Losing a loved one is always hard. In my life, I have not been spared the experience.
Callie was my dearest non-human friend. She was the kind of pal everyone would love to have: steadfast, loyal, devoted, content just to be with me, never asking for anything (other than regular feeding and an occasional walk), just happy to be in my presence.
My son and I selected Callie and Jasmine from the local pound on the day we moved to our new home here in Carmichael. The home had what I called a “two-dog backyard,” and so Keith and I set out to find two dogs to populate it. They were both still puppies, albeit towards the end of their growth cycle. Callie’s birthdate was Christmas, 2005; Jasmine’s was Valentine’s day, 2006, and they had been kenneled together for about three months since the shelter had taken them in. They were both near the end of their permitted shelter time, so we truly rescued them on that mid-July day.
So they were already like sisters when we brought them home, and that they had the same coloring (black, with white markings, mostly around the neck) and were of similar size (approximately 45 pounds) made them look all the more so, despite being entirely different breeds. (Callie was mostly, if not all, Border Collie; Jazz is a mix of Australian Shepard and Lab.) Callie was the alpha, the older sister. But Jasmine enjoyed her role, always teasing Callie and trying to get her to play with her. Callie would sometimes oblige, and they would then both try to herd each other (in keeping with their genetic tendencies), which was hilarious to watch, but sometimes Callie wouldn’t be in the mood, and she’d growl and chase Jasmine off.
They quickly took control of our sizeable backyard. They chased off any intruding animals, and the word quickly got around amongst would-be hunter-gatherer types that this particular backyard was not one to visit. The population of squirrels, birds and other wildlife quickly diminished under their watch, and it wasn’t entirely unusual for an occasional carcass to be found on the back patio (or, much to Jeri’s displeasure, brought into the house through their doggy-door).
As nasty as they were towards other animals, they were exceedingly affectionate with people – any people. They quickly befriended the gardeners, the pool cleaners, the Terminix man, and the cable guy, all of whom extended their stays just a little to spend time with the dogs. I often joked that if we were ever burglarized, the dogs would show the intruders the same affection they showed to everyone else. Jasmine, at least, likes to bark, and does so at the falling of a leaf. But Callie would just wag her tail in greeting whoever came into her space and hope to get a little bit of affection.
She was also a licker (a common trait of Border Collies, I’m told). She would lick anyone she was near. Most of our friends tolerated this trait; I never figured out how to train her not to do it. She even licked Jasmine, especially if I ever scolded Jazz, which she frequently gave me reason to do. It was Callie’s way of reassuring her little sister: Daddy’s mad at you, but we’re okay.
Callie was exceedingly smart (also common in Borders), and she would respond quickly to any sign that she was either doing something wrong or needed to do something else. Jeri had a rule that the dogs were not allowed in our bedroom, and Callie would always come right to the doorway when I was in the room and lay there waiting for me to come out. When, on occasion, Jeri would catch her crossing the precipice, a single word – “Out” – was enough to turn her around, back to her spot at the doorway.
Callie knew me well, as is true in all good friendships. She knew my moods and understood when I was busy at my computer (as I often am) that she could lie in the room near me but could only occasionally disturb me for some loving. In truth, I often sought her out for some loving, too, especially when I found a student’s assignment I was grading so awful that I’d want to avoid the work. At those moments, she was only too happy to lick me and let me pet her. And then Jasmine would figure out that Daddy was paying attention to Sis and that she better get in on the act, too.
Do I sound silly? If you’re a dog lover, I’m sure you understand.
Sometime last spring, Callie started skipping meals. I was concerned, of course, but it didn’t seem serious. She’d just turn away from a morning or evening feeding every week or so. Otherwise, she seemed fine, eating and playing normally and acting healthy. I took the dogs for their annual checkups in July, and the vet found nothing wrong with Callie. Her blood tests were all normal, as were all her vitals. She had no lumps or bumps or other indicia of disease. The vet explained the occasional disinterest in food as part of the aging process, saying that, like people, dogs’ metabolisms change as they age, and that was probably what was happening to Callie. Her weight was down a few pounds, but nothing severe.
And so, I wasn’t worried, and she really gave me no reason to worry, apart from the continuing but occasional disinterest in her food. And then on Wednesday, she didn’t eat either meal. That was unusual but it wasn’t until she didn’t eat on Thursday morning that I determined that if she didn’t eat that night, I was going to take her back to the vet. But even that morning, as I left for work, she otherwise seemed to be very normal. The night before she had been just as happy to be with me, she and Jasmine bounding into the house as they always did when I got home. So, I thought, she was still okay, at least not terribly sick.
But when I got home on Thursday evening, I could see that she was sick, and was, perhaps, dying. She just looked terrible, with little energy and no real sense of vitality. I knew then that I had a very sick doggie, and I resolved to take her to the vet the next morning.
She died that afternoon. Or, I should say, we had her put her to sleep. The blood tests that morning, coupled with an ultra-sound told the vet that she probably had a tumor. The vet sent me to a specialty clinic. They ran more tests, the results of which indicated that Callie had either a primary liver cancer that had metastasized severely or a primary pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver. And she was literally dying before their (and my) eyes. From running around the yard two days earlier, now she needed to be carried, unable to walk at all. The sudden, complete, deterioration was a total shock, one from which I still have not recovered.
It was clear that we had to put her down. It was only a matter of whether we had time for me to pick up Jeri so we could both say goodbye to her together. The doctor said, yes, but don’t wait too long. We didn’t.
The doctor carried Callie into the room and placed her on a bed of blankets. She had the syringes with her, but she gave us a few minutes. Callie was obviously suffering, her breathing labored. At first, I thought she wouldn’t know we were there.
But then, as we both spoke to her gently, she did lift her head and acknowledge us for a few seconds. Then, as she lay back down, the doctor approached with the syringes. It would be very quick, and painless, she assured us. We continued to talk softly to Callie, and then she lifted her head one more time, as if to say, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking care of me.”
And now, it’s been two weeks. Jasmine keeps digging at Callie’s bed and acting confused. And I’m crying a lot and feeling angry a lot. Life isn’t fair; it just isn’t. It shouldn’t be so painful to lose a dear friend, but it is, dammit. Oh, how I miss her.