It seemed like yesterday that Curt and I decided to get a puppy. We were just college kids wanting a little animal to care for, not realizing the adventure that lay ahead of us. On a beautiful, sunny day in June of 1999 we traveled from Omaha about an hour to the small town of Red Oak, Iowa. We’d found an ad in the paper (imagine, no Craigslist!) about a dappled wiener dog that was for sale and decided to see if we liked her. No one I know has ever gone to see a puppy and not returned with it in hand.
When we arrived, the local veterinarian who bred and was selling the doxies said she was the last one of her litter, the runt. He brought us to a room with the runt and two other tan doxie puppies. The two tan ones were playing together, the black and silver dappled one was on her own, sniffing the edges of the room. My first instinct was to go for one of the tan ones, clearly they were playful and got along well with other dogs. But Curt turned to me and said he really liked the dappled one. “She’s different and she’s the runt,” were some of his arguments to win me over. I thought she looked rather odd with her speckled fur, but Curt insisted that she was unique. Curt very rarely states his preference on things, so I’d learned that when he does, it was best to go along with him. Irregardless, the decision was over once we held her. We were sold. This little puppy was coming home with us that day. Little did we know, at the time, how significant her exploring on her own would be and how that would define her personality.
The drive home was memorable. I had never had a dog before and was getting used to holding her on my lap, while also being fearful of her peeing on me (which she never did). She crawled up onto my shoulder and for awhile was sitting across the back of my neck. While we drove back to Omaha we began to come up with names for our little puppy. For some reason, all of mine centered around food and within a few minutes I blurted, “How about Peanut?” Peanut just seemed perfect.
Over the course of the next few days and weeks, we began to fall in love with our Peanut. We treated her like our baby and, truly, she felt like one to us. She relied on us for food, shelter and companionship and we gave all of that to her abundantly. After seeing a picture of this little odd-looking dog, my dad told me, “She looks like a dog only a mother could love.” That couldn’t have been closer to the truth. I soon began to empathize with her and what I thought she must be feeling. This may sound ridiculous, but not wanting her to be lonely by herself on the ground, she could often be found studying with me on the table or chair, or eating dinner on Curt’s lap and from the first night we brought her home, she slept in our bed. She was our baby.
It became evident that there was a reason Peanut didn’t associate with the other dogs that first day we met her. As we watched her personality manifest itself, we learned that she much preferred to be on her own, sniffing and finding exciting things. She was quite adventurous, completely disobedient and very strong-willed. She didn’t care about sitting, staying or coming, she simply followed her nose and went where it led her. We took her to Memorial Park in Omaha, where she fearlessly played with dogs much bigger than her and chased after squirrels from tree to tree.
Her favorite place by far was the farm in Percival, Iowa, the house and acreage where Curt grew up and where his parents lived. Surrounded by miles of soybean and corn fields, it was a dog’s utopia. As soon as we turned off the main highway, Peanut would begin to sniff the air, smelling all the animals and other “wild” scents in the air. Within a mile of the house, her head would be clear out the window, ears flapping in the breeze and tail wagging uncontrollably. Pulling into the driveway, she would paw at the door, anxiously waiting to be let out. Once we opened the door, she flew out and would disappear into the yard. Her innate hunting instincts would lead her to the bases of trees trying to catch squirrels and through the apple orchard following the scents of rabbits. I smile remembering the sound of her bark as she desperately tried to catch up to squirrels clearly out-running her across the yard. Although she never caught one, to my disappointment she had a few baby rabbits for Easter. When we moved to Oregon and began backpacking, Peanut’s spirit for adventure happily steered us along trails through old-growth forests and her passion for snuggling made her the perfect sleeping bag companion for me.
Peanut’s nose and obliviousness often got her into trouble though. We almost lost her as a puppy on the farm once, when she disappeared into the cornfields. She was lost for over an entire day and night, and we feared that perhaps a coyote would get her. I couldn’t sleep and my heart ached to think she would die alone. Thank God that didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be the first time that this dog would cause us anxiety. Over the course of her life, she would get bitten by three different dogs, inhale three boxes of chocolate and would nearly die on a cold Oregon beach. Thankfully, she always made it back to us and we swore she would live forever.
Despite all the running and romping, Peanut’s favorite pastime was sleeping. She could’ve, and often did, sleep for hours upon hours. And it wasn’t uncommon for me to have to drag her out of bed at noon. When I would come to get her, she would roll on her back and look at me as though to say, “Can’t you see how comfy I am? Please don’t move me.” I wondered what she dreamt about, as she yipped and appeared to run in her sleep. Chasing after a squirrel probably.
