August 21, 2014
The doctors had never seen anything like it.
After two sets of x-rays, an ultrasound, and surgery, they still couldn’t tell us exactly what it was or what went wrong.
Cancer. Trauma. Aneurysm. Whatever it was, it took her life.
No one prepares you for the sudden loss of a pet. There was no funeral, no flowers, no sympathy cards, no eulogy, no graveside burial, no meals delivered to the house to help us get through the pain.
There were only 30 minutes on the floor of the vet, holding Penny’s face in my hand, holding Mike’s hand with my other. Crying, apologizing, saying our goodbyes.
While others waited to get their pets back from grooming and teeth cleaning, we walked out with tears in our eyes, alone.
Tuesday night we noticed Penny was whining more than usual. We had friends over that asked about it, and we said it was normal. We thought it was. She could be a whiner. She was always looking for a sweet pet or good ear rubbing. But by the time we went to bed, she didn’t want to move. Her breathing became heavy. She was panting for no reason. We knew something was wrong, but waited until the morning before taking her in.
We had to push her out of the house, and Mike had to lift her into the car. She usually had so much energy. She would bounce around the back and drool over everything and whap her tail against the seats and windows.
By the time we urged her into the examination room, she was practically lifeless.
It was heartbreaking, but we figured she might have just eaten something funny. We found a piece of chewed plastic on the floor that morning and thought “well, that’s it. Silly dog.”
The vet drew blood and gave her a physical examination. She wasn’t sure, so she ordered x-rays. Even those didn’t show anything too abnormal. But her blood work came back with unusually high numbers, and she was dehydrated, so they decided to keep her.
“I’m afraid something’s really wrong,” she said.
By the time I got back to the office, the vet called and said she wasn’t responding to the fluids, and that she’d done an ultrasound and found a mass in her abdomen. She needed to perform surgery right then to see what it was. She sounded urgent, but I was in too much shock to make a decision. After all, Penny was Mike’s long before she was mine. He had to make the decision.
An hour later Mike called, saying that whatever the mass was, it was hemorrhaging. They couldn’t perform a biopsy on it because she would have bled out. They couldn’t do anything more for her.
And I cried in the parking lot at Starbucks. The vet had asked if we just wanted her to not wake Penny up. But we had to say goodbye.
“She can’t die alone. She can’t die with strangers.”
So a few hours later, Mike picked me up and we drove together. We held hands, we didn’t speak. What could we say?
This dog, this big, clumsy, sweet oaf that we always joked about sending to a farm. Who always dug in our trash, escaped the backyard constantly, and peed in our office. Who couldn’t for the life of her get used to our wood floors and would click and clack and slide into furniture and fall down all the time. This dog was ours. I joked about her being Mike’s. But she wasn’t anymore. Not for a long time. She was ours. She was Greyson’s. She was Ava’s.
And my God, the sweetness of her and Ava. She was so complacent. So sweet to endure the ear pulls and eye gouges that our young daughter would perform before we caught her. “Gentle,” we would say, “gentle.” And Penny would sit, and Ava would give her a big hug around the neck, and would say “aw.”
It was the sweetest thing you ever saw.
Those big brown eyes, the soft red fur. She belonged to the Smith family.
The kids are too young to grasp death. Neither of them noticed when they came home that Penny wasn’t there. Greyson didn’t bat an eye when we told him. And that’s okay. He’s seven. We don’t expect him to understand death. He doesn’t need to until he’s much, much older.
And then the house was quiet. So, so quiet.
I realize now, that last week, when the above picture was taken because something urged me to take out my camera, that it was for Penny. Not Ava, like I had thought. But for her dog. And I’m sad we don’t have more. Because photos are all we have now.
Goodbye, sweet Penny. We love you.