Without a doubt the toughest blog post I have ever written. We’ve lost so many amazing cats over our lives that it seems unfair to single out this one loss as if this dog’s life meant more than the cats; that’s not what I’m trying to say. However, this dog changed our lives in a way that we never would have expected. She brought so much joy into our lives, so much love, so much laughter. And, now, so much incredible sorrow.
Our little Pork Chop
She came to us about four years ago. She had been my Mom’s dog, but when Mom’s dementia progressed to a stage where she could no longer take care of the dog, we inherited her. Neither Tracey nor I had ever owned a dog, at least not since we were kids. We’ve always been cat people. Cats are just EASIER. I started to type “they give unconditional love just like dogs” but that’s only partially true, I suppose. Cats are wonderful, but I’m not sure they do anything “unconditionally”. They do things on THEIR timeline. They’re in charge. It’s their world, and if we take good care of them, they let us live in it.
Dogs are different. This dog was different. Her name was Zoey, but we didn’t call her that much. She was “Zo-zo”. “Idiot”. “Burnt Orange”. Sometimes just simply “Dog”. If we were trying to get her to do something that she was ignoring, it might become “Zoey the Dog!”. Her groomer coined the nickname “Pork Chop” because she had become of an aggressively large nature in the belly region.
And, sometimes, she was just “Zo”.
Losing a pet is heartbreaking, and this one is the worst we’ve ever felt. It’s sadly ironic that the thing that brought her to us – dementia – is the thing that has taken her away. She’s been changing for months. It started out with what we called the occasional “bad night”. She’d be up all night, anxious, panting, growling at us, barking at nothing. Experts call it “sundowning”, where dogs can no longer distinguish night from day. It started to get more common, and for the last couple of weeks, it has been every night. Medication worked to calm her anxiety a bit at first, but it was a very temporary solution to a problem that was only getting worse by the day. She got so aggressive at night that we started to fear for our safety, and the safety of our cat, Ashley. At that point, we knew what we had to do. We also knew where this was headed (and, given the rapid progression of the disease the last few weeks, probably quickly). The next steps are similar to what Alzheimer’s disease does to humans: confusion, fright, forgetting who we are, violence. It’s common for dogs suffering from this condition to cower, afraid, in a corner. We didn’t want her to suffer like that.
Even though we knew it was the right thing to do, it was tough to reconcile the mean, aggressive nighttime dog with the sweet, loving, affectionate, adorable dog that she still was, mostly, during the day. There had been signs of the daytime dog changing a bit as well, particularly her aggressiveness with the cat. Zoey had always been very protective of her stuff, baring her teeth if a cat got too close….but at this point, she was going well past ‘teeth baring’, and was chasing the cat away with such fierceness that we were sure there would eventually be some injuries. It was heartbreaking to witness.
I’m reminded of a touching poem that Jimmy Stewart read on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981, about the loss of his dog, Beau. I’m borrowing it below, with slight modifications to fit our situation.
“Zo”, by Jimmy Stewart
She never came to me when I would call even if I had a tennis ball
Unless she felt like it
But mostly, she didn’t come at all.
When she was young, she never learned to heel, or sit, or stay
She did things her way.
Discipline was not her bag
but when you were with her, things sure didn’t drag.
She’d dig up the blankets in her bed just to spite me, and when I’d grab her, she’d turn and bite me
She bit lots of folks from day to day – our little niece was her favorite prey
She didn’t bite hard, it was more like a ‘nip’, however it got worse when she started to slip
On evening walks, and Tracey took her, she was always the first out the door
the wife and I brought up the rear because our bones were sore
She’d charge up the street with Mom hanging on, what a beautiful pair they were
And if it were still light and the people were out, they created a bit of a stir
But every once in a while she’d stop in her tracks and with a frown on her face look around,
just to make sure that Daddy was there, to follow her where she was bound
We’re early-to-bedders in our house, I guess I’m the first to retire
And as I’d leave the room, she’d look at me and get up from her place by the fire
She knew where the biscuits were in the bedroom and we’d give her one for a while, and she’d push it under the covers with her nose and we’d dig it out with a smile
But before very long she’d eaten the biscuit, and then several more,
and then she’d be asleep in her bed, and she’d start to snore
There were nights where we’d feel her climb up on our bed and lie between us, and I’d pat her head
And there were nights when I’d feel her stare, and I’d wake up to see her sitting there, and I’d reach out to stroke her hair
And sometimes I’d feel her sigh and I think I know the reason why
She’d wake up at night and she’d have this fear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things
And she’d be glad to have us near
And now she’s gone
And there are nights when I think I feel her climb upon our bed and lie between us, and I’d pat her head
And there are nights when I think I feel that stare
And I reach out to stroke her hair
And she’s not there
Oh, how I wish that wasn’t so
We’ll always love a dog named Zo.
We are going to miss this little monkey more than I could possibly convey in a blog post; the only thing that makes it a bit easier is knowing that she’s been reunited with my Mom, in a place where there is no dementia – only love. And what a glorious reunion that was, I am sure.
Goodbye, Zo-Zo. We love you so much.