There are two types of people in the world; people like my husband who can’t walk past a stray animal without at least attempting to conjure up a rescue plan, and then there’s the rest of us. I would say I fall into the latter category.
Early in our marriage, Alec longed for a dog. I protested. I mean I had dogs and loved them, but it’s a lot of work to have an indoor pet. Alec was notorious for sending me pictures of animals looking for a permanent home. It was cruel, but it didn’t work on me. Until one day, he sent me a link to the cutest little Weimaraner you’d ever seen.
We met Penny and her current owners at a dog park in front of Auzten Stadium in Eugene, OR. It was only supposed to be an initial meeting and we’d all go home separately to decide if it was a good fit. But that day, Penny jumped in our truck and returned home with us for good.
|The day we brought Penny home.|
I had lots of rules. She wasn’t allowed on the furniture, no climbing on the bed, and she would sleep in her kennel each night. All of that would eventually go out the window too.
I remember seeing people obsess over their animals and finding those people so interesting. The more I got to know Penny and her personality, the more I realized how easy it was for animals to become a part of you and your family.
She loved going on long runs. She couldn’t contain her excitement anytime she would see me lace up my running shoes and grab the leash. She’d turn in circles and bounce around until I leashed her up. Penny waited so patiently at the finish line when I completed my first 1/2 marathon. As soon as she saw me she immediately jumped up and started licking my face (probably because she loved the salty sweat, but hey, it was still cute).
We ran and biked many miles together. And backpacking trips were her favorite! She definitely was an explorer dog. Penny loved to travel and was so laid back about moving from one coast all the way to the other.
It was amazing how so many people doted over Penny, always commenting on her coat or other features. She had an unbelievable way of capturing hearts.
There weren't too many things she hated, but she didn’t like dog parks. I attempted to take her time and time again. She would literally lie down and let other pups walk/run over her. She would get so frustrated and stand by the gate, stubbornly waiting for me to give in and take her home. Although, she did deeply love her pup friends, Sage, Honey, Rosie-Lou and Carl, Collins, Java, Little Dog, Ollie, Sadie, Sanka, even Roscoe and Beagle (if they’d give her the time of day) and so many more.
Penny always had a special way of sending us what we need. She knew how to celebrate the happiest moments, as well as how to comfort our most painful. A while back, Alec made a decision to work on himself, and the program he chose would mean he’d be away from home for at least 6 months. It was a long and painful 6 months, and not only did he have to take a hard look at himself, so did I. That first night was tough. Penny crawled up in the bed with me and I immediately felt safe. I silently wept with my back turned against her...she knew I was sad. Maybe it was a coincidence, but in that moment she softly placed her paw on my upper arm. Any loneliness that was there, immediately dissipated.
Penny had the softest ears. At first, she didn’t love for us to rub her ears, but everyone did anyways. Eventually she came to love it. Whenever you would stop petting her, she would start nudging your hand with her nose. Somehow she would mysteriously manage to wedge her nose under your hand and catapult it up, so before you knew it, you were petting her again. And being pet with only one hand was not an option. She wanted you to pet her with both hands. Penny was not satisfied with one hand on her and the other scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. She was slowly teaching us what it meant to be fully present.
More recently, she started doing the cutest thing. Whenever we would pause from petting her, she would paw back. I didn’t understand it at first, but then we realized she wanted to pet us back. It didn’t feel great (imagine being pawed in the face), but it was sweet nonetheless.
That’s the type of dog she was. To some, just a dog. To me, she was yet another example of how God orchestrated creation to be an agent of healing and comfort.
Penny really hadn’t been sick since we got her. Just before Christmas, I noticed bright red blood in her stool. We were in Alabama at the time, so we took her to a vet there. They were great, took their time to make sure she felt safe and eventually treated her for IBS. The blood subsided a bit while she was on the medication, but quickly returned when she finished her medication.
We took her back to our vet in NC, Dr. Lloyd. He too thought it was IBS, but at the end of the visit did a quick rectal exam. He noticed a mass. He didn’t seem too alarmed. Said he would try to treat it with medication and if that didn’t work, remove it.
Medication didn’t work. About two weeks later, we were back in his office again, scheduling an appointment to have it removed. She had it removed on a Tuesday morning and she came home that evening. Dr. Lloyd said he was able to remove 80-85% of the mass and it was firm, which he “didn’t like.” We struggled to manage her pain and stop the bleeding after the surgery. We made 3 more visits to the vet that week to try to help her find some relief. At this point, Penny was being treated by both Dr. Lloyd and Dr. Hutsell due to the frequent visits, both were understanding and worked hard to help us, help Penny.
