I meant to get back into the writing frame of mind Monday night. I started feeling under the weather Saturday evening, but fought it off until Monday morning. A bit of a head cold, combined with the promise to my wife and mother in law that I would get a chronic sore on my lower leg looked at kept me from going to work Monday. As it was, my wife and family were concerned that perhaps the never-healing sore was indicative of diabetes or something. The blood test results came back all negative: blood sugar was great for a 12-hour fast; cholesterol was at 164 (which for my diet is absolutely stunning), though I was told that my HDLs were low and need to be raised by taking fish oil supplements. Not happening. That is a nasty, nasty pill. SO gross. Anyway, the doctor and I discussed the other chronic issue with my legs—pitted edema. I look like a big ball of putty from about mid-calf down. It’s bizarre. The remedy, according to the doctor, is a diuretic pill that causes a lot of bathroom breaks. Not a big fan, but the swelling has decreased dramatically, so I can’t really argue … it’s just inconvenient.
ANYway, after the doctor visit, all I wanted to do was come home and sleep. That didn’t happen. My daughter came home from school, and we talked a bit about her day, which wasn’t very good. She seemed to have a really nervous energy to her, and her teacher commented on it. The odd thing was that my other daughter—the one in pre-school, also seemed extraordinarily on edge and defiant, much more so than she normally is.
Then there’s the fact that my wife was sitting on the couch, minding her own business. Then, out of nowhere, one of our dogs came and sat on her lap. She *never* sits on her lap. She sits by her, or sits at her feet … but she never sits on her lap like that. My wife was kind of taken aback by that, but didn’t think much of it … until later.
After dinner, we, as a family, cleaned up our backyard and finished setting up the girls’ swing set that my wife procured from a classified ad. As we were getting ready to go outside, my wife and I commented how we had a really nasty, nauseated feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We couldn’t chalk it up to a food-related nausea; we had just barely finished eating not 15 minutes before, so we had no idea what this ill feeling was coming from.
In hind-sight, I wish we had known what we were feeling. Call it premonition, call it what you will … I think we had some warning signs that we just didn’t recognize. After we were finished cleaning and setting up the swing set, I came in and continued my mid-morning project of re-organizing our pictures on our computer. After a few minutes, a strange voice called from our carport doorway. “Hello? Anyone home?” Curious as to who would just randomly open my door, I bolted up the stairs and said, “Hi … may I help you?”
“Yes, do you own a black dog?”
I thought that was a really dumb question, since my dog was sitting at the top of the stairs. “Yah … we do own one. What’s going on?”
To be truthful, I have absolutely no recollection of what the lady said next other than my other dog, Zoey, was hit while crossing the main road. “What?! Is she okay?!”
“I don’t think so …”
That’s when I bolted. I don’t run often, but when I do, it’s with speed and determination to get where I’m going as quickly as possible. As I rounded my front yard and saw the two cop cars, I thought, “Oh no … no no no no nononononononono…” Sadly, yes. My wife was already kneeling on the corner, slumped over in crushed helplessness and unparalleled despair. “Honey, what happened?!”
She managed to eke out between sobs, “She got hit crossing the road. Dumb dog … always running away.”
“Well, is she okay?!?!?!”
Then she looked up at me, her cheeks flushed with pain and her eyes bleary and red with the sting of a million tears not yet shed.
“No … she’s dead.”
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. She was just lying there on the corner, no bleeding, no visible signs of injury. The police officer said that she had suffered some really severe internal damage and bleeding. My wife got to her just as she was taking her last breaths, then she just … quit.
My girls were across our street, trying desperately to come to me and my wife. I let out a scream and ran to them as fast as I could, not wanting them to see Zoey yet, but much more afraid of their trying to cross the road on their own. I scooped them in my arms, and carried them back to our front yard, where my 6 year old bawled and bawled and bawled. My 5 year old, not quite able to grasp the concept of death just yet, said, “No no … Zoey’s fine. See? Here comes mommy. She has Zoey!”
