We were a family in crisis, though we didn’t see ourselves as such. Our youngest child was experiencing horrible, violent seizures that were becoming more and more frequent. In third grade, she was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The impact of this neurological condition became most difficult when she reached middle school — when her medications reached maximum levels and doped her up, yet remained unsuccessful in controlling her seizures. Her long-term memory was affected She only remembers bits and pieces of those days. So, too, is her limited memory of the day our fifteen-year-old sheltie died. But she remembers well the extended period afterwards, the longest amount of time our family had ever been without a dog. “Please, Mommy, please can I have a golden retriever puppy?” she’d plead.
I’ve been a dog person my entire life, and I, too, missed having a dog. But I couldn’t handle it. My husband traveled frequently for work. My job was often time-demanding and my office was a thirty-minute commute each way. Every weekday morning, I was up an hour early so that I could shower and dress, lay out our daughter’s numerous medications and prepare a hot breakfast for her, all tasks that needed doing before she awoke when I’d anxiously await the answer to the daily question, “Is she going to seize this morning?” I just couldn’t handle the additional demands of an untrained, unhousebroken puppy. I tried to soften the blow by promising to (again) check with the non-profit seizure assistance dog organization. We’d been on a waiting list for ten months. “You’re at least five years out,” I was told.
Then fate/destiny/b’sherit— whatever term best describes meant-to-be goodness — turned things around. A close friend called to tell me about a small, already housebroken one-year-old golden retriever that needed a home. The dog was temporarily living with an animal foster caregiver. If we were at all interested, we’d have to move fast because several people were already interviewing. Our daughter, rather begrudgingly, told me, “I’ll meet the dog, but I really want a puppy.” We drove to the foster caregiver’s home where something quite incredible happened. After our long lull of living without a dog, an overwhelming, uncontrollable urge to pet and interact with the beautiful, reddish-golden retriever known as Daisy took over us both. While the foster caregiver rattled on and on about how the dog was skittish and didn’t take to new people, my daughter motioned to Daisy and the dog walked right over, allowing us to stroke her beautiful coat. We brought Daisy home!
This amazing dog, who’d been abused and abandoned as a puppy, instantly became our daughter’s best friend. She also became an emotional support dog and our family’s antidote for stress. After so many dogless months, petting and playing with Daisy was like finding a large canteen of fresh, cold water after being stranded in the desert. Daisy was incredibly intelligent. As she grew more and more comfortable with our family, her distinct personality emerged. She was a regular comedienne, bringing much joy and laughter into our home. Of greatest significance was Daisy’s intuition. Without any special training, she became a post-ictal assistance dog. After a seizure, our daughter would be wiped out for several hours to several days. She’d sleep for at least three hours. She’d nap on the couch so that I could keep an eye on her. And Daisy would lie on the floor next to her, refusing to leave her side. There she’d remain, a four-legged sentinel, until our daughter woke up,
At times we thought Daisy could be the reincarnation of a famous magician. During dinner, for example, if she felt she wasn’t a part of things, she’d tug on the corner of the tablecloth to get our attention. She seemed ready to attempt that classic trick of yanking the tablecloth off the table without moving any of the dishes. “No, no, Daisy!” we’d frantically say, knowing her tablecloth tugs would leave a mess. But Daisy’s true expertise was her remarkable talent as an escape artist. Whenever she was placed in a bedroom, restricted by a baby gate or a closed door so that strangers could enter our home — — a repair person, a delivery person or, a few times, paramedics who’d come to assist our daughter — Daisy would somehow manage to open the door or squeeze through the gate, charging down the hall to confront those she perceived to be a threat to her family.
She had a hilarious habit of grabbing slippers or shoes. No matter what we might be doing, if she felt she wasn’t receiving enough attention, she’d quietly disappear for a few seconds, then streak by with a shoe or slipper in her mouth. She seemed to know that, if she ran by with a toy, we could ignore her — but we wouldn’t dare do so with footwear for fear that either (a) she’d hide it and we’d never find it or (b)she’d chew it to shreds.
My daughter always asked to bring Daisy in the car with us when we’d run errands. Daisy was always well-behaved on car rides except for the time she decided she wanted to drive. We’d left her in the car, within sight, as we dashed into the dry cleaners. She climbed into the front seat and leaned on the horn. She knew exactly what she was doing. We raced back to the car where a small crowd of strangers stood, laughing, clapping and pointing at Daisy.