Life was great for her up until about two years ago in early 2011 (she was 13), when we began to notice Peanut tripping while walking or when trying to jump on our front porch. At the same time, the colors of her eyes had also began to cloud, which the vet attributed to normal age-related sclerosis. Over the course of 6 or so months, about the time Laird was a year and a half, her eyesight appeared to get much worse. Suddenly she was tripping all the time and wasn’t able to find her way back to our house, and she seemed less interested in going for walks. There was now a definite cloudiness in her eyes and, hoping that it was just cataracts that a simple surgery could correct, we took her to an eye vet later that year. I was devastated to hear that she had retinal degeneration, a condition that had no cure and would eventually leave her blind. Within a few months, our beloved dog, who had slowed down but was still full of spunk, could see nothing but faint shadows. Amazingly, she still managed to get around our house, finding her way to her water dish and up the ramp onto the couch. But, it was clear, the fire in our feisty Peanut was diminishing. What saddens us most about Peanut’s deterioration was that it coincided with Laird’s becoming a toddler and Leini’s birth, meaning it all happened without Curt or I really noticing. It pains me to say this, but the once abundant pictures of her and Mango became nonexistent and both dogs, who had been the center of our lives, were barely noticed at all.
A year ago, shortly after Leini’s birth in early 2012, it occurred to me that Peanut was completely blind. And it seemed that the loss of her eyesight was defeating her spirit. She simply slept all day, her body began to become quite frail due to inactivity and she no longer wanted to do anything. I matter-of-factly stated that I didn’t think Peanut would live through the summer. She did, but she didn’t appear happy. In fact, she bumped into everything and howled incessantly whenever she felt that she was alone. Having a new baby and a toddler to manage, I found her howling and need for constant attention to be more than I could handle and would become frustrated with her. I am filled with regret when I look back at the way I treated my most faithful companion during her time of need. How did I let life steer me away from being compassionate?
Within the last month or so, Peanut got worse. Whereas before, we could place her in a comfortable spot and she would eventually fall asleep. Now, she was pacing in circles and every time we tried to settle her into her bed, she would get up and continue to bump around the house. She was anxious, depressed, lost and confused. She needed help. She needed peace and she begged us for it in her howls. We just didn’t realize it until now.
Putting your dog to sleep is a confusing act to do. To find that perfect time is emotionally taxing, too soon and you are cutting short the potential in a life, too long and you are putting your dog through misery it doesn’t need to suffer. Not only do you have to make this decision, but you also have to deal with the emotional pain of losing your companion. I didn’t realize my responsibility as a pet owner was to make this decision for my dog. I simply thought she would do it on her. She would have, eventually, but not without suffering through days and possibly years of mental torture. In retrospect, I wish I could have saved her from the last year of suffering she had endured. For in 2012, she was definitely not happy and not the same Peanut we knew. Over the course of the year, we had forgotten who are beloved family member had once been.
It was a week filled with anguish and fear, yet hope for Peanut. We cuddled her and let her curl up in our bed with us, which she hadn’t done in over a year. I held her constantly and whispered words of love in her ears, hoping that deep down in her confused mind she could make sense of them. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to say goodbye. Saturday was beautiful, unseasonably warm and sunny here in Portland. Peanut’s favorite weather. My lifelong dream for her was to eventually move to Hawaii, where she could spend her days just laying by the pool in the sun. For lunch, she ate one of Curt’s famous waffles and we walked to the park we had visited so many times in her life here in Portland. The kids, Curt and I played together while little Peanut soaked up the warmth of the sun in the stroller. As the minutes and hours ticked by, the feelings of doom and loss were already heavy in my heart and mind. We hurriedly strolled back to the house and quickly put Laird and Leini down for their naps. The time had come.
Despite being vegetarians, for her last meal Curt grilled Peanut (and Mango) a bacon wrapped steak and she devoured it within seconds. “We should’ve gotten a bigger one,” Curt joked with a smile. We were definitely on edge though and somberness filled the air. Shortly thereafter, the vet arrived at our house and explained her process to us. We nodded in agreement while the tears in our eyes began to overflow onto our cheeks. She said she would give us as much time as we needed. With candles lit and pictures of little Peanut close by, I held her on the couch as we said our goodbyes. “I love you, Peanut. You’re a good girl. I will miss you,” were words I whispered in her ear through a cracking voice and tears. She was anxious and wanting to escape from my arms like usual. We then prayed for her, thanking God for the blessing of her life and the happiness that she had brought to us.
