I am a dog person. No, not a dog-person, not a canine centaur, but someone who deeply enjoys companionship with dogs. Specifically my dogs, because they’re better than yours.
I have had four dogs in my life, two pairs of two (kind of). Though I am an only child, I was born with two siblings: Monty, a HUGE Golden Retriever, and Suzy, a scrappy, medium-sized mutt of sorts. Monty, up until I hit sixty pounds or so, was my horse. I rode him like a cowboy around the house, and he happily carried me to wherever he desired — usually the kitchen. Suzy was his best friend, yet she had a little more personality than Monty, who was just a big, sweet ball of love. About a year before I was born, my parents encountered who became Suzy, a small, tagless black dog, covered in burrs, cowering in an Albertson’s parking lot. My dad, being the dog person he is, immediately picked her up and put her in the car. He still claims that Suzy didn’t become our pet until the Pound verified that she had no owner, but my mom knew that Suzy was his the moment he laid eyes on her.
And let me tell you, I wish I could be nearly as good a pet owner as my dad. He bathes our dogs regularly, walks them and runs with them as often as he can, and gives them his full devotion. What a guy.
Anyways, back to Suzy: like I said, she was scrappy — a rescue dog. Any time we took her for a walk, if she saw another dog, she would try to fight it. At first we thought she was just an aggressive animal, but her docility around people and dogs she was familiar with dispelled this idea. No, she was defensive. She ensured that no threat got within a leash-length of us. (However, she did launch an offensive against a neighboring enemy once: she busted out of the backyard and chased down the dachshund across the street, Pinto. Pinto learned her lesson, and surrendered her turf to Suzy.) As her vision and hearing faded with age, the walking her became easier, albeit less entertaining; she was losing her ability to defend us. Soon the frequency of her patrols of the fence perimeter decreased, and eventually the task had to be assumed by DJ, Monty’s successor. Suzy took the back seat as the big dogs, Dawson (DJ) and Jackson, became the new security guards.
DJ is a Chocolate Lab that we got when I was in fourth grade, shortly after Monty died. My family moved from College Station to Boston for fifth grade, so we brought Suzy and DJ with us. Suzy was about 11 when DJ was born, so she was not too happy to have a maniac puppy pestering her constantly. The two never really got along. Cooped up in the house during the New England winter, you would rarely spot the two of them on the same level of the house. Yet, DJ found his companion in Jackson, a Golden Retriever we adopted when we moved back to College Station in sixth grade.
Suzy bonded somewhat with Jackson, probably because he reminded her of Monty. (Jackson’s mom and litter were killed in a fence collapse. He’s kind of dumb, so we jokingly say he got bumped on the head by the fence a little as a puppy.) Yet, she never really was happy; there was never a pack dynamic between the three dogs, just DJ and Jackson as a duo, and Suzy.
I always was Suzy’s greatest advocate. Four-year-old me knew how loyal she was to us, and decided that t I had to stick up for her. I defended her when she attacked other dogs, famously declaring, “Suzy’s OK.” whenever my parents would yell at her. I slowed down for her on walks (her favorite activity, other than running off-leash in Lick Creek) while the others kept going. I held her bowl to feed her when she was too arthritic to bend down. I dried her off each time she swam in the pool. I carried her outside when she peed on the carpet in her senile moments. I held her the night she came back from the vet and couldn’t walk. I fed her her last dinner that night. I hugged her goodbye each and every time I left town for more than a day, just in case she wasn’t there when I came back (she lived to be seventeen, so I probably started this waaaaay too early, but better safe than sorry!).
Every time I left town, except for the third weekend of January, 2015. I had region band in Copperas Cove, and we were spending the night in a hotel there. That night, the one after she came home from the vet, I got the call that she was being put down. She was experiencing kidney failure, and my mom encountered her on the laundry room floor, collapsed in a pool of her own urine. It’s a sight I never could bear seeing, yet I still wish I had been there. For so many years, I watched her chest rise when she slept to make sure she was alive, and stood by as she climbed out of the pool, to ensure that she wouldn’t drown. I was so afraid to find her dead. That fear was nothing compared to hearing my mom’s voice on the other end of that phone call. I sat in the hotel room bathroom, sobbing into toilet paper, sitting on the floor. Why hadn’t I been there? It was always supposed to be me; I was supposed to find her! I didn’t even get to hold her and hug her goodbye. I did, at least, get to talk to her on the phone right before she was euthanized. My mom held Suzy in her lap at the Veterinary Hospital, and put the phone up to her ear. I won’t go into what I said to her, because it’s kind of personal, but my mom and our family friend who was there, Beth, both said that she licked the phone when she heard my voice. Keep in mind that she was virtually deaf, so I’m not sure if that’s true or my mom was just being a good parent.
As I left the bathroom, still red-eyed, someone asked me what was wrong. I told them. “Sorry,” they responded.
Does sorry console me when I practically lost my sister? One of my closest companions for my entire life?
No, it doesn’t, but I guess I’m supposed to appreciate the gesture.
To make matter much worse, my mom had to leave the next morning to attend the funeral of her sister-in-law, which I was missing for region band. My dad was not home either, so I had the house to myself that Saturday night. She hadn’t even been gone for a full day, Suzy. The other dogs, heads bowed, greeted me with uncharacteristic calmness at the door.
I did a lot of growing up that week. I lost a companion, a family member, and I failed to achieve my biggest goal in life thus far, making All-State again. That alone sucked, but this was a whole ‘nother level.
I know everyone experiences loss, and it never gets easier. I just hope that I, too, am able to remember the good times — there were many — and leave behind the years of decline that are still so fresh in my mind. Nonetheless, she lived the life of a queen: she ruled an expansive territory (of about eight neighborhood blocks), and was cared for by her servant/prince/owner, me, for as long as she lived.
She might have had her flaws, sure, but she was mine. And I still miss her.
And I’ll continue to, too.
But Suzy’s OK.