added three other dogs to our pack. Dogs that Sydney has reluctantly accepted–so long they never got too close to me for too long.
One morning last November she woke up howling and running through the house. None of the other dogs were acting strangely so we assumed her brain was misfiring. She was pretty old, after all.
We let her outside and she ran circles in the yard as she frantically barked at the sky. After a few minutes, I finally caught her. Her heart felt like it was going to explode. I rushed her to the vet where they gave her an injection to calm her down. The vet said they had no idea what could be wrong without doing a battery of tests. We decided to take her home and keep an eye on her instead. She was 14, and we figured that it could well be the end. That day she laid around and could barely open her eyes. We planned for the worst and decided that if she didn’t snap out of it, we’d take her back to the vet to do the humane thing the next day.
That night I picked up an order of crispy quail from our local Vietnamese restaurant, Lang Van. Some dogs crave beef. Others, bacon. Sydney craves the crispy quail from Lang Van. It was to be her last supper.
The next morning she woke with bright eyes ready to eat and go to the park. Somehow, she appeared to make a full recovery. Sure, she was old and didn’t move around well, but the twinkle in her eyes said she was back.
Soon after that weird day when she barked at the sky, we noticed that she had completely lost her hearing. During her annual checkup at the vet this spring, we were told that she was also going blind. We’ve since done what we can to accommodate our senior dog, and things were routine and normal–until this week.
On Tuesday I noticed that her energy level had dropped. By Wednesday she didn’t want to move, and by Wednesday night she was virtually immobile. When I tried carrying her down the back steps so she could relieve herself, she cried in pain. And Sydney never cried in pain. That night, and into Thursday, all she could do was lay on her bed. Her breathing had slowed.
When I arrived home for lunch Thursday, my daughters had dragged her bed outside onto the front porch where they were comforting her. When my car door closed, Sydney’s head raised. She saw me, and then her head fell back onto the bed.
It was time.
I took the afternoon off to be with her, and my wife made arrangements with the vet to put her down Friday morning. The rest of the day I was a wreck. When Tucker died, it was obvious. He was tired for a long time and his stroke made the decision easy–even though the process of letting go was not.
Sydney was different. She cheated death once before due largely to her will to be with me and remain a pack mother to our family. But now we knew it was her time, and so we spent Thursday trying to keep her comfortable as we prepared to let her go. I even rented My Dog Skip so that our daughters understood what it meant to say goodbye to an animal that they had known their whole lives.
Thursday night I drove to Lang Van and picked up her favorite dish. Another last supper.
I ripped off a succulent piece of quail and put it in front of her nose. Her deaf ears pricked up, but she didn’t eat it. After a couple of more tries she opened her mouth and I gently placed it in. Then she dropped it.
“Well, that’s it then,” I said to my wife. “This really is the end.”
I walked into another room to do something when one of my daughters shouted, “Daddy come in here! She’s standing!”
Everyone rushed into the kitchen where Sydney had somehow found her legs and was standing near the counter where the quail was located. We began ripping off pieces and feeding them to her. She chewed slowly, but she was chewing. Then her eyes started to light up. After she’d eaten the whole quail, she walked around the house and down the back steps outside and then back up the steps without any assistance.
What. The. Hell.
That’s when my youngest daughter exclaimed, “Oh we are so NOT putting her down tomorrow!”
This is the fortune cookie from our dinner.
We watched My Dog Skip and I laid on the floor next to my old dog. I cried at the end, of course (I had cried a lot on Thursday), and Sydney gently licked the tears from my eyes. It was like a movie. A movie where a man loved a dog, and the dog loved the man so much that she looked death in the eyes twice and said, “Not yet.”
I figured I’d wait until she was gone to publish this post. After all, I’d started writing it once already. But it’s clear that this dog has her own agenda and so instead of waiting for her to pass, I decided to share her story while she’s alive.
Sydney the black Australian Shepherd with one white paw is the biggest pain-in-the-ass dog I’ve ever known. She’s always been in my face constantly demanding attention. And she’s as loyal as any creature on earth. A true Velcro dog. I sincerely believe that she thinks it is her purpose in life to care for me. To watch over me every moment. Like a mother. And when she finally does cross the rainbow bridge, she won’t be running around looking for other dogs to play with. She’ll be sitting at the edge of the meadow staring down at me. Watching. Worrying. Wishing she could be with me.
I have no doubt that when I finally die and go to wherever it is we go, that Sydney will be there waiting for me ahead of any person.
I believe that when we’re open to making spiritual connections with animals, we’re given one in our lifetime that becomes part of our soul. I’ve had dogs before Sydney, and will have more after. But there’s no doubt that she’s the dog of my lifetime.
It’s humbling to me to be loved so much by a creature. I am going to miss this pain-in-the-ass dog.