And I turned around. There was my poor wife, carrying her lifeless, limp body in a solitary funeral dirge that somehow seemed inexplicably appropriate. I wanted to run to meet her, but I couldn’t bring myself to interfere. She made it to our front yard, knelt in the grass, and cradled her with all the remorse and love that she had in her, afraid to move her hand that was cradling Zoey’s head for fear that it would just flop. My wife and 6 year old sobbed. My 5 year old, still not understanding, just stared blankly and offered hopeful yet fruitless commentary. I did my level best to remain composed so there would be some pillar of strength to lean against.
Our neighbors saw what was going on and came to comfort us. They related their stories of pet woes and loss. I know they meant well, and we definitely appreciated their words of attempted comfort, but really … nothing they or anyone else could have said was going to relieve one ounce of pain.
My wife recognized that we simply couldn’t stay in the front yard forever. She wanted to stand, to take Zoey’s body somewhere, but she couldn’t move for fear of losing her hand positions. I reached out and volunteered to take her to the backyard. We have a bunch of lilac bushes that line the back of our property. It seemed like a good place to put her until we could make a decision as to what to do. Bury her? Take her to an animal shelter to be cremated? Would we want the ashes? Would we bury just the ashes? What would we do? The time for making that decision was not right then. We needed to have some time to think … hopefully rationally.
I took her body in my arms, and it was then that I truly realized the extent of the damage. Everything felt out of place. Her head was a limp as a newborn baby, ironically enough. Her limbs were just there. No animation, no movement … just dangling off her poor broken torso. Her insides didn’t feel right at all. I did the best I could at cradling her and not letting her flop; I think that would have severely un-nerved the girls even more so. Once I had her securely against me and in my arms, I stood up and walked to the fence separating the car port from the backyard. I asked my wife to open the gate. As we made our way down the stairs to the grass, I felt absolutely numb with exhaustion already. Every step was excruciating, as if my legs weighed a ton each. It was all I could do to remain upright and not fumble her into the myriad of toys scattered across the yard.
At the back of the yard next to the lilac bushes is a dog kennel. Next to the gate for the kennel is a bare spot of just dirt, between the kennel and the lilacs. I knelt down in front of the spot and carefully placed her body to the side of the lilacs. I don’t know why I put her there … I just did. I guess it just looked right—her little body lying between the dog run and the beauty of the purple blossoms. As I stood up and turned around to face my family, all them were sobbing, even the 5 year old. She wailed louder than any of them, maybe because she finally understood that Zoey wasn’t going to be running around the yard, or barking, or playing with them, or … anything. We all walked back towards the house and went inside to our living room upstairs, where we had a discussion about death, life, and what happens when we die.
As devout members of the Mormon church, we hold a different belief about life and death than other religions. We are taught that we existed as spirits before we came to earth. Our bodies and spirit are connected while here on earth, but when we die, our bodies remain. Our spirits, however, return to heaven to wait for resurrection. We do not believe that only members of our faith will be resurrected; quite the opposite—we believe that everyone will be resurrected and receive eternal life. However, as opposed to the traditional “Heaven and Hell” concept, we believe in 3 separate, distinct “degrees” in which a resurrected person will reside. The upper degree of the three is what most people would call “Heaven,” where we live with God and Christ. It has been said that a person would kill himself or herself to gain even the lowest of these degrees, if he or she were to catch even the smallest glimpse of what awaits us “on the other side.” However, we as members of the Mormon church, strive of course for the upper degree.
This is what we discussed with our girls, though more simplified so that they might more easily (hopefully) understand what we were trying to tell them. “Yes, Zoey is gone from us, but her spirit is in heaven with our family who have died. They’re keeping her company for us! And when we die, we’ll see her again and all our grandparents and family.”
