My dog died last week. She had cancer… she had had cancer for 4 years now, and on Thursday, 5/8, Pebbles told me it was time. I looked into her eyes, and I could see it… her pain… and her request… please, let me go. I had been watching for this message. I hope and pray that she had not been trying to tell me this before… that this was the first time… but I can’t be sure of that. All I know is that, on that Thursday, after the hike we took that day, it was finally clear to me, and I knew what I needed to do.
I didn’t want to do it. This is my baby. I found her at the humane society 11 years ago, and she very quickly crept into my heart in a way that no other animal has ever done. My husband jokes that no other person has ever crept in my heart that way… and maybe he’s right. Because all I know now is that I miss her terribly, and I feel a need to talk about her… to tell stories. Isn’t that what we do when we grieve?
I remember so many things, so many times. I remember stories, and habits. Like the loud thump I would hear when I walked into a room where she was as her strong tail beat the hard wood floor. She knew that, when I looked at her and heard that thumping, I could never resist going to her and rubbing my hands through her thick fur. She knew how much I loved to snuggle up with her, and I knew how insistent she was that I pet her. That was our deal… as long as I pet her, she would stay and snuggle. I use “pet” loosely. It didn’t have to be much… I remember nights when I was exhausted, lying next to her, falling asleep as my hand lightly moved on her fur. As I would drift off, my hand would stop moving, and then Pebbles would gently nudge my hand and lick my fingers. “Mom, you stopped petting!” I would slightly move my thumb along her fur, and that was enough. She’d snuggle back in. Eventually, though, I would stop, and her nudging and licking would not persuade me. That was when she would get up and move just a few feet away. She still wanted to be close, but no petting, no snuggle. That was the deal.
I remember how, when I went to find a dog at the humane society with my mom and my friend, I told them I wanted a dog who would snuggle. When I met Pebbles, she just wanted to play. I wasn’t sure she would ever be a snuggler, and so I wasn’t sure. But Pebbles seemed to have picked ME out. It was as though she already knew… YOU are going to take me home… and she was right. My friend kept telling me… that dog is totally a snuggler. Just you wait. I still wasn’t sure, but I think Pebbles had already captured my heart anyway. As we headed home, I sat in the back seat with Pebbles, and Pebbles, this 70+ lb dog, quickly snuggled up in my lap. My friend gave me a quick look from the front seat that said, “I told you so.”
I remember how one rule Pebbles was very good about obeying was that she was not allowed up on the furniture. That is… not unless we invited her. I remember how she would suddenly decide it was time to snuggle, and she would come up to where I was sitting on the couch, and sit at attention next to me, staring at me while she wagged her tail with that THUMP…THUMP…THUMP, until I said, “OK, Pebbles, come on up!” I would barely get the “OK” out of my mouth, and she would leap 3 feet into the air and land HARD on my gut as she quickly made herself at home on my lap. I love my snuggle lap dog of 75 pounds!
I remember my favorite snuggling position, which was when I sat with my legs slightly opened on the floor, and Pebbles came and curled up between my legs. It was in that position, that she would often let herself fall asleep, safe within my lap. I’m very sorry to say that I can’t find ANY pictures of us in that position. I will always regret that.
I remember how much Pebbles loved food. I mean… I know dogs love food, but Pebbles LOVED food. We went to visit her friend, Punkin, who lived right down the road. Punkin was sitting unleashed in her front door. It was a hot day; the front door was open to the house while Punkin’s mom made dinner in the kitchen. As I chatted with Punkin’s father, I let Pebbles off leash so that she and Punkin could play. They were romping around in the front yard, having a great time. When Punkin’s mom opened her oven to check on the garlic bread, Pebbles knew that was her one and only chance. Punkin’s dad and I didn’t even know what was going on as Pebbles dashed inside the house, stuffed her head into the oven, grabbed the full loaf of garlic bread out the oven and gulped it down before any one of us had a chance to even yell her name or a quick, “No!” It was gone. The entire loaf of bread.
I remember how difficult it was to train Pebbles. It wasn’t that Pebbles didn’t know what I wanted her to do. She knew. I would tell her my command, and she would look at me. I could see what she was doing. She was assessing. Assessing how far away I was from her, and whether I would be able to catch her and make her do what I wanted. She would give me that look… that “No… I don’t think so,” before she would turn away and do what she wanted. I kept working with her, and we would be making so much progress. She would finally seem to be listening, willing to do as I asked.
