It's been a little more than three weeks now since her passing, and thoughts and reminders of my Golden Retriever of almost 15 years are with me at every turn. At 4:00 in the afternoon, I'm thinking it's time to feed her...but then I remember. I walk through the front door after being out doing errands and expect to see her lying on the rug at the foot of the stairs...but then I remember.
A lot of remembering going on, like today. The sun was actually out after weeks of overcast skies and rain, so I went for a walk. I took the route that Zoe and I had traveled dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. All of a sudden, the tears come and I'm missing Zoe as my mind's eye can see her racing to her favorite spots to do her business. I suppose what makes her absence more noticeable for me today rather than last week, is the change in the air and the signs of spring poking up from the ground. Colorful, cheery crocus are suddenly gracing garden beds and the air has a definite tinge of springtime to it.
I've heard it said that it's not easy moving ahead through the seasons, missing the one whose absence you are grieving. Right now, I'm missing my walking companion of nearly 15 years, and remembering...I remember the fun of a wiggly new puppy in my arms, and watching my kids, who were really just puppies themselves, wrestle with her on the lawn, arms and legs, paws and fur all tumbled together, puppy barks and squeals of laughter.
I'm remembering playing in the snow with Zoe. Oh, how she loved snow!! Once our family went sledding up at the pass. We piled into the van afterwards and I poured hot cocoa out of the thermos into cups for the kids and handed out homemade gingerbread men. As we sat quietly snacking, Eric yelled out in dismay as he discovered that Zoe had just bitten the head off of his cookie. Oh, how Zoe loved food!! Especially when it was our food.
Zoe had joined us over the years for fun family adventures like car camping, sleeping in the tent with us. She loved those hot summer days when we'd take her to the lake. She would spring into the water, endlessly fetching the ball I would throw, never wanting to stop! As the kids grew up and were off on their own more, Zoe stayed my perpetual kid. She was my baking helper, licking the whipping cream off of beaters and giving the dirty dishes in the dishwasher an extra "rinse". Like I said, she loved food! And Zoe loved helping me out in the garden on warm, sunny days. Sometimes we would just lie in the grass together, me rubbing her tummy, looking up at the tall trees and the birds flitting above, past puffy white clouds. Those were the best times of all.
Age eventually turned her golden muzzle white, and in the past year her arthritis was beginning to show. It was a sad day for me when I realized that my walking buddy could no longer make it around the lake trail anymore. I could still take her for very short walks though, to the mailbox and back. Her eyes and ears may have not been as sharp as before, but her sense of smell seemed to have made up for that as she would stop at every rock and plant for a good, long sniff.
Knowing that the life span of a golden is around 11 years, the last three Christmases we had with her were extra special, thinking that each one would potentially be her last. But Zoe beat the odds and just kept right on going! She made it to age 14 on March 10th of last year, four days after Eric's 21st birthday. For a birthday treat, Eric made Zoe her own stack of banana pancakes. Two of her favorite foods together at the same time! She snarfed that meal up in no time, thoroughly enjoying it.
Without a doubt, I knew that Christmas 2013 would be the last one for our sweet old girl, as old age had caught up with her. Shortly after the new year, Zoe's health went into a rapid decline. Not able to walk without my assistance, and the loss of bladder control, I became a full-time nurse to my sweet pup, helping her in every way I could. Changing her doggie diapers, helping her down and up the deck stairs to go potty, and encouraging her to eat became my all-consuming activity.
Knowing that the end was near, I knew in my heart that I could not possibly take Zoe to the vet's office to have her put to sleep. Zoe was always so anxious going there, and would start to shiver in the car as she knew the route and where it would end up! I was determined that she should be able to die at home, feeling safe in her favorite spot with me there at her side. I looked online and discovered a vet in Edmonds, Dr. Sara, who provides an in-home pet euthanasia service. I contacted her beforehand, telling her about Zoe and asking a few questions. Dr. Sara seemed to be a very caring and compassionate person, and I felt comforted knowing she would come and take care of Zoe when the time came.
When I came downstairs on Saturday morning, February 1st, I knew that Zoe's time had finally come. Barely able to walk, Keith and I moved her onto her blanket by the couch and there she stayed for the next 24 hours. She seemed relieved to be on her blanket in her favorite spot, but she refused to eat her dog food. I could see in her eyes how tired she was, and that she was ready to go. I called Dr. Sara, and we arranged for her to come at 12:30 on Sunday the 2nd.
Dr. Sara arrived and was very caring, giving us the time we needed to say goodbye to Zoe. Needless to say, I was pretty sad. I had been dreading this day for years, but Dr. Sara made it as perfect as it could be for us with her kindness and compassion. She even made a clay paw print keepsake for us before taking Zoe's body away. I'm so grateful for Dr. Sara's services. Zoe left us peacefully, in familiar and safe surroundings. It was better for me too, to be able to grieve at home instead of a vet's office and also having the peace knowing that we gave Zoe the very best love and care possible when she needed it most.
Being loved by Zoe was one of the greatest blessings in my life. I especially cherish those sweet times when she would lean her head into my legs and poke her nose between my knees. I would bend down and wrap my arms around her, rubbing her tummy. Sometimes I thought she could stand that way for hours, just soaking up the love. If my back could hold out long enough, I think I would want to stand there too - a doggie hug to last forever. When I'm missing her, I think of all of the wonderful memories I have of her, and how grateful I am to have experienced the special bond we had together. Just Zoe and me.