I’ve had cats, gerbils, rabbits, fish, birds (parrots), and one other dog in life. But this was the first dog that my husband and I had gotten together. She wasn’t at all what we had set out to get. We had discussed it – me pleading for a dog and him eventually giving in, as long as it was a beagle. So, we went to a beagle rescue after having seen a posting for a small male dog that they had. But we had our hearts stolen by a shy, rather quiet, lady, who after being introduced to us, refused to leave. Even when they pulled her away and placed her in a pen, she howled until I went over and petted her. Then when I tried to step away, she’d begin to howl again.
We did eventually meet Toby, the beagle we originally came for, but it was Gypsy who stole our hearts and who adopted us; and it was Gypsy that we took home that day. For 10 years she molded us into the perfect parents – showing us how to take her on walks, what treats she preferred, where she wanted her bed, and what furniture we were allowed to share with her.
Gypsy was all dog, and a hound at that. She loved to hike in the woods, at least when she was young, and she adored chasing deer and armadillos. Of course she never caught any – thank goodness, I have no idea what she would have done if she had actually cornered a deer – but for her, it was all about the chase. Of course, when she chased something, then that meant we did, too, because she couldn’t be trusted off leash – she might come back, she might not. She didn’t have a great sense of direction (I think she got that from me – I can’t find my way out of the driveway), so we would race through the woods struggling to keep up with her as she chased after the deer or the armadillos, until puffing for breath, we finally hauled in on the leash and made her quit.
She’d come trotting back to us, her head and tail high, oh so very proud of herself, and of course, we had to tell her how wonderfully she had done. How could you not, just looking at the grin she had, you had to grin right back.
She wasn’t perfect, what dog is…but when she did something we disapproved of she tried to remember it. She learned quickly that she was no longer going to have to search and scrounge for food, and that digging through the garbage was no longer necessary. She also learned that she didn’t have to hide food in or around her cubby, that if she truly felt she needed food, we would make sure that she had it.
It took time, to overcome these traits, but we had that. So, while walking her through the neighborhood on trash day was at first a bit of challenge, it soon became a fun adventure. We let her sniff at the neighbor’s garbage, but we no longer had to constantly worry about her trying to steal from it. Instead, she became the neighborhood garbage guardian, keeping it safe from the possums, cats, and vultures that liked to tear open the bags and scattered garbage everywhere.
She was definitely into adventure. We loved to go to Lake Rogers, a park near where we lived, and while we would start out on the path that wound around the lake, we always ended up in the overgrown and weedy fields that surrounded the lake instead. The weeds were taller than me, but together we would forge paths through them, and she would sniff out voles, raccoons, and other vermin. And baying loud and proud, she would forge a path through the weeds searching for their den. Again, we never found them, but she loved that search.
Unfortunately, during one of those searches she encountered an ill-tempered snake, and we had to make an emergency run to the vet to save her life. Luckily, the vet had some anti-venom and, although it was a long and scary weekend, she made it. But after that, there was no more off-roading for her. We stayed on the paths, and away from the tall weeds that she had so loved to roam.
But she was getting older, and the days of roaming through tall weeds, or even making it the 3 miles around the lake were getting harder and harder for her. And as she neared her 12th year, her trips to the park became more about the car ride than about the walks; but that was okay. The car ride, the trip to the park, they were for her, anyway. So, whatever part of them made her happy, well, we were just glad.
Then came the Saturday night when she became restless. Unable to sleep she roamed the house, whining and whimpering. I shushed at her a couple of times, took her outside thinking that she needed to make an emergency potty stop, but none of those seemed to be what she wanted.
All day Sunday was similar with the whining and restlessness, except there seemed to be, at least in my eyes, a bit of ritual to it. It was if she were saying goodbye to all of her favorite places – the cushion on the deck where she loved to lie in the sunshine, the runner in the hallway where she could lie and watch us when we were sitting in the family room watching TV, the rug in the office where she could catch the winter sunbeams and watch my husband while he worked, and the spot on the couch that she grudgingly shared with my husband and me.
Come Sunday night the small, little, whimpers turned into wails of discomfort. She began to scream as if in extreme agony, and when nothing I or my husband did seemed to help, we finally took her to the emergency vet. They ran a couple of tests and did some x-rays, and that’s when the story revealed itself. Cancer. She had cancer of the spine, the neck to be exact. There was nothing to be done. She would just suffer more and more pain, until the cancer finally beat her down.
So, through our tears and despite our wish to keep her with us for another 12 years, we said good bye. We gathered on the floor in the little room at the vet’s and held each other. She curled her head and neck around me as if to hold on to me, gaining reassurance, and giving it in return. It almost seemed to me that she knew, had known all day in fact, that it was time. And yet none of us really wanted to let go.
We cried; we hugged; we remembered how it was; and I wished for a miracle to come through the door and tell me it was all a huge mistake. But no miracles happened, and we eventually had to let go.
It’s hard to let someone so beautiful, generous, and sweet go. But it’s worse to make them stay when going is obviously what they want and need to do. I knew that I couldn’t hold her with me, not if it meant she had to endure the agony I had heard in her cries.
I think she was braver than any of us; I think she knew in her heart of hearts what needed to be done, and she was the one that let go first. When she uncurled her neck from around me, and I looked into those beautiful brown eyes, I knew I would miss her forever.
I love you Gypsy, and I always will.