I remember how much she loved to go to Juanita Bay park, and how, before the park was renovated, I would take her and break the law by letting her off leash when there weren’t many people around. She loved to run on the beach, jump in the water, and chase the ducks. I remember when my mom, who also loves Juanita Bay park took Pebbles with her and let Pebbles off leash. I was at work, and after a meeting, I checked my phone to find a voice-mail from my mom. I remember it clearly: “Hi Anja! I’m at the park with Pebbles and just thought I’d call to see ho— Pebbles? PEBBLES!!! PEBBLES, YOU GET BACK HERE!!! Anja, Pebbles just ran off and I can’t — PEBBLES, YOU LEAVE THAT PERSON ALONE!!” I’m pretty sure I cried as I laughed and imagined my poor mother chasing after Pebbles, trying to get her to come back.
I remember the time, at that same park, when Pebbles had been SO good for SO long, and so I let her off leash (I never did learn). She continued to be very good… coming when I called her, sitting when I said. Now, it was time to leave, and I think Pebbles knew her time had come to go back on leash. As I approached her to put her on leash, she spotted a man, probably in his 70s, walking his little puntable dog on a leash, and she jumped at her last chance to misbehave. She sprinted to the little dog and began by simply sniffing him. The little dog got nervous, and started to run away from Pebbles… but the little dog was on leash, so he could only run around his dad’s legs. Pebbles was always happy to chase! And she did. That poor man was scared for his dog, as his poor dog was scared for his life, and raced around and around the man’s legs. As the man tried not to get tangled, while also trying to help his dog get away from Pebbles, he started spinning in place, faster and faster, until finally this little puntable dog was no longer running away from Pebbs, but flying at the end of the leash while he yelled at me to take control of my dog!! I asked the man to hold his dog, instead of slinging the poor dog around in a circle, which the man did. Once the little dog was no longer running in circles, Pebbs stopped running, too, and I grabbed her easily, apologizing profusely to the man and the dog, asking if the dog was all right.
I remember how Pebbles never forgot a squirrel. We would go to parks with lots of trees so that Pebbs could chase squirrels up them. She never was able to get too close, and the squirrel would run up the tree, into its branches, and over to other trees. But Pebbles would just keep staring up at that tree, barking, waiting for the squirrel to come back down. Eventually, we would leave to go home (if I could catch her), but the next time we came back to the same park, Pebbles would immediately run to the very same tree, look up and start barking. No squirrel in sight… it was as though time had not passed, and she had just finished chasing that squirrel up the tree.
I remember how I quickly learned that the trick to getting Pebbles to come was to run AWAY from her. Learning that trick made life MUCH easier, even if it did upset people when they were frustrated with Pebbles, and I simply turned and walked/ran away.
I remember how excited Pebbles would always get, even up through that last fateful day, when she knew I was going to take her for a hike. She watched me… always watched me… and she had figured out the signs. She noticed when I grabbed a certain jacket… you know… one of the few jackets I only wore on hikes or runs. But then, she still wasn’t sure… her ears would perk up, and her head stretched high as she kept watching me. She wanted to see what kind of shoes I put on. Reaching for my hiking boots was game-over, as she jumped off her doggie perch and rushed me, barking and jumping all over me, yelling, “Hurry up!! Let’s go!! I’m so excited!” As annoying as it could be to try to tie your hiking boots while she’s barking and jumping on me, I still loved that.
I remember how much she loved to go for runs with me. I would always use a head leash (looks like a muzzle, but isn’t) on her because it was hard to get her not to pull. With the head leash, I could just wrap the rest of the leash around my waist, and run hands-free. I remember running to a park where I let her off leash for awhile, and then started my run home so that she would come chase me, and I could put her back on leash. I wasn’t thinking when I put her leash back on her because apparently I clipped it onto her normal neck collar instead of her head leash (I still had the rest of the leash around my waist). I only figured this out when I began to run home with my friend and Pebbs saw a squirrel. She took off across the street, dragging me with her. Thankfully, my quick thinking friend raced after us. Since Pebbles was dragging extra weight (me), my friend was able to catch Pebbs easily and she grabbed her collar. I stood up, slightly bloodied, and assessed the damage. I was fine, but Pebbles was whining desperately because … didn’t we realize we were letting that squirrel ESCAPE?!?