One week after the visit the pathology report came in. Adenocarcinoma. The report was hard for a layperson to read. But the gut-wrenching last sentence went like this: “Unfortunately for Penny, her adenocarcinoma extends throughout the tissue margins examined here, with neoplasia tracking along lymphatic channels and beyond the serosa.”
We were referred to a vet oncologist the next day. We didn’t go in super hopeful for a cure based on the pathology report. But we went so we would know what we needed to do. Dr. Collette was wonderful. Poor Penny had a 4th rectal exam, but took it like a champ (probably because of the sedation). There were additional tumors and they were aggressive.
She and her tech sat in the floor with us going over every detail. She answered all of our questions, including the dreaded, “when will we know it’s time to let her go?” They were so patient with us as we sobbed.
Of course I always knew there would come a time we would say goodbye. That’s no surprise, but I didn’t anticipate it being this painful to let go.
“Anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months,” Dr. Collette said. Thankfully, Penny was with us for a few more months. She healed from her surgery and for a period of time, she seemed like she was back to her old self again. She even celebrated her 7th birthday on March 10th!
Last week, Penny started straining pretty frequently. Going to potty became quite the struggle and not only that, she seemed to feel an urge to go, even when she didn’t really need to. Alec called Dr. Collette to see about more medication, she’s currently on quite the regimen, plus a pretty strict diet. Dr. Collette gently informed Alec that we are doing all we can and encouraged him to really monitor her quality of life, so that we could make the best decision for her.
On Friday, Derek and Ashlyn were over for dinner and we noticed she began to have some incontinence issues. By Sunday she was straining more and we could see that she didn’t feel good.
We had an adventure day on Sunday with Sarah at Camp Merri-Mac. It was such a sweet time. Of course she thought she needed to stop and attempt to potty, every 3 minutes. But we redirected her to fun. We walked all over camp. She seemed to have a blast, but by the time we got home, all the play really got to her. She immediately laid down and it was clear that maybe that was a little much.
She stopped greeting us when we got home and would lay motionless as I was leaving for work every morning. As we noticed the change, we decided to make one last ditch effort to assess her level of pain...She loved cheese/deli meat and would ALWAYS immediately run to the kitchen as soon as she heard the deli drawer open. That day she didn’t even flinch. I brought her meds to her wrapped in turkey. She slowly took them and was completely disinterested.
Monday afternoon Alec took Penny to the park. Straining plus moaning, followed by complete lethargy. She didn’t want to move and she couldn’t get comfortable. This continued and Penny seemed to be less and less interested in eating. In fact, it became obvious that the pain medication had reached its limit. We felt totally helpless in that moment.
So with the heaviest heart we called the vet one final time to set up an appointment. It was time.
Penny was up and down throughout the night, struggling to be comfortable, sometimes waking Alec up, sometimes me. She woke me up at 3:30am. After falling back asleep, I had the weirdest dream. In my dream we were back in Oregon, in the house we brought Penny home to. Q and Audge were there and Jeff. Stacey my Alabama friend and Stacy my NC friend were also present, along with Derek and Ashlyn, Grace and Sarah, and all the Gathering staff with their kiddos (which I’m not sure they would actually bring their kids to something like this). We were surrounded by people who loved us and loved Penny. Frieda from the Vet’s office came and instead of our vet, some strange hippie came for the final rest. He started by saying we needed to fill the bathtub with water and remove her “hands and feet.” Like I said it was so weird and gross. I protested and laid on the floor sobbing. I woke up in a panic and my first thought was “wait a minute, dogs don’t have hands and feet.” I think this symbolized how human Penny was to us.
But back to reality…
After one final trip to the park, Dr. Hutsell and Kira met us back at our house at about 4:00p today. We sat with Penny on the back deck as she peacefully took her last breathe. Obviously, Alec and I were a total wreck. And it was clear that Dr. Hutsell and Kira were struggling to hold it together. After transporting Penny to their vehicle, Dr. Hutsell came back to share one last condolence. With complete unrestrained tears, he hugged us both and managed to say “It’s going be hard, and there’s always going to void, but it will get easier.” I was stunned by how overwhelmed with emotion he was and it was clear that level of grief was not foreign to him. No longer able to speak through the tears, he and Kira silently walked to the car. I am so thankful for all the care the medical staff gave to Penny up until the very end.
I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever feel a connection with another pup like I did with Penny. But I am so grateful for her life and joy she brought to ours. I always saw a pet as a responsibility, not imagining that she would take care of us in so many ways. My hope is that I brought her half of the joy she brought to my life.
And as Winnie the Pooh once said, “How lucky am I that I have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”