Tied to our Heartstrings

Recovering from heartbreak
By Joyce Sudbeck, May 2011

Shaking my umbrella, I unbuttoned my coat. I was drenched. I needed a cup of hot tea.

I poured our tea and went to sit by the fireplace. I closed my eyes a moment when my husband spoke.

“What’s that? I’m sorry; I wasn’t listening.”

He said, “Would you like to go for a ride after we eat lunch?”

“A ride? In this downpour? To where?”

“Uh…I’d like to ride up to the dog pound. The guys at work say they’ve got a lot of really good…”

“I thought we’ve talked about this. Delilah has only been gone a month. I understand you were not able to do it, but you know, I had to sit with Delilah, and our last three dogs while they took their last breath. I looked into their sad eyes and said, ‘It’s okay, Baby.’ It wasn’t okay. I sat stroking their heads and lied. I vowed Delilah was the last one…ever!”

I burst into tears.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

He sat there and stared at the floor. I knew he missed Delilah, too. Maybe I was being selfish and should let him, at least, look at the dogs.

“I’ll go, but please don’t ask to bring one home. We’ll just look. Okay?”

“I promise, I won’t pressure you. We’ll look and that’s all.”

Delilah, our Doberman Pinscher, had broken down in the her hips and spine. We spent quite a bit on treatment but the money really wasn’t the issue. It was seeing our beloved pet suffer and, finally, putting her down.

Caring for such a large dog was difficult. She was heavy and couldn’t stand on her own. We had to support her with a towel under her stomach so she could even relieve herself. We were older, with physical issues of our own, but we gave her all the care and comfort possible.

Once at the dog pound, I asked to see dogs that were a little older, thinking they wouldn’t tempt me like a puppy might.

The lady asked a young man to show us dogs six months to a year. There were ten cages. I quickly walked up and down the row. I was afraid to look at them, for fear I would weaken.

The bulletin board contained 3-by-5 cards with information about the dogs.

My eyes came to rest on one card. It read “Lab” and no other breed. I felt I was being pulled to that card by some invisible force. I moved in closer to read it.

Breed: Lab (female)

Age: 7 months

Name: “Spuds”

Comments: Housebroken

Reason: Moved to apartment. Wouldn’t take dogs.

My husband was squatting in front of a cage that contained a small dog, who was busily licking his fingers.

Across the aisle, directly behind him, a dog was springing up and down like a yo-yo. I said, “Where’s number 6, it’s supposed to be a Lab.”

Cage #6 happened to be the bouncing dog desperately trying to get my husband’s attention. She was long, thin and a shiny jet black. She did look like a Lab, except for a little white on her chest and back paws. I said, “She looks more ‘Curbside Terrier’ than pure Lab.”

The boy approached and asked if he should take her into the “visiting room.” I said, “Oh no, we are just looking, not shopping.”

He said, “She would enjoy getting out of the cage for a while.”

“I … suppose it wouldn’t hurt to visit for a few minutes.”

You can guess the rest.

She was delightful—affectionate, calm, good-natured and beautiful.

We came to pick her up on Valentine’s Day. She pranced along, happily, as though she was going home. In the car, she flopped down between us, resting her head on my knee.

We renamed her “Phoebe,” as “Spuds” didn’t suit her at all. She was a marvelous dog from day one. We crated her only a few days. It was obvious she could be trusted. She never got on the furniture, had accidents or chewed.

She was the easiest dog I ever obedience trained. The first time I gave the “heel” command and began walking, I started to tug to move her up. To my surprise, there she was, already in position. She mastered commands, quickly. By graduation night, she was among the best in class. She had two close competitors: a Great Dane and a Standard Schnauzer.

After all candidates had completed their routines, we lined up to face the judge, to await her decision. She announced, “Third place, the Dane, second place, the Schnauzer, and first place, a mixed breed (guess who?), Phoebe.” I was so proud her. She had performed like a grand champion.

During the months that followed, one or two trainers called to encourage me to show Phoebe in “fun matches.” They kept telling me what a wonderful obedience dog she was.

As Phoebe grew older, I wondered if it had even been necessary to take her to class. She was devoted, humble, compliant, but also protective.

The techs at our veterinarian’s office teased and asked if we “polished” her. She was so shiny. Everyone there loved Phoebe. She was as good with them as with us. She was absolutely perfect.

Time began taking its toll. Phoebe’s muzzle grayed, her gait slowed, and she slept more. One day, we took her for her checkup. The vet discovered a huge mass under her ribcage. We had noticed she seemed a little heavier, which we contributed to age and inactivity. There was a large tumor was on her spleen. The doctor removed it, sent samples for biopsy, and later called with “good news.” It was benign. We were elated.

He had sent three large samples of the mass, but the biopsy was misleading. Though Phoebe recovered from surgery, she started breaking down. X-rays and an ultrasound revealed cancer in her liver, pancreas, lungs, intestines and kidneys. Death was imminent. We asked if we needed to make a final decision. Our vet assured us she wasn’t in pain and that we would know when it was time. He said, “Take her home and enjoy her while you can.”

It had been 13-and-a-half years since we had cared for Delilah. Phoebe was seventy-five pounds of dog. Caring for her was hard. However, we did it. She was with us, which was all she ever wanted.

One month passed, when I noticed Phoebe trembling for the first time. I said, “She’s in pain. I’m afraid it’s time. I can’t let her suffer. We have to do something.”

My husband’s face went pale and he turned away. “Maybe she’s just cold or something.” (It was July, that wasn’t likely.)

I said, “The doctor told us we would know ‘when.’ I’m afraid ‘when’ is now.”

He paced back and forth, and finally said, “I guess you’d better call and we’ll take her.”

I stayed with her until she was gone. My heart was broken and I sobbed uncontrollably. We had lost the finest pet and companion we had ever had.

Breeding isn’t everything. Phoebe proved that. To refer to her as “mixed breed” is mislabeling. More appropriately, she was a “special blend.” She inherited the best qualities of whatever breeds had contributed to her