It’s never easy to say goodbye to a member of the family, not even a canine one.
Sweetie was Sweetie. The first time we met her, she was running around in circles on the floor of her breeder’s kitchen, a frantic little bundle of nerves.
If you’ve ever seen Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates, you understand the concept of constantly having to remind Sweetie of what was appropriate behavior and what was not. Sweetie was wired to react, and once she got started, it was nearly impossible to convince her that she was wrong, no matter what she was in the middle of doing.
Part of her problem was Sweetie was just too smart for her own good. Ever vigilant about protecting me from harm, she often went overboard, putting on a big show to convince people her bite would be even bigger than her bark. “Stay away if you know what’s good for you!”
I always chalked that up to the fact that everything terrified her. Her dog trainer explained that Sweetie lived her life under constant stress. In the five years we had our little bundle of joy, the only time she ever consented to belly rubs was first thing in the morning, when she had spent the night sleeping peacefully and safely beside me. Alone, she felt vulnerable. With me at her side, the world was a little less scary for Sweetie. We were buddies. She saw us as a team, and heaven help the rest of the world if anyone dared to interfere.
Over time, Sweetie did learn how to behave in a more appropriate manner. That’s when her sweetness came shining through. She was a very funny dog when she wasn’t nervous. I had never had a dog with a temper before, and Sweetie had a temper. If she wanted something and didn’t get it, she actually stomped her feet. She was persistent in her quest to pursue crumbs, whether under the dining room table or on my dad’s chest. Whenever a stray treat fell out of her reach, she would bark and bark until we helped her retrieve it. She enjoyed playing with her kibble, tossing it around the room. The perpetual pup, she never could control her enthusiasm for treats. Impatiently waiting, she would plead, beg, and cajole us into compliance. “Come on! I’ve been GOOD!”
Sweetie was made for the great outdoors. Not only did she love to walk, she loved to hike. I learned this by accident. Ever terrified of trucks and loud noises, she was often skittish when we walked on a busy street. In the woods, Sweetie was at home. Content to climb a mountain or ford a stream, she loved to keep her nose to the trail, taking delight in every scent she discovered.
She was also a cuddly dog. There was nothing she loved more than a good nap while I sat, typing on my netbook. She loved being petted. She was offended if she lost her perch on a comfy, cozy lap.
Sweetie gave back more than she got in so many ways, despite all of her challenges. That’s because she came to us when my mother was recovering from a heart attack. She was with us even as my mother was treated for cancer. It was often a struggle to care for her and my mother, but I found a way to juggle it all. Sweetie became my lifeline. When I needed respite time as a family caregiver, to recharge my batteries, Sweetie and I would go hiking for an hour or two, and I could just let go of all the tension and stress I experienced.
After my mother died, Sweetie was our comfort. My dad could sit for hours with his pup and not feel so alone after losing his wife of sixty years. They watched basketball games and golf together. He will miss those little paws on his knee.
Sweetie got me out and about. We went to the bark park and to stores. Sweetie was such an attention-getter. She always announced herself at the bank because she knew the tellers would slip her a biscuit. Whether we walked in the neighborhood or explored a new place, we had the chance to meet and greet people. That’s a great way to reconnect with life if you’ve been a family caregiver, isolated from a social life.
Sweetie died unexpectedly. She went off to doggie daycare happily on what seemed like it would be a normal day. When I got the call, it was a tremendous shock, because she had just had a vet exam and was declared healthy. But that’s the thing about life. There are always unexpected turns in the road. Sometimes things are good, sometimes tragic, and sometimes in between.
With all her quirks and fears, Sweetie was never an easy dog to share a home with, but she was a very rewarding dog. All the extra work, all the constant attention required was well worth it when she looked up at us with those big, brown eyes, ever hopeful, ever wishful that she could be a good dog. In her own way, given her limitations, she was. She came a long, long way from that terrified little pup we first met. Over time, she blossomed into a dog with confidence and spunk. I wouldn’t have missed knowing her for the world.