Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


JULY 14, 2011 9:25AM

Goodbye Girl

Rate: 52 Flag
Picking up her food bowl, that was hard. I left it down for days. A week later, while shopping online, I was prompted for a password. For more than a decade I've used her name, or a version of it, to buy yoga pants, spices, books and music. I knew I couldn't break down each time I hit a "checkout" button, so I had to change my passwords, methodically erase her name. That was harder. My new passwords are neutral, nonsense words and meaningless numbers. I have three other dogs and I've learned my lesson.

When you adopt a pet – in this case, a twice-adopted and twice-returned Smooth Fox Terrier named Millie – she's suddenly yours, for better or worse, in a ceremony where you've paid a fee and slipped a circle of nylon around her neck. It's deceptively simple for such a commitment, all the implied promises. You don't think ahead to the day when you'll have choices, not just collar colors – red or purple? Life and death choices.

Choices: I said yes to the sedative that calmed her fearful shaking and made her little head drop to her paws. Yes to the injection of pink liquid that slowed her breathing and stopped her heart. When it was over I refused to let the kennel tech take her away, and he backed off, making calm down motions with his hands. I was utterly confused by the flood of grief. I'd expected to be relieved. 

There have been a rash of books and movies, recently, featuring dogs. By and large the dogs are galumphing lugheads. Couch chewers, carpet piddlers, excessive droolers, rambunctious instruments of destruction, but pure of heart. You can forgive a lot if the eyes looking back at you are liquid with innocence or stupidity. You don't mind, as much, trails of shredded toilet paper, gutted pillows or a curled pile of shit, if you see frantic joy on your dog's face as you come through the door. He thought you were never coming home. And here you are!

Millie was nothing like that. She was a shrewd bitch, obstinate and surly, greedy and domineering. I have no doubt she was abused; dogs of a certain oppositional temperament are often bullied by owners attempting to show them who's boss. She telegraphed her experiences with a hunched, defensive back. The command "Come!" whether delivered cajolingly or assertively made her ears flatten. She couldn't accept an unsolicited hug. She snapped at my children, claimed their beds as her own and growled at the mildest rebuke. She darted out doors left ajar, and pretended not to recognize you when you caught up with her on the street. All of this was cleverly, adorably, disguised within a compact body covered in white fur and large Holstein spots, a rakish black eye mask; the only sign of her true nature was a nub of a tail that didn't so much wag as vibrate, like a snake's rattle. Meeting her for the first time, though, you'd be thoroughly duped.

I caught glimpses of the dog she might have been, in the moments when she was truly happy. She loved her leash and the walks it took her on. The car, windows down, her head out, ears flapping  like racing flags. The dog park. Squirrels. In her younger years, she caught one, snatched him right off the side of a tree, and as my daughter squealed, "Drop it! Drop it!" Millie stood there, panic in her eyes. She wasn't sure, herself, what to do with the squirming critter in her mouth. Finally, she spat him onto the ground, where he lay stunned, spit-soaked, for a minute before darting up the nearest tree with one hell of a story to tell. And her food bowl. Even on the last day of her life, that morning, she did a little dance, a series of excited arthritic hops as I poured kibble into her bowl. 

For us, she developed a tolerance, a mild affection, and there were times when she let her guard down and allowed us to show her kindness, but in those interactions eventually some invisible line would be crossed, a breached personal boundary that caused her wall of distrust to rise again and she'd effectively push us away.

I should tell you about the pet funeral home, a pale yellow bungalow decorated with chimes and fountains, angel statuary, crosses and wraithlike cats, owned by a woman from central casting: Earth Mother. A wizened tree of a woman, broad trunk, long gray hair that frizzed like Spanish moss, acorn-colored eyes, a healer's voice. Her words emerge gauze-wrapped, seeking untended wounds. These are details that would ordinarily make me smile or – at my most ungracious – snicker, but cradling Millie's body, my face splotched and puffy, my eyes red and scratchy with a mysterious grit, I'm buying all of it. If she'd offered Lazarus water, or donned a train conductor's hat and sold first class tickets on the Rainbow Bridge Express – Toot! Toot! All aboard! – I would have thrown money at her and climbed on. Anything to assuage the guilt. Those choices...

My husband has lost patience with me. I'm still weeping copiously and often nearly two weeks after her death. He says, "This needs to stop. For heaven's sake, she was old and sick! You did the right thing!"

Once someone notices your tears they speed up, and tears are raining as I admit, "I didn't love her, not like I should."

He scoffs and  says, "She wanted for nothing! You loved her lots, as much as she deserved." That word -- deserved -- pierces me. Do any of us want to be loved as much as we deserve? Or do we hope others will see beyond and offer more?

I say, "I can't believe you think that's enough." 

He says, "And I can't believe you expect more from yourself than that."

He's right. You can't fully love someone who willfully rejects it. I also know I'm right, and I can't hammer that contradictory knowledge into wisdom or practice. I just know that grief with recriminations is sharper than the well-earned kind.

I held her as she died. That's one of the promises you make in the beginning, before you understand the contract – that you'll be there at the end. I stroked her ears, and told her she was a good girl, over and over, and I meant it. At her most vulnerable, when she leaned against me with her full weight and accepted, at last, the loving embrace I'd always wanted to give her, she was a good girl.
 (When I started the car to leave the funeral home, the CD player -- which had been off -- came to life, and this song began to play.  Don't snicker, but I thought it might be a sign from Millie, that she's happy now.)

Author tags:

loss, pets, love, family

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I admire you for the effort of reaching out to show kindness with the awareness that it was an offereing with no expectation of reward, a hope, maybe, but not an expectation.
Well, I've lost dogs and I've lost my husband recently. There is some similarity in the feelings, believe me. The disbelief, the unwelcome shock of grief, it's all there. Great story, great tribute.
*sniff* You loved a creature who was hard to love and she accepted it in the end.
Aw, shit, Bell. I've always counted on you not to make me cry...
Wishing you peace in this time of great loss!
None of us gets the life they show on the Purina advertisements. Once we stop expecting that, we get excited about the kibble that Food God puts in our bowl unbidden.

Beautiful piece Bell, and I'm so sorry you lost Millie.
Such a pitch-perfect description of what it means to love our animals. For better or worse, indeed.
Dammit Bell. there is a flood here now.
ah no....
" I just know that grief with recriminations is sharper than the well-earned kind. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I held her as she died. That's one of the promises you make in the beginning, before you understand the contract – that you'll be there at the end. "

I understand this too well; wishing you peace at this time, Belle.
*hug* You did good.
I have never been a dog person - until six weeks ago when we brought home Raisin - now any harm that could come to her would kill me. I get it now - and your post as always is a lovely tribute to Millie.
Acorn eyes and Spanish moss hair.. a dog who rejects love....

Oh Bell. I love your heart. ~r
We lost our dog to cancer over 2 years ago and I can still get choked up when I think about her. Now we have another fabulous bichon that we dearly love. I just couldn't bear being in a quiet house with children going off to college. Almost everyone from my book club lost a do in the last 3 years since we all bought them at around the same time when our children were young. Give yourself some time. Men are different with this sort of thing....
Now you have me crying, and we are cat people. Okay, I had dogs growing up and I love dogs, too. I haven't been there when any of mine have died, but I have held some fragile, wounded bodies and knew that I was the other half of the pact. Small or large, loving or skittish, they are still our fur babies. As we are theirs.
Oh, Bellwether. I love how she pretended not to recognize you when you caught up with her on the street. Her whole personality(and your love for her little obstinate self) comes across so clearly. That beautiful song must have been a sign from Millie [I am assured, yes, I am assured, yes, I am assured that peace will come to me...a peace that can, yes, surpass the speed, yes, of my understanding and my need ...] Hope that peace comes to you, too, in time, Ms. Bellwether Vance. Thanks for sharing your beautiful writing...
I am sorry. They can be so aggravating (and worse), but we love them in spite of everything, and they love us. You said it so beautifully, as always.
Bell I know what that non stop crying is like. I stopped and then your post, so beautiful, opened me up to pain again. My ex husband loved all dogs and I'm sorry that your husband is, on this point, not sensitive to how hard it hits. But that good bye, wrenching was gorgeous too and you are a really sensitive soul. Funny about the password since I had the same issue, didn't change mine yet. If it is of any comfort, you gave Millie a new life by sharing this with all of us. Being in dog loss grief myself, I'm crying along with you. Love R
Oh, Bellwether.

It's been nearly two months since Dog 2 died, and I'm still a mess, despite having the seven previous months to come to terms with the fact I was losing her. Callie also had a history of abuse which made her not a perky charmer, and she submitted to hugs with stoicism, not pleasure. But after nine years, we'd come to rely on each other's presence. She followed me. I followed her. She was family. Dog 1 and I are bereft. I so understand what you're going through, and I'm sorry.
So very sorry for your loss, Bell. You wrote a beautiful tribute to your spirited girl.
It's been more than 8 years since I held one in my arms and watched his last breath, and it still hurts. hurts more than words can say. and here you've written it all, so well, so that it hurts again. thanks for being able to write it.
Charming as hell , fascinating, and beautifully written, as usual. This is why I don't have pets. I can't tolerate the pains associated with loss . I love "Once someone notices your tears they speed up," and too many other lines to include here. Interesting and thought provoking - can we fully love those who may willfully reject our love?
Bell, she was so lucky to have you and your family. I feel for you - our yellow lab 2 years gone was my password on half my life, it seems. They really get under your skin!
Millie was your four-legged daughter. You have my sympathy and empathy. We recently lost our "pretty girl" princess of a cat.
The way you let us in, amazing.r
One of my favorite quotes: "Treat every man according to his deserts, and who shall 'scape whipping?" (Hamlet). It goes for dogs, too. You loved her past her deserving, but that's the beauty of love. It isn't a question of whether or not you 'deserve' it - it's simply a gift. You loved her for being herself, not some perfect dog. What an incredible gft that was, and how many of us can claim to have had the same?
Praying for help in your grief, healing, and an eventual appreciation for all you meant to dear Millie.
Lovely. One of the best things I've ever read about having, and losing, a pet.
She would have accepted very little but you loved her more than she asked for or expected. What greater kind of love is there? I'm sorry for your loss but happy to know what she'd received.
BV, I think you are so right. A dog who has been abused never forgets. Even when the environment has changed to a loving home, a quick hand motion, a loud voice or 'something' will bring back those memories. It is heart-breaking to see.

Bless you for giving Millie a good home and happy moments.
I'm so sorry you lost Millie. Sometimes it's the ones that have difficulty loving that make us extend our reach so that we grow in the process. Although written about your beloved dog, you describe feelings here that stretch the boundaries and made me think about some hurt/abused people I know too and my responses to them. Thanks, Belle.
This is humane and endearing. What a nice piece. R
DH -- I did expect more from myself, and maybe that was foolish. When you're grieving you think back on all the times you failed, not the times you succeeded.

Pamela -- I'm sorry for your loss, Pamela. When you open your heart to grieve, that opening is just as wide for beloved pets or for beloved people. And it is always a shock, though by now, with all the practice, it shouldn't be.

Miguela -- She was such a sport. I wish she had accepted it sooner.

Matt -- I'm sorry! I was planning on doing a food post this week, but this one kept impinging.

Kit and Tink -- Thank you!

Greenheron -- You're right, you have to just love the one you're with.

Jeanette -- I'm sure she would have give you a list of her grievances.

Mission -- Dead pet posts always open the flood gates for me too.

Fusun -- In my shelter work, I saw too many pets die surrounded by strangers and I promised my pets I wouldn't do that to them. But those images of their last moments are oh so hard to have.

Sweetfeet -- I keep thinking I could have done gooder.

Lamm -- Millie was really my first dog, and I knew nothing. My problems with her led me to devote a decade to pet welfare education, dog training and shelter volunteer work. Once you get it, you get it.

Jonathan -- Thank you for the blessing. I needed it.

Trig -- She was a one of a kind pup. I've yet to come across one quite as stubborn and as strange.

Joan -- When you write about missing your daughter, I do keep thinking that maybe you need a dog!

Susie -- Yes, he is so much better at compartmentalizing emotion and at perspective in times of high emotion. I know it will take time. I'm glad you found a new dog to love. You can't replace them, but a new dog does help you to heal.

Oryoki -- We are without cats for the first time in our marriage. Our last one had to be put down at the age of 21. I miss my kitties, and will have another (or two) one day.

Clay -- That was the most infuriating thing!! Her look of "I'm sorry I don't think we've met..." just as she ran off down the road. And she always did it right when we were headed somewhere, and we had to stop everything and chase her around. (I am assured peace will come to me....just not fast enough for my taste.)

Neil -- You sound like my husband. He "loves" our dogs, but not the way I do. Meanwhile, our chow Bowie ADORES him and follows him around as if he's a God.

Sophie -- I went into dog ownership with her without a clue, and she learned me right quick! I naively thought that dogs were pretty much interchangeable and all you had to do was pick one that was the size you wanted. Thankfully, I know better now.

Wendy -- It's not a grief you ever forget, or completely let go of, so I'm sorry for your loss as well. My husband is really supportive, he just has a more pragmatic viewpoint. She was in pain, and letting her go was the right choice, so there's no reason to feel guilty about it. I was THERE and gave the go-ahead. He's already promised to be THERE for the other dogs, should they need it.
Mumble -- I knew you were going through a tough time with your dog, and making decisions about her care and quality of life. These feelings must seem very familiar to you. It had helped having the other three dogs.

Lea -- I did like to think of her as spirited rather than stubborn. Sometimes it's all in how you look at it.

Dianaani -- Those aren't feelings you forget, though I wish we could. I hate to think eight years into the future. By then, I'll likely have said goodbye to the three I have now. It's worth it though, to have them in my life.

Fernsy -- I understand about being afraid of loss. I have a friend who lost his Westie over twenty years ago and has refused to get another dog. He won't even LOOK at a dog and gets a sort of disinterested air when they come around.

Tai -- Thank you for reading. I'm glad the piece touched you.

Blue -- Two years isn't that long. Some days it must still feel fresh. The password thing seems to be common among pet owners.

Trilogy -- Thank you for thinking of me.

Stim -- As troublesome as she was she was a lot less trouble than my two-legged daughter! I'm sorry about your pretty princess. I can see her wearing a tiara.

Hugs -- I tried not to make it too mopey, and I'm not sure I succeeded. It's hard to reign in such feelings and show just enough.

Cominghome -- I love that quote. Whipping myself seems to be a pastime of mine.

Cranky -- I keep thinking I never "had" her, I just got to do the losing part. That sucks.

Betsy -- That's a sweet thing to say. Thank you.

l'Heure -- It would be interesting to see it from her viewpoint. I try to take comfort in knowing I did my best, and right now it's a small comfort.

Catherine -- I know you've experienced a lot of this. We do have another abused dog. Jeb is shy and fearful, but very very loving, so I think Millie was just destined to be very independent and that her early interactions made that evolve into distrust. I wish I could have broken through. In almost 12 years, I never did.

Scarlett -- You're right. When we are challenged and stretched, forced to invest, we do appreciate every little bit we get back.

Thoth -- It's good to see you around again, and thank you for stopping by. I do appreciate it.
The French call pets "betes de chagrin" - they're animals that, no matter how much we love them, we know we'll probably one day have to see die, or help Mother Nature to end their pain. I think it's admirable that you gave a difficult pet a good life. Many, many other people would have abandoned, neglected, abused, or maybe even destroyed, an animal who snapped at their family. You tried to get past that and understand. I think you're right; she probably was abused at some point. You and your family showed her mercy - and as you point out, she even felt happy - and it seems quite often at that. I know it won't take the hurt away, but you did so much for her. My mother, a former vet tech, always says, "Animals don't know what death is, but they know what pain is." She'd definitely say you made the right choice and that you were a responsible, great pet owner with a challenging dog. It's okay to grieve, it's understandable. But I'd probably take the song as a sign, too.
I need to get some tissue....
(my poochie is almost 15)
okay, I'm back --
I love the way you describe Millie, and that pic is too sweet...
This is beautiful, Bell
The death of a pet genre is normally not my cup of tea Bellwether but this is one finely spun tale. I had to make the call on a beloved Lab many years ago and you've put that in a new light for me.
Thinking of you, Bell, and of your Millie.
"At her most vulnerable, when she leaned against me with her full weight and accepted, at last, the loving embrace I'd always wanted to give her, she was a good girl."
Twice-returned? The third time, with you, was the charm for Millie.
I know that commitment, to be there at the end. It's a killer, but there's nowhere else we would be, is there?
This is hard and easy to read, from my 2-dog, soon to be 3-dog home.
rich, powerful post. I'm floored. my mother lost her best friend Tilly today, a month after her husband. Tilly died in her arms, an injection saving her from her from the end pain the law did not allow my mother to save her husband from, despite his wishes - these are her references. The end of a 13 year relationship. Bellwethervance, your perceptions, depth of feeling, its eloquent expression - thank you.
And I'm deeply sorry.
Jesus Christ, just what I needed, a good bawl over my morning coffee, and just after yelling at my idiot dog to STFU. What a lovely story, and how lucky that stupid mutt to be loved and cared for...when it wasn't hardly in the cards for her.
"She was a shrewd bitch, obstinate and surly, greedy and domineering." You did for her: that's love, kiddo.And doing it every day, day after day, and accepting her attitude and doing it anyway, that's more than she deserved--though what she needed. You had other responsibilities, too--and still do. Continue doing for them--that, too, is loving her.

Oh, and this was beautifully written. Again.
this, that we discussed earlier
yes, perfect pain

(what a lovely photo, indeed, she would have duped me, too)
Shame on OS for not giving this an EP. You've got me in tears over here, Bell! I'm so sorry for the loss of your good girl.
Alysa -- That's a great way to look at it "...they know what pain is." I hope she felt some relief at the end, and that she didn't know. It's the KNOW part that really haunts me.

Caroline -- Millie was almost 15. I have another dog who is almost 14. I hate having to think about losing him as well, and I know it's coming. I have to think it's worth it, even knowing what's ahead. They give so much. (Even an uncooperative dog like Millie.)

Abra -- Thank you for the kind comment. The "dead pet post" can get maudlin, and I tried to avoid going there...but I fear I did, and couldn't help myself anyway.

Anna -- I so appreciate your thoughts and well-wishes.

Dirndl -- The funny thing is that I'm sure she thought she deserved better, or at least that was her attitude. It was almost comic sometimes, how she'd turn on the charm for strangers, as if hoping they'd take her away...

Maria -- I'm so sorry to hear about your mother's Tilly. As you point out, as difficult as it is to make these choices, it's much harder when you have no choices to relieve pain or suffering.

Myriad -- Don't feel bad. I just yelled at the remaining three this morning. STFU is a pretty common phrase around here. Luckily they don't know what it means; apparently, they think it means, come on over hear...closer...and bark in my face because I didn't hear you when you were all the way over there.

Pilgrim -- I do know I did my best; it still feels not good enough.

Vanessa -- She was a beauty in the shelter. Quiet and almost prissy in her cleanliness. Duped = me!

Lucy -- Thanks for the honorary EP! =) Everyone's comments and well-wishes mean a lot more than that, every time.
The last time we had to euthanize a pet (ours will never just die gracefully, they require us to take part), my husband swore we were never having another dog...."this is too hard". So of course this pitiful thing showed up at the back door...ribs showing, limping and is now so spoiled and so rotten and we will suffer again when she leaves us. And we will swear "no more dogs, this is too hard".
tearjerker! beautiful piece. (from the girl who cries at dog movies).
People who love animals are number one with me..ThX
I also had a dog like that who we adopted. She also had a hard time accepting love but in the end I too held her like I had always wanted to. I'm so sorry for your loss Bell. I understand how you feel all too well.
Well, now I'm crying in my coffee. I'm so sorry you had to make that choice for Millie but, of course, it was the right choice. I dread that day but I know it's coming. I have three hooligans. My Harry sounds very much like your Millie. I found him wandering around the 'hood shortly after Hurricane Ivan. I'm pretty sure he was abused as well, given his demeanor. I call him Harry Harry Quite Contrary. He has a lot of the same behaviors you described in Millie and so he's hard to love sometimes but I know I'll miss him terribly when he goes. Maybe he and Millie will meet in dog heaven one day. They'd make quite a pair.
You know I'm not here often now, but I always check your recent posts when I pop in. After something you'd said earlier, this didn't come as a surprise, but the shelter volunteering that you do keeps things moving forward. Someone always needs a home and a ration of love. She had a much better life with you than without and her spirit seems to have returned the gift ... making it easier, and harder, to move on to the next pup that needs you. I know you will though. Your pet cemetery is a testament to your caring and generous spirit to those perhaps no one would have loved. Your mission is blessed Bell.
Liberal - As hard as it is, the pain is worth the eventual loss. I don't think I'd ever be able to live without a dog, even anticipating the end.

Gabby Fox -- Anyone who doesn't cry at dog movies is a robot. Or a person to be avoided! (My husband cried at the end of "Babe" and at the end of "The Incredible Journey." I've teased him about it -- of course, ammunition!!! -- but he knows I'd would have divorced him had I not seen tears.)

Algis -- Animals aren't hard to love. People, however...They're challenging!

Christine -- Thanks for validating my experience. It seems there are so few people who understand what it means to love a dog who just doesn't GET people. They need love too, as much, if not more than other dogs...but the act of giving it is distinctly unsatisfying.

Franish -- I always expected that she had a mate somewhere. Like my reply (above) to Christine, I think you understand the challenges we face when we choose to love pets who aren't really capable of giving it back. But, here I am a few weeks out, and I'd say I'd do it all over again.

Gabby -- We do have a growing pet cemetery. I look at my other elderly dog and cringe because I know what's coming. They are all rescues, and though I know that without my intervention they would have been gone -- killed -- years go, I just wish that knowledge made it easier when the end comes.
So brilliant, so heartfelt, so painful to read. Those of us who lose our pets and go on to adopt another -- knowing the kind of pain we will inevitably feel all over again -- will always be brothers and sisters under the skin, sharing an experience that can never be erased (nor would we if we could, most of the time).
as soon as i stop weeping, i'm going to change all my passwords, my screensaver at work and give my old girl the biggest longest happiest hug she'll allow. fighting illness for the last 6 months has made me apprehensive and more like a jailor who watches her every move instead of loving her without grief already to leap into that ultimate breach we must accept inevitable.
cry as much and as long as you want.
that song....... cry for happy
Those of us who have pets (and especially those of us who, like you, had companions who weren't the most lovable) weep with you.
Ms. Dirndl sent me to this story of yours. Now I understand more fully what you wrote to me. I'm sorry for that loss. Every time I go through it, it never gets easier nor should it.

As for not having loved her enough? Or "as much as she deserved"? You did see past what she showed into her soul and loved her for all she was and was to you, Belle.

You are a wonderful, wonderful writer. And now one of my favs.

√√ MOC
Trilby -- I know I will always have a dog, even though I know the emotional cost. Life just isn't as rich without a canine companion (or a feline one!). And there are SO many pets out there who need love and a home.

Lilywaters -- I'm sorry you're going through some health issues. It's so tough to watch your dog -- or any pet -- begin to decline, especially if you've been through it before. Any little thing makes you go "uh oh!" and your heart catches. Hug your pup tightly. And yes, change your passwords!! I've learned that random passwords are best even if they are hard to remember.

Chrissie -- There are a lot of us who have loved deeply, and mourned just as deeply. I think that's a good thing.

Murder of Crows -- I always think it will get easier, because it SHOULD. Right? Nope. I know I did love her to best of my ability and that she loved me back to the best of her ability -- it was just an unsatisfying kind of love, and one you recognize as being deficient when you've experienced the fully-realized kind. It makes me sad for her more than for me.
I'm so sorry. I'm also grateful for the introduction to Josh Ritter. What a beautiful song, one I needed to hear. Everytime I hear the word "lark" I think of their group name, like Murder of Crows or murmuration of starlings, but with larks it's an exhaltation of larks. And then I think of Sonnet 29, which also has larks. I am assured, yes.
Late to the party...but I'm so glad you discovered Josh Ritter. He's a treasure. And when I hear this song I think of Millie. Makes me cry and smile.