Our beautiful Sun Puppy Sheila left us on Monday. In the span of one single day we were placed in the gut wrenching position that anyone who has adopted a furry family member dreads. After 12 months or so of occasional illness, increasing weakness in her hind legs, and a kidney lesion which caused incontinence that clearly upset her, our baby girl fell very ill, very quickly. We thought we were managing, we thought she had a couple of years left still. We were not ready for the responsibility that awaited and the questioning fear and guilt, the grief that would follow.
Our Sheila puppy was, as I am sure most beloved dogs are, such a happy soul. She had a waggy tail of destruction, she liked clean blankets, scratches behind the ear, spoony cuddles, family walks, sniffing and chasing the cat, squeezing between your legs for a super firm hug, gazing into your eyes, treats and pushing the envelope of routine.
Sheila would greet you at the door with her favourite toys, croc or the blue elephant- both squeaked or used to. If she forgot the toy she would trip over herself to remedy that and hastily go and fetch one to present to you! She cried and sooked to get your attention, to let you know she was hungry, to be let in or let out, to mourn her dads going to work each day, to say “I’m lonely can you get out of bed now” or to say “I’m bored just love me”. She only ever barked to alert us to people at the door or at other dogs (puppies included) and as she got older even that quieted down.
She was such an engaging and communicative puppy. Throughout her lifetime she remained a puppy, “Shelia puppy”. Her expressive eyes could even melt my heart when I had reached my tolerance for sooking and pacing with her clippy cloppy paws. She never listened, always pushed boundaries and she asserted her own routine and punished us with more whinging, then the most delightful forms of passive dominance if we dared not obey. Her favourite form of passive dominance was to put her head on your lap and gaze up into your eyes, or push her head under your hand. I worked hard to give her affection on my own volition so that I felt it was because I wanted to give it freely rather than being instructed. Now I don’t see why it was such a big deal.
It has been easy to feel like we failed our baby girl, our Sheila puppy. The heartbreak of making the decision to “end her suffering” seems so disconnected to the days preceding because it was so very sudden. Our girl was our girl. Getting older, grayer around the muzzle but still happy and loving and well, behaving like a puppy albeit more gently and less frequently. We forget that she has been on incontinence medication that were not always effective and that she found it very distressing to wet her bed. We forget that she was incontinent because of a lesion on her kidney that the vet had gently counselled us that she was an old dog and our focus of care was to keep her comfortable. We forget that she had arthritis in her hips and knees and her hind legs were coming out from under her every day and getting out of bed was increasingly effortful. We forget that she was so very very unwell and there was no guarantees about her recovery and her subsequent quality of life.
The hardest part in all of this is that you are left with silence. Because of that you question. Did we show her enough love? Did we do the right thing by her? And oh god how we miss her. We miss the morning greetings, the constant companionship and her “checking in” as I worked from home, the cacophony of noise when we arrived home at the end of the day “oh my gosh! You’re home! I’m so glad you’re home, I missed you terribly! Here have a toy, by the way I have NEVER EVER EATEN BEFORE IN MY LIFE AND I AM STARVING!”, the quiet way she would put herself to bed when she was tired, the kisses on her soft soft head, the way she leaned into your hand when you gave her ear scratches and licked the air when you scratched the base of her tail, her nose in your ear by surprise attack when you were laying on the couch, her daily sun baths, and her cheeky garden hollows where she like to sleep all cocooned up, the way she liked to be held. We did love our girl, beyond a shadow of a doubt she felt that love. In her final hours the only thing she lifted her head for was to watch her dad or I move from her and then back to her. But the trauma of her passing overshadows, for now, the loving way in which we got to farewell her- at home, in her own bed, with family, tight in our arms.
Our pain now must come not from guilt about our impossible choices. She passed painlessly enveloped in love. Our pain must be simply our loss and grief for a very dear member of our little family. Her absence is strikingly loud for its silence. We miss her dearly. I think that the fact we wonder if we did enough, loved her enough, cared enough probably means that we did do exactly enough. She was our baby girl and she lived her life surrounded by love. You enriched our lives and filled our hearts and you shall forever have a place in them. Rest in peace our beautiful Sheila Puppy.
“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” – Hilary Stanton Zunin