We told the vet that we were ready for the sedative and, while eating a white chocolate truffle, she gave it to her in her hind leg. Within seconds, Peanut was no longer anxious and no longer sad. I didn’t realize she would be that sedate, but her body laid gently in my arms, sleeping so peacefully without a care in the world. A weight was lifted off my shoulders knowing that she was not tormented by anxiety or confusion any longer. Curt wanted to hold her one last time, so we switched off and relished the last moment we would ever hold her and feel her heart beat. Knowing this was it, we said our final words of love to the life that we had loved dearly for nearly 15 years. The life that had been with Curt and I through the good times and bad, as well as our successes and failures. The life that inspired us to become vegetarians and to respect the lives of other animals. The life that brought such incredible joy to ours and taught us the responsibilities of nurturing and caring for others, regardless of species.
With heavy hearts and an unspoken desire to have this all go away, we signaled to the vet. While I held and petted Peanut, and we told her how much we loved her, she was given the final injection. As I continued to talk to her, trying to reach her before she left, I could feel her heart, so little in size, but so large in depth, slowly stop beating. Every memory I ever had of her flooded my consciousness. Every lick, every wag, every snuggle. And within a few seconds, her heart stopped completely. She was gone.
I’ve never had a life end in my arms before. I hope never to experience it again, although with Mango just a year younger than Peanut that is highly unlikely. It is surreal and indescribable. It leaves your heart feeling heavy with sorrow and your mind bewildered. You become breathless. It was the worst experience of my life, yet I can’t imagine Peanut’s final breath being taken any other way. She was in my loving arms, sleeping. I am thankful that God gave us the chance to say goodbye, the chance to make up for the last year and the opportunity to end her life without pain and suffering.
Before the vet took her body to be cremated, we let Mango, who had been nearly asleep on the floor, say goodbye. She quickly licked Peanut on her face a few times, sniffed her and backed away. It seemed obvious that she knew Peanut had passed on and it truly did appear that she was saying farewell to her sister. Laird also said goodbye, but without ever remembering the “true” Peanut and the amazing dog that she was, it was hard for him to understand what all the fuss was about.
The vet loaded Peanut, who was now in a pet bed, into the back of her car. I got one last look at her body, in peace, before turning away in tears. A pit in my stomach, a weight in my chest, I missed my dog already. Returning to the house, the sense of loss, of a life having just ended, was overwhelming. We cried and hugged more, trying to comfort one another and begin to face the realization that she was gone. After getting the kids from their rooms, we headed out to dinner. What happened at the restaurant is a blur. I can’t recall if I slept much at all that night, with memories of my dog racing through my head.
Aside from Peanut being gone, one thing that changed immediately is the amount of attention we give to Mango. Having realized how quickly time goes by, we now shower her with love and attention. I can only imagine the heartache when she eventually passes on and we no longer have any dogs.
Sunday was challenging. There wasn’t a second that passed by that my beloved Peanut was not on my mind. The hole in my heart seemed to grow the more reality sunk in and there were many times I stopped and just cried by myself and on Curt’s shoulder. I even cried in front of Laird and hugged him so tightly. I know he probably thought I was crazy (it’s never too early to start teaching young boys about females and their emotions). That night I found old pictures of Peanut during our time in Omaha and we reminisced about all the funny and silly things she would do. It was what we needed, remembering her before the blindness got the best of her. She was not only a beautiful dog to look at, she was also fearless, rebellious and carefree, completely disobedient and always up to no good. Yet, she was a lap dog and she won hearts over for simply sleeping peacefully in a lap on the couch.
Looking around the house, I miss seeing her basking in the sun shining through the window, sitting in front of the heating vent and racing around the living room after finding out we were taking her to the park. Most of all though, I miss holding her in my arms. I don’t know if the spirits of dogs live on, but God, I hope so. I hope to meet my Peanut with her tail-wagging in heaven someday. I hope to never forget the joy and happiness she brought to our lives. And I hope that, wherever she is, she never forgets how much she was loved and adored by her family and friends.
My dear Peanut, I miss you and love you so much. Thank you for the 15 years you gave to us, years and memories that we will never, ever forget.