I know not everyone believes that. I get it. I respect that other people have vastly different opinions and ideas about what happens after we die. I don’t like being judged for my beliefs, so I am extremely intolerant of others not respecting others’ beliefs. I ardently believe what I do, just like my atheist friend from high school fervently subscribes to a completely different set of beliefs. I respect his beliefs. I don’t try to ram mine down his throat. However, these beliefs that I and my family hold help so much when we lose a family member, or a pet … of course it doesn’t lessen the loss by any means. There is still an emptiness in my heart and the hearts of my family over losing our pet … but we know and feel that we’ll be together again. That is an incredibly strong source of comfort.
Now … having said all that, once we talked with the girls, they were a little less sad, but of course they still cried and wanted their dog back. We all want her back, but she’s gone, and nothing we do will bring her back.
We put the girls to bed amidst many more sobs, tears and hugs. We assured them that mommy and daddy would of course be downstairs, making sure that they’re safe. We kissed them goodnight, turned out the light, and faced the fear of having to walk downstairs to an emptiness we haven’t felt for years.
Zoey … ha. What a character. She would sit at my wife’s feet and make this low, guttural growling sound whenever she had to go outside. It got to the point that we’d laugh at how ridiculously cute she looked, sitting there making this funny little noise. Sometimes, we’d get her to bark before taking her outside. “Outside, Zoey? Outside? Do you need to go outside?” to which she would reply with a single, sharp bark. We’d just giggle, then we’d take her out back to do her thing. This was a nightly ritual. Having to go downstairs that first night after putting the girls to bed … there was an unspoken dread as we descended to the basement, wanting desperately to hear her “gotta go potty, people!!” noise, but knowing we wouldn’t hear it.
Our other dog, Jupiter, knew something was up. He and Zoey were incredibly close. They’d play together, wrestle as dogs do, lie next to each other and groom one another … they were best friends. Now, with her not in the house, he looked utterly perplexed. “Hey, so … where’s my friend? How come she’s not in the house? And by the way, what is that weird smell coming from the backyard?” Yah … he knew. I know he knew. Even when I tried to take him to the bathroom, he wouldn’t go beyond the edge of the grass closest to the house. I tried showing him where she was, and he wouldn’t budge. He just stared at me from across the yard, nervously shifting as he looked at me with eyes so forlorn and lonely. I felt for him. I know how he felt.
We walked back inside, and he jumped up on the couch next to where Lori was huddled, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around them as she silently sobbed and stared at nothing. I sat down on the floor next to her and Jupiter, one hand on her knee and one hand petting the dog. We sat there for a while, talking about what we remember about her, laughing softly at the happy memories as we remembered her quirks and personality.
Finally, in desperation to embrace something somewhat normal and mind-numbing to push away the pain, we turned on an episode of Monk from Netflix. Two episodes later, it was almost midnight. We had to go to bed, but neither one of us had any desire to sleep. Not on our bed, where Zoey always slept on the corner of the mattress at my wife’s feet. She had this nightly routine, where she’d go hide under the bed frame until we were actually under the covers, then she’d come out and make the same similar “potty” growl until Lori patted the covers, indicating that she could come up.
Our bed was riddled with various sundries of the day: washed laundry, purse, hangars … stuff. As we cleared it off and pulled the covers down, I felt a bubble burst in my chest, and the dam I had been holding back for hours finally gave, and I shook convulsively at the site of our bare corner, where her little fluffy white body would never lie again. I squeezed my eyelids to hold back the pain as my wife came over to console me. All at once, the grief was unbearable. It took me years to warm up to her, and in an instant, she was gone. My girls, my wife, my other dog … all of them in pain … it was too much for me. I mourned for her loss, sure … but more poignantly I was pained for my wife, who mothered that dog before we adopted our girls. Zoey—who she had found for free on our local news channel’s classified ads. Zoey—who would lie at her feet and nuzzle against her as she sat on the couch. Zoey—who would paw and scratch our back door when she wanted in. Zoey—who, when we’d come home from anywhere, would greet us at the gate by throwing her head back as she barked in sheer joy at having her people home. Zoey—who would resolutely sit motionless by the carport door until my wife would come home from wherever she went. This white fluff ball who brought my family so much joy and was so unconditionally loyal … now my family and I had to find a way to move on without her … and I just didn’t know what to do to comfort them.