She was so well behaved that, in later years, she became a volunteer, visiting residents in a local nursing home. People loved watching her tricks and petting her beautiful soft fur. We’d end visits with Daisy putting out her paw to shake hands.
With the help of an epileptologist and more changes in medication, our daughter’s seizures became controlled. She graduated high school, then college and now works in social services. Meanwhile, Daisy, my husband and I all grew older. Daisy’s face turned white, (so did our hair) her teeth yellowed (my husband needed root canal) and her left hip wore out (so did my husband’s.) Her eyes developed that ‘old dog’ filmy look. (I’m developing cataracts.) Her hearing diminished.(So did ours!) The three of us took these maladies of aging in stride (especially Daisy!)
Then, before the pandemic during her annual checkup, our vet shared that Daisy had a degenerative spinal condition. We’d be able to control her discomfort with medication, at least for a while, but there was no cure. Her aging had accelerated, yet, in all her years, she never once complained and stoically remained engaged in life.
Our brave girl hung on twice. I was in Chicago last November, helping our oldest son as he recovered from knee surgery. My husband took care of Daisy for the three and a half weeks I was away. Though she loved him very much, she missed me and seemed especially lethargic. Our family worried that she might die before I returned. Instead, when I arrived home, she rallied. She immediately walked back and forth between my legs, her sign of affection, according to our vet. My husband was surprised by her increased energy. But I knew we were now on borrowed time. She hung on a second time this past week, perhaps understanding me when I told her our daughter and her boyfriend were moving back to the area after living two years in another city. Last Monday, wearing masks and staying outside on our patio, our daughter held and petted her childhood best friend for the last time. “Mom,” she told me, knowing how much my heart was breaking, “she’s suffering. You’re doing the right thing.”
Had Daisy lived three more months she’d have made it to her fifteenth birthday. We’d have celebrated with her favorites — extra Milk-Bone® treats, poached salmon (her favorite) for her dinner and a frozen peanut butter-flavored dog treat for dessert. Monday evening, I prepared those things for her. And when she put her beautiful head on my knee as she so often did when my husband and I ate our dinner, I cut some of our food into tiny bites and placed it in her bowl.
She no longer took extended walks, but on Tuesday, as we’d done each morning when winter temperatures allowed, we took our last short walk out the front door up to the street lamp and back. She lingered, sniffing the ground, then lifted her head and, looking towards our neighbor’s house, sniffed the air. Was she again smelling foxes that made dens under his deck and raised their pups there each spring? For the rest of the day, she stayed close to me. She either sensed my melancholy or was trying to tell me she was ready. In recent months, she’d started peering at her reflection in our closet mirror where she’d seem lost in thought. Did she recognize herself at fourteen and a half? Or was she seeing herself as a young dog, remembering when she first came to us?
At five o’clock, we drove to our vet’s office where he evaluated her. Deep down I hoped he’d tell me she still had a little time left, but I knew it was unlikely. I’d confessed to him that, with our previous family dogs — Shane, our beautiful collie and Rhapsody (Rap City), our neurotic sheltie, there had been no need to intervene — that whatever higher power or God or determining factor for what ends life had made that decision. How I wished that would happen for Daisy. I didn’t want to decide when her life should end. But, as he’d promised, he told me it was time to let her go. My waterworks started. My nose dripped into my mask and my tears splattered my face shield. I stepped outside to blow my nose while the staff got Daisy ready for her final journey. My husband waited in the car. He did not want to see our wonderful Daisy take her last breath. One of us had to be able to see through tears in order to drive home.
Home. How eerily hollow it feels right now. For the first time in nearly fourteen years, there are no fresh Daisy fur bunnies on the floor. I miss her sounds — her dog nails clicking on the front hall tile, her rhythmic slurping of water from her bowl and even her panting and wandering around at night. It’s funny how ‘loud’ silence can be. Several times a day, especially when I first wake up in the morning, I have to remind myself that she’s not here — that I don’t need to take her outside or feed her breakfast or disguise her medication with cheese. I wonder how long it will be before the gut-wrenching pain in my heart and the waves of sadness and tears will stop…
Daisy was a loving and humane being and a life-changing member of our family. And she was kinder and smarter than many humans I know. She was a dog that made our world a better place, and made us better people. She loved us all completely and seemed to tell us throughout her life how grateful she was that we rescued her. I just hope she knows how much she rescued us.