I knew when I saw his picture that he was the one. Scruffy, mischievous and just something about his face. I had to have him. It didn’t matter that he was listed online by a sketchy breeder in a bad part of town. I was in love.
We met in a gas station parking lot. They brought out a purebred papillon that was not the dog in the picture. The mutt I’d fallen in love with was a Pomeranian/papillon mix. They went back and again, not the dog. Finally, I described him well enough for the old man to understand. Confused, he handed over the almost six-month-old puppy no one else seemed to want.
That was New Year’s Eve 2010 and I was a newlywed in search of a baby. We showed up to the party at my parent’s house with a surprise guest. He was sweet, he was playful, he was exactly right. Still, I had a panic attack that night about being in charge of someone else’s life. He helped break me in for parenting. We took him on vacations to dog-friendly hotels and even dog-friendly restaurants. He was undeniably our fur child. He even had playdates with all our friends’ fur children.
Then I was pregnant with my first human baby and he followed me around, concerned. When my daughter came home, however, he wanted nothing to do with me. He was more-or-less mad at me until she was about two. Then he decided her snacks and snuggles were worth sharing me.
Fast forward three more years and at just a few months shy of his tenth birthday we had to say goodbye. I knew he was dying when he wouldn’t come in from the rain one night. I scooped him up and held his shivering body and cried. Nearly two weeks of tests and vet visits and no answers. He wasn’t eating, he was shaking, there was tarry black blood in his stool. I bathed him and held him for an hour. Normally he wasn’t one to linger on laps and I knew he was doing me a favor.
Last night we left him at the pet hospital and my soul hurt. He was done. He was limp like a rag doll when I carried him in. He refused to sit on my lap and instead chose the floor for our last moments together. I told him he needed to give me a sign. Either he needed to be better in the morning or he needed to just go on his own. I couldn’t stand having to decide to put him down. I lay awake in bed praying, hoping, wishing there’d be an obvious sign.
When the doctor called in the morning, I was shocked. She said he was doing better, that he might get to go home that night. I thought he was dying. This was a happy but confusing development. She said to bring food. As I put together a tupperware of what could very well be his last meal, a white flower floated across the pavement outside my window. It was delicate and came from nowhere, dancing with the breeze. I felt his spirit then, but didn’t know why.
After we arrived at the pet hospital, they ushered us into a room. Eloise came with us because we thought we were visiting an improving friend. We expected to visit him there, to pet him and feed him and assess whether he really was getting better. Instead the doctor entered and told us he’d passed thirty minutes earlier. Blood from his nose and mouth, a probable blood clot in his brain. We were dumbfounded. We were grossly unprepared to explain what happened to a five-year-old.
In the parking lot we sat, my husband, my daughter, and I, side-by-side and cried. We talked about spirits and what comes next and we imagined him running to greet us. Eloise pet him, talked to him, I did too. The crying came in waves and still does. We brought our invisible dog home in the car and I carried in a leash and a collar without him. I lay on the grass under his favorite tree and felt the earth hold my body. The same patch of earth he’d refused to leave for the past week.
Losing a family pet is hard. Harder than I remembered. Watching a five-year-old grieve doesn’t help. We forget these animals are part of our homes. They are our family. I want to dress in mourning so everyone treats me a little more gently. I want to look outside and see him under that tree. It’s still not real.
So many people have warned us how hard it is to lose a pet, but I still think it was worth it. Better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all. Simon taught me a lot. He helped turn me into a mom. He reminded me the importance of regular health maintenance. He showed me a final act of love by going on his own.
If Eloise gets her way, there will be another pomeranian puppy in our future, but no one will ever take the place of Simon.