Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy — it’s tough even with a not-so-beloved one.
It definitely wasn’t love at first sight for Mabel and me. Ours is not a saccharine-sweet, uh, tale.
Mostly we tolerated each other, both knowing she was not my favorite, and I was never hers. I’m fairly certain I’m the only person she ever snapped at. I suspect our uneasy relationship was because we’re both alpha females. We were doomed from the start.
Plus, I was nowhere near ready for a new dog when she joined the family.
I’ve had seven dogs in my life. Shane was the beautiful Sheltie I grew up with and picked because I wanted a dog that looked just like Lassie. He lived to be 17 years old. His death was sad, of course, but I was also a freshly-minted college grad with a real adult job living my best independent life so his passing didn’t hit nearly as hard.
Then there was Sydney, a sweet ottoman of a pooch. Short and squat, she looked like someone drew heavy black kohl liner around her brown eyes.
One morning when she was 9, we woke up to what looked like a crime scene — circles of blood all over the house, like she wandered around and around and didn’t know where she was going or what to do, poor baby. Her kidneys were shot. Nothing could be done. That left Otis as the solo dog.
I adored the affable goof. He was my rebound dog. I got him post breakup, in desperate need of unconditional love. My roommate and I carefully tweezered ticks off him. He had giardia and was malnourished but was flat-out the most adorable Aussie puppy, especially with his waggly, tail-free butt. He patiently stepped aside as each of our three kids was born, watching his once hallowed top spot fall lower and lower. I’m sure he wondered when we’d ever stop bringing home those loud hairless intruders.
Otis Spunkmeyer Cook made it to 14 years old but maybe really 23 since he lived nine lives in that last year alone.
One day he needed to be rescued from the groomer because he collapsed. He didn’t have the strength to stand anymore. We thought he was a goner, but he rallied. Then, his liver started failing. Intravenous fluids and meds perked him up again. I started feeding him like every day was his last — boiling chicken to mix with rice. After a few weeks of that, it was back to bagged dog food. He lived for months after those near-death experiences.
I still feel like I failed him because I wasn’t there at the very end. I knew I couldn’t bear it. While Joe took the dog who was essentially my first baby to the vet, I chauffeured our biological children to school.
My heart was broken. The kids, though, had never known the joys of a playful young dog. Otis and Sydney were already old and chill by the time the kids joined the mix. They wanted a puppy, dammit.
“It’s soooo boring! Pleeeeease! We need a dog!”
We ended up with Sneakers. Little and crazy, she was a nightmare.
After housebreaking three kids, I now had to train this pup. Not one for strangers, or anyone really, at obedience class she still wouldn’t let the trainer near her after weeks of hand-fed treats. Aggressively fearful, she nipped everyone in the family. We worked with not one but two animal behaviorists trying to set her right. After she bit my nephew in the face, we knew we couldn’t keep this dog. We broke the news to the kids, then Joe took them to the fair to lessen the sting. I had the crap job — surrendering Sneakers to a local rescue group. She was a pain, but I hated that we couldn’t make it work, hated giving up, hated giving her up. The vet tech who took Sneakers into her home — one full of chihuahuas and cats — told me that it was OK, that we did all we could and not all dogs and families are meant-to-be matches. She was right. Though she struck out with us, Sneakers thrived and stayed with her foster mom. The dog who bolted out the front door, chasing the mail truck that dared to drive on her street and who would bark ferociously at the recycle bins when the slightest breeze ruffled the newspapers, was perfectly calm in her new, childfree home and best buddies with a cat named Mole.
Now the kids reeeeeeeaaaally couldn’t handle a dogless house. I tried to put it off for as long as I could, but one day Joe beelined for the Humane Society. I frantically got on the website, trying to steer him via cellphone toward the geriatric dogs.
“What about Henry? He’s 15 — go find him. He looks sweet.”
“But there’s this litter of puppies someone left in a box by the side of the road,” he countered. “They’re Lab mixes. The shelter worker was pointing out how great it would be for a puppy to grow up with the kids.”
I know defeat. “FINE.”
He brought home a floppy-eared dog with the biggest feet. The kids were smitten. Me? Not so much.
“Mom! Mom! Don’t you want to hold her?”
I initially kept my distance, much to No. 1’s dismay. I was so exhausted and defeated after Sneakers. And Otis. And Sydney.
We existed in an uneasy détente, Mabel and I. But we respected each other.
Mabel generously allowed the kids to dress her. She was still bossy and destructive, which only got worse when Gertie became her partner in canine crime. Another black Lab mix spotted after PetSmart obedience class, it was love at first sight for Mabel. They were soul sisters. Gertie, as dumb as they come, could veeeeery easily be bullied — Mabel dragged Gertie around by her collar, barked her off the dog bed and even pushed her away from her very own food bowl if Mabel wanted more. What Mabel wanted, Mabel got — especially if it was a dead carcass on the morning walk. Or to knock me clean off my feet to sprint after a bunny.
Together they were unstoppable with their destructive powers. Imagine two, almost 90-pound dogs joining forces to take out the cable TV, sod before it even had a chance to be laid out, just-installed irrigation lines, freshly-planted shrubs, iPods back when they existed, Christmas coffee cake, and several unsuspecting sticks of butter left to come to room temperature on a counter.* If all that wasn’t enough, Gertie was and still is a runner. If she found a chance to escape, the slightest opening, she’d take it and Mabel would be in tow. It infuriated me when I tried to catch them and I’d call out her name because Mabel would turn to show me that she heard and then take off. Clearly, I was not the boss of her.
For all her overbearing bravado, though, Mabel was terrified of storms and when she was young and spry enough, she’d hop into the bathtub to hide from the pounding rain. Sometimes a kid would climb in to comfort her.
Five years went by and Mabel and Gertie had calmed down just enough that I no longer contemplated leaving the front door wide open. So what did I do? Just when things seemed to have settled? Welcomed yet another four-legged, homeless ball of fluff. Even though I’d sworn off more dogs, I couldn’t resist the deaf, visually-impaired Mini Aussie. It’s no secret that I’ve never been good at math, but let me just say that three dogs is so, so, SO many.
Lilly was immediately allowed on the couch and into my heart. Mabel was definitely done with me.
In recent years, though, my annoyance with her softened.
Aging is no joke whether you have two legs or four. Mabel’s eyes grew cloudy, swaths of her jet-black hair turned white. She struggled to get up. It’s hard to get old, and here we were. Same, girl, same.
It had been a steady decline. She lost control of her bowels, was diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis that made her pant so loudly, like every breath was hard and could very well be her last. A weird spot showed up on a chest X-ray, and she had those fatty tumors on her body that Labs get. But she ate her two meals a day with gusto and enjoyed her morning walk, though her gait was stiff-legged and unsteady and sometimes her back legs would betray her.
When do you call it?
There’s no easy answer. None. When we decided it was time last week, the vet was extraordinarily kind, explaining that people often doubt their decision and then feel selfish for letting their pets linger too long in misery.
Mabel went quickly, snoring loudly. Until she didn’t. It was a fitting end.
Goodbye, old girl. It’s true we weren’t besties, but the house doesn’t feel the same without you.
* One time, though, those boneheads eating anything and everything was actually useful because about 6 feet of a saguaro just dropped off the top into the yard. It was so massive and heavy. How are we gonna get rid of it? we wondered. The dogs had it under control — they ATE IT over the course of a few weeks. Weirdos.
3 thoughts on “Mabel Louise: 2009-2023”
Yeah saying goodbye to a pet is so hard. I love dogs too. Visit my blog too. Follow and comment to my post. Thanks.
Dogs are the best, aren’t they? They have personalities just like us humans. Sorry for your loss. I’ve been there too and it’s heartwrenching.
Thank you, Rhonda! It truly, truly is.