We crawled into bed and tried to put the day behind us, but not very hard. It was as if sleeping would lessen the pain, and in doing so would minimize what Zoey meant to us. I resolutely refused to fall asleep until I knew my wife was asleep. Leaving her alone in the dark would simply be unconscionable, and I wasn’t about to let her go through one second of night without me by her side if she needed me. To her credit, she did try to sleep, but it didn’t come easily. She’d get into a rhythmic breathing pattern, then all of the sudden she’d start to cry again, as if she had had some brief dream about her and realized that she wasn’t there. Finally, she drifted off, and I felt that it was safe for me to let myself sleep.
Just before I woke up, I had a dream about her. I know it was then because I had to get up to pee around 5:30-ish, and the dream occurred after I went back to sleep. In my dream, she was miraculously alive; she had just been knocked into a coma that she came out of when we were all in bed. She was at the back door, scraping her little paws at our sliding glass door, demanding that we let her in. And of course we did! Our Zoey was back! We brought her in, and she told us that she was okay, and that she missed us all night. All of the sudden, we were all transported to some pine lodge conference room. Weird, right? I thought so too. Anyway, we were all there talking about the accident, and the girls told her how grateful they were to have her back. Then I woke up. The cold, harsh reality came slamming back into my consciousness with such a force that all I could do was sit on the edge of the bed and sob as quietly as I could. It was not quite 7, the sky was as heavy and gray as I’ve ever seen it. A gentle, steady rain was falling with no end in sight. Eventually, the girls came downstairs. We sat on the couch and they told me about how they slept. Thankfully, they slept really, really well. No bad dreams, no waking up, no panic. I offered a small, silent prayer of gratitude for that one. We decided that we should hold a memorial service for Zoey before the girls went to school so they could say goodbye. Lori and I had talked about maybe burying her body in the backyard, but our yard simply wouldn’t allow for it. Our whole neighborhood was built over an old gravel pit. No yard has more than a foot of dirt. Below that is all rocks and gravel. It would be impossible to bury her deep enough. We decided that we would go through either the city or the county to have her body taken care of, or take her to one of our county facilities—either the transfer station or the animal shelter.
The girls ran upstairs to put on their socks, shoes and coats. I went in our room to wake up my wife. She was already awake, but she really didn’t want to get out of bed. Who could blame her? She knew what the girls were doing, and it meant having to face the same cold, unfeeling reality that I had woken up to—Zoey was gone.
Once everyone was dressed and bundled up, we grabbed some umbrellas and went out back. The rain spattered on top of our shelters, accenting the walk out to the lilac bushes. If it wasn’t obvious before that Zoey was most assuredly dead, it was now; rigor mortis had set in. Her poor little head was craned back in the most un-natural position imaginable. Her tail stuck straight out from her behind. Her legs were rigidly aligned, as if she should be standing, but instead she was lying on her side. The girls all at once just starting wailing, “GOODBYE, ZOEY! WE MISS YOU! WE LOVE YOU!!” It was too much for me again, and I buried my face in my wife’s comforting shoulder. She stood there trembling as her body was wracked with sadness and pain.
After a bit, we decided to say a prayer over Zoey’s body. When we were done, we each took a turn saying what we remembered about her. To be honest, I don’t remember what any one person said, but we got the most memorable parts: the door scratching; the bathroom growling; the sitting under the dining room table waiting for the guaranteed droppings from at least Brooklyn’s plate (she’s a horribly messy eater, bless her little heart); her cuddling and unfailing loyalty; sitting by the carport door waiting for someone to come home. After we were done, the girls and I turned to walk back to the house, but my poor wife … she couldn’t take her eyes off the cold, wet body of the best pet she’s ever had. I put my arms around her, and she leaned into me with resignation and finality as her body shook with every sob.
Eventually, we got the girls to school and came home to face the gruesome task of finding a way to take care of her body. I had no idea how I was going to get her body in a bag, but I had to find a way to do it on my own. There was no way I was going to subject Lori to that kind of torture. Thankfully, the spot of ground where I laid her body the night before is immediately adjacent to a counter-sunk trash can, the purpose of which I’ve never fully understood. However, today, I was extremely grateful for it. I took my heavy-duty, leaf collecting bag and put it in the can. As gently as I could, I lifted her stiffened body and gingerly placed it in the bag, hoping I wasn’t doing more damage, even though the rational side of me knew that more damage was pretty much out of the question. She was gone, and even if I had bumped her against the side of the can, she wouldn’t have felt it. Again, my rational mind knew that, but out of respect for her life, I tried really, really hard to be as gentle and careful as I could.
Once I had her securely in the bag, all I had to do was lift the bag out of the can and take her up to the car port. As carefully as possible, I carried up the back steps, lifted her over the fence, and set her in the girls’ wagon. Didn’t want to risk dropping her and having her fall to the ground. After that, I went back down the steps and up the deck stairs to the kitchen so I could start making some phone calls.
Our city’s animal control department was somewhat helpful, indicating that we could take her to the county transfer station or to the county animal shelter. Our first option was to take her to the transfer station. We were told that there is a place where people can drop off their deceased pets and they’re taken care of. Well, ha ha. Either the lady had her facts wrong, or the lady at the gate directed us to the wrong location. Either way, we were appalled at the “option.” As we approached where we were told to go, I realized that it was really just the back side of the trash dump where we have taken numerous truck loads of junk. Extremely leery of the area and not seeing ANYwhere that looked remotely conducive to dropping off our departed pet, I pulled up to the entrance, where I was greeted by some guy in an orange vest.
“Yah, hey … so, our pet dog died last night. We were told that if we bring her here, you guys would be able to take care of her for us?”
“Yup. Just throw her over there against the wall and we’ll take care of it.”
There was a very pregnant pause as I struggled to maintain my composure, which, for the record, I did with more poise and class than even *I* thought possible for myself.
“I’m sorry … did I hear you correctly? ‘Just throw her over there against the wall’? In here?”
Another more heavily weighted pause.
“A moment, please, while I consult with my wife.”
Who, of course, overheard the entire conversation and whose face was awash in fresh tears and what I could only assume was tragic rage. Between gasps for breath as she struggled to speak, she managed, “What … they’ll just take her out with the rest of the trash?! Noooooo ….”
“No, of course not honey. We won’t leave her here. Of course not.”
I leaned out the door and very politely and with great restraint told the guy that we would not be leaving her here. We drove off through the rest of the transfer station building. The greater distance we put between ourselves and Mr. Empathy, the angrier and more uncontrolled I became. Obviously this guy had never had a family pet before, or he would have never said what he had. “Just throw her over there against the wall.” Right. And how about, when you die, we just throw YOUR body in a trash heap, to be disposed of with the rotten banana peels, the dried-up paper plates, the soiled diapers, and all the other shit no one else wants? How’s that, jack ass? Yah. Doesn’t sound to nice, does it?
Gah. Even just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. Insensitive jerk …
So we took her to the animal shelter. What a world of difference. We were greeted by friendly staff, all of whom were gracious and sympathetic to our loss, and all of whom expressed their deepest condolences. It just felt so much better. They took her from us, leaving us to give our information to the desk girl. Standard fare: Name, address, phone number, etc.
Of course, being an animal shelter and having just lost one of our family, I felt it callous of us to not at least look at the strays that the shelter had to offer. Lori agreed, so we checked out the dogs they had. A couple of Chihuahuas, couple labs, one pit bull … can’t remember what else. I think there was some Yorkie/Terrier-looking dog there, but I’m not positive. After looking over the prospects, though, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to take one. The pain was still way too great, and none of the dogs seemed to “fit” us.
We left the shelter, got in our car, and drove home. The distance, obviously, had not changed at all, but it sure felt like a long drive. When we got home, Jupiter was there to greet us. I’m sure he was unbearably lonely. He and Zoey played together all the time. Not having her around had to be killing him. He’s actually the primary reason I *want* to get another dog soon. He needs a play buddy! Anyway, we went downstairs and just flopped on the bed, emotionally exhausted and physically worn out. It wasn’t even 10:30 yet, and we were both drained to the core. Sadly, someone had to go pick up our daughter from pre-school, but neither of us could move. As we laid there, I hatched a small plan that I thought might make Lori smile again, but that would require her going to pick up Brooklyn. She semi-sort-of-begrudgingly shuffled off the bed and went to pick her up. Around ll:35—when I anticipated they’d be a few minutes out from coming home, I went and sat by the carport door, just like Zoey would be doing if she were still with us. It actually took her another 15 minutes to come home. I’m not small, and I don’t fit easily in a doorway. Finally, I just sat on the edge of the stair leading up to the kitchen. A few minutes later, she pulled in. As always, Brooklyn was the first to get to the door. “Hi, Daddy! Hey … why are you”
“SHHHHH! Come in, and don’t say anything to mommy, okay? I’m trying to act like Zoey.”
“Oh, daddy … you’re so silly.”
“Yah. I get that a lot.”
Lori came in the house, took one look at me, got a really puzzled look on her face … then she slowly started smiling, which turned into a big grin. She knew what I was trying to do, and she really appreciated it. Either that, or her grin was more of a grimace, and she was *really* thinking, “You poor, dumb man.” Which, sadly, I also get a lot.
The rest of the day passed semi-uneventfully. Brooklyn told all her little friends and teachers at school. Shariden had an orange day at school. Not surprising at all; the poor girl had just lost her pet, and she spent a lot of the day crying. That just breaks my heart. These three are so loving and caring … it hurts to know that they’re agonizing over Zoey being so unceremoniously taken from us. I miss her too, but my grief is more of a sympathetic pain. The girls just adore her. I use the present tense because they haven’t stopped adoring her; if anything, they adore her more now than they did Monday afternoon. I’ve never understood how someone can say “Oh, I loved him/her so much! Now they’re gone!!” Yes, they’re gone, but do you no longer love the person now that he or she is dead? Of course not. If anything, love should be made more prominent and accentuated because he or she is gone. Right?! I can’t possibly be the only one to feel that way.
We’ll make it through this. We did when we lost Suki, and we will this time. We won’t forget her; in fact, we will mourn her long after we have a new puppy. To this day, Lori and I still think about Suki and all of her silly idiosyncrasies that made her distinctly Suki. We’ll do the same with Zoey. In fact, here’s a list of things I remember about her.
· Bed hogging (ha ha … that has to be the first one!)
· Snorting when she lies down next to Lori
· Scratching at the back door or side door for us to let her in
· Throwing her head back to bark in excitement of us coming home
· Her specific bark for when we came home
· Rough-housing with Jupiter
· Her red sweater
· Her matted fur under the red sweater after we took it off in the spring.
· Never playing with a laser. SO frustrating!
· Chasing her all the way to Shariden’s school one Sunday morning before church, JUST so she wouldn’t get hit by a car coming home.
· Chasing her to Big-O
· Chasing her to the apartment complex behind our house (apparently, we chased her a lot)
· Sitting under the dining room table, waiting for food to fall (she’s no dummy!)
· Growling in her low, guttural tone when she had to go outside or when she wanted on the bed
· How her hair normally covered her eyes
· Lick spots on the couch
· Lick spots on MY pillow
· Eating pads and poopy diapers (yah … she did that)
· The look of shame when we found pee spots in the house
Holy cow … I just realized how tiny that little dog was. I imagined her with all her hair and her red sweater, then I pictured her when she was freshly shaved. Holy cow, she was tiny.
She was an incredibly good dog. I hope our next dog is as good as she was. We’ve looked on KSL to see if there are any other schnoodles available. There’s one in Grantsville, but I think that one has probably gone, which makes us sad cuz she looks JUST like Zoey!