I remember how quickly Pebbles got hot when we went running…even on cooler days. She always looked for water of any kind… a muddy puddle? Great for drinking from. A beach on the lake? Perfect for jumping in. I remember how she would shake her fur to get the water out, while she was still standing in the lake. The best, though, was a muddy pit somewhere, wet enough to jump into, and murky enough to paint her strawberry blonde fur brown. She loved that until we got home and I made her shower.
I remember how difficult it was to get her into the shower. She always knew when it was time, and she would hide somewhere in the house – if possible, underneath a table or desk. When you reached in to grab her scruff to make her come, she would roll over onto her back, with her legs in the air where she could kick you away. When you got past the legs and grabbed her neck, she would put her mouth on your hand with JUST enough pressure to hurt, but not enough to break skin, so that you would pull your hand away.
I suppose my stories make Pebbles sound like a very poorly behaved dog… a dog who was alpha over me. In some ways, maybe that was true, but actually, most of the time she listened to me. I learned how to insist that she listen to me, and eventually, she learned that life was easier if she just did it my way. Once she got older, she rarely misbehaved with me at all. Maybe that’s why I remember the stories when she misbehaved so well. I would be so angry and frustrated, but laugh with love at the same time.
I remember how much she loved the snow. She would watch the snow fall, and I knew she was trying to be patient, knowing I would eventually let her go play. I remember how, when she was still a puppy, she loved to eat the snow. I remember the first time I left her in a fenced in backyard full of snow. When I got home, the entire yard inside the fence was green/brown while the yard outside was still white, covered. Pebbles had eaten all of the snow. I remember going out for hikes and walks in the snow, and how she would sprint around the snow, and rub her nose, her face, her whole body in it. I remember, right after I found out that she had cancer, picking her up from the vet and taking her to an empty field. It had just snowed, and even then, her body full of cancer, she sprinted like a crazy puppy all around that field, throwing herself all around that snow, rolling in it over and over as I laughed until I cried, so happy to see her having fun, while knowing she was dying.
I remember when I found out that she had cancer. I remember my incredible grief as I pondered what to do. The only treatment possible was radiation treatment. I had no idea that they did radiation treatment on animals, using human facilities during after-hours. They said the treatment would not cure her, but it would prolong her life. They didn’t know for how long. They said it could be anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. I didn’t know what to do. If it would only bring her 6 months, it probably wasn’t worth putting her through that. But 3 years…? She was 8 when she was diagnosed. 3 years would be extending her life by more than 25%. After a lot of heart-wrenching reflections and conversations, we decided to go for it. I remember how grateful I was (and still am) that my husband was willing to let me make this decision.
I remember how much she loved the staff at the radiation center. They didn’t want a bunch of dogs in the hospital, so we would wait in our cars until they came out to get us. Pebbles and I would sit in the back of my Jeep Wrangler together while Pebbles watched the doors… she knew the staff would come. As soon as she saw them look our way and motion for us, she would leap from the Jeep and sprint to the doors, so happy to see them. They loved Pebbles. She would happily follow them into the hospital, and when they patted on the gurney, she leaped up onto the thin matt. I think she loved the loving attention they always gave her.
I remember how Pebbles always came looking for me whenever she didn’t feel well, or was spooked or scared. She hated thunderstorms and fireworks. As soon as she heard the first BOOM, she would come to wherever I was, and stare at me, telling me to make it go away. If it continued, she would start shaking, with her tail tucked deep underneath her. I would hold her or pet her, and she would calm down some. If it happened in the middle of the night, sometimes all I could muster was to put my hand out while she stood next to the bed, panting, and I would gently pet her while I tried to sleep. After a few minutes of petting, Pebbs would sit down, and eventually lie down. The minute I stopped petting, though, she’d be back up and standing again, demanding my attention.
I remember all of these stories, and many, many more. Maybe, as I think of more, I will add to/edit this post with them. Right now, though, I most remember our last trip. I remember going to Leavenworth to celebrate my anniversary for a few days. We brought the dogs (we also have Bamm-Bamm) because I didn’t know how much time I had left with Pebbles. Things seemed fine that first night until Pebbles started sneezing blood. This wasn’t really alarming… you see, her tumor was in her nose, and it often caused nosebleeds. Most of the time, though, she would have a little blood that she needed to sneeze out, and then she’d be ok for awhile. This night, though, it was more than usual. She would come to my side of the bed, and look at me, panting. I put my hand out and started petting her, and she began to relax until she would sit, and then lie down on the floor next to where I was on the bed. Now, as I look back, I wish I had gotten up and cuddled her. She deserved that. We had bad nights before, though… and then Pebbs would rally the next day. When our first morning in Leavenworth came, at first, Pebbles rallied. My husband was still sleeping, and as I got up, Pebbles jumped to her feet as she wanted to go outside. I threw on my shoes and headed out. Pebbles perked up even more, head up high, tail also, as we walked down to the river. As usual, she enjoyed going down to the river and drank and drank and drank.
When we came back to the house, I got worried again. At first, she didn’t want breakfast, and THAT was alarming. I was able to coax her into eating along with a pain pill, and then we went back outside, where she loved to be sitting underneath the trees, taking in the birds around her, and I sat with her. She seemed to feel better again after awhile, and we all got in the Jeep and found an easy hike. While we were in the car, her appetite picked up and we gave her some more treats. Once we were on the hike, she perked up more, even though her eye seemed to start swelling. She couldn’t see well out of it, but she was still happy to be out on the trail. When we came to the water, she went straight to it as always, and trotted around in the water. I threw both dogs treats, and Pebbs wagged her tail, watching me, asking for more each time. I remember being so happy that she was enjoying herself.
I remember walking back to the Jeep, and having to pick up not just her rear legs, but her front ones, too, to get her into the Jeep. I remember watching as her face began to swell more, and she continued to struggle to breathe. I remember going into the place where we were staying, and how she wouldn’t eat. It was then that I looked into her eyes, and I knew what she was telling me. I suppose I was still hopeful… maybe it was just because she didn’t get any sleep last night. She just needed to rest. I made her comfortable, propped her head up with a pillow, and we took Bamm-Bamm with us and left Pebbs to sleep some in the house. It was when we got back that I knew without a doubt… it was time. She had a large lump by her eye, and her nose looked swollen to me, too. My husband and I debated whether to drive her to Wenatchee to an all-night vet, or to wait until morning and take her to the local vet. My gut told me to take her immediately, but I think I really wanted to believe I could still have a little more time with her. We waited until the morning. I will always regret that decision. I think we could have saved her a difficult night. She slept for most of it, but I would wake up in the middle of the night, and check on her. Sometimes, she would be lying there with her head up as she struggled to breathe. I would coax her back to sleep as I pet her and sat with her.
The next morning, it was too early to take her to the vet, and I was going nuts, so I went for a walk, and I bawled. I knew what was coming, and I just cried my heart out as I walked along the river. When I got back, I woke up my husband and told him we needed to get going. It was still a little early for when the vet would open, but I wanted to be there right when their doors opened.
I remember how hard it was to get her into the vet’s office. She just didn’t want to move. She was so uncomfortable…in so much pain. I remember how the veterinarian picked her up from the waiting room and took her into the private room. I remember how quickly and urgently he put in her IV. I think he was more aware of how unhappy she was than I was. He wanted to get her out of her pain. I remember him telling me that he was putting the drug in, and to talk to her. I remember holding her desperately, crying as I told her I loved her, as I told her she would always be my baby… the same words I used to tell her every night before I went to bed. I remember the doctor saying that she was sleeping now as I held her close and cried. I remember continuing to talk to Pebbles as the words came to me, “I don’t want to live without you.” I remember that although I thought those words, I didn’t say them. It seemed too melodramatic. After all, she’s just a dog, right? She’s just a pet… I knew I would outlive her. How could I be so attached. How could I actually even think those words…I don’t want to live without you. And yet… I didn’t. I don’t. It’s not that I don’t want to live… but I don’t want to live without her. I want to live WITH her, and I hate that I can’t. I remember thinking that it would be so insensitive of me to say those words… so insensitive to those who have lost their loved ones… parents, spouses, and especially children. I remember thinking that if this was this hard for me… how hard must it be for the parent of a young child who dies way too soon? I felt selfish to even feel this way. But now I’m being honest… and I don’t want to live without my Pebbles. Without my baby. I want to live WITH her. And I can’t. And so I grieve. I miss her. She’s my baby.
I have had other pets. I have been attached. I am definitely an animal lover. But I have never had an animal take my heart the way Pebbles took my heart. I am so incredibly blessed to have her. And I do still have her. I have her memories. But I don’t have her fur to clutch and cuddle up next to anymore. I don’t have her presence, the presence that was ALWAYS happy to see me, even when I was in an awful mood.
I remember it all.. every detail. It may seem like I’ve written it all out here in this very long blog post, but I haven’t. There’s lots that I haven’t written. But I remember. I love you, Pebbles. I will always love you. You will always be my baby.