Sophie the dog died last week. She had surgery to fix her bladder. The surgery had complications. Sophie had to be put to sleep. These are the facts, but as is often the case, the facts leave so much unsaid.
My mother-in-law called my husband to let us know, and he told me. I cried (and I still cry when I think of Sophie). She was not my dog, but she used to be. She was my pet, and then, I had to give her up. She’s lived with my in-laws most of her life. Yet, I raised Sophie from a puppy. I struggle to mourn her loss. I already gave her up. What right do I have to mourn? How can I not mourn her? What do I say about a dog who used to be a part of my family? What do I owe her memory? I have no good answers (I rarely do).
Instead, I’ll tell you Sophie’s story, the parts that I know. It is the least that I can do.
Chris and I already had one dog, Hannah, and a mean cat, Belle. We bought a new house with a large backyard, and we worried that Hannah might be lonely. We were both graduate students. We spent many hours at the university away from home. We thought maybe another dog would be a good companion.
My mom happened to have a new litter of hound-mix puppies, so we decided to pick a puppy for Hannah. I was drawn to an off-white puppy with spots running through her fur. She had big brown splotch over one eye, which made her look a bit like the Pokey Little Puppy. This puppy was also nervous, which amounted to much pee to be removed from carpet, and rambunctious. We named her, Sophie. The name was my choice because it sounded sweet, and she was.
When we brought her into our home, she promptly peed on the tile.
Hannah approved of Sophie, in the that Hannah approves of new creatures, begrudgingly. Hannah wasn’t lonely anymore, and we now had two dogs.
Our backyard contained many trees, no grass, and a brown shed. Sophie liked to hide under the shed, and she rocketed out from under it when we called her name. She loved to run.
When Sophie was maybe six months old, she and Hannah ate berries that fell into our yard from the overhanging trees. We didn’t know they had eaten the berries until the dogs started puking. The vomit was bright purple. Hannah was unsteady on her feet, weaving like she was drunk. Sophie, however, started convulsing. Her small body shook with seizures. We rushed both dogs to the emergency vet. I held Sophie in my arms the whole ride there. She seized again and again. I was convinced that our puppy was dying. I cried and prayed for her to be okay. I blamed myself for not realizing that the berries were poisonous. The veterinarian took her away and sent us home. I couldn’t sleep. My dog was dying, and I wasn’t there. She needed us, and we were at home in bed. I cried myself to sleep. The vet called us to let us know she had recovered and that we could come pick her up later in the day. Time moved slowly as I waited for pick-up. We got our dog back. I held her close as we rode home. I needed to know she was still with us. I told her to never eat berries again.
Sophie grew up. She was taller than the short Hannah. Her ears remained floppy. She was still nervous. Sophie sat beside my desk as I wrote my thesis. She was one of my first writing buddies. We still loved her, even as we mopped up pee.
A few years later, we adopted a new puppy, Zan. This poor, emaciated puppy found her way to my mom’s house. She was brown and black. I convinced Chris that one more dog wouldn’t be that much trouble. I was wrong. At first, Hannah, Sophie, and Zan got along well. Hannah was grumpier than she used to be, so she didn’t have much patience for the puppy. I loved our small pack of dogs. They provided me with company, affection, and comfort while Chris was away for the summer on an internship.
Sophie and Hannah started growling at one another. Hannah was the dominant dog, and Sophie usually deferred. The introduction of the puppy changed their dynamic. They started snapping at one another. On one awful day, their battle for dominance took a bloody turn. Hannah attacked Sophie. I jumped between two snarling dogs to rescue Sophie. She needed stitches. I cleaned blood off the floor. My veterinarian pulled me aside after he finished suturing Sophie’s leg. He calmly explained that the dogs would keep fighting until one of them was hurt severely. Numbly, I asked if sending Zan to a new home would help. He shook his head. Sophie and Hannah needed to live separately.
We decided that Sophie would need a new home. I looked into dog rescues, but I wanted her to go to someone I knew and trusted. Rescues seemed fine, but I wanted to guarantee that I did what was best for you.
In the mean time, Sophie and Hannah lived in different rooms of our home to keep them from fighting. I stay with Sophie and told her how much I loved her. I kept apologizing to her, as my apology meant anything to this dog.
Sophie went to live with my in-laws. They treated her well. She lived with my brother-in-law for awhile too. She was in his wedding. They all loved her. She was happy.
Every time, we visited Sophie was excited to see us. She seemed to remember that she was our dog too, even if we weren’t around as much. I feared that she would hold our decision against us. That she hurt from the loss of us, like we hurt from the loss of her. Sophie seemed unfazed.
Her new owners treated her well. They also mopped up pee. When she got sick, they did everything they could to make her better. Sometimes, intervention doesn’t help. Bodies fail. Your dog dies, whether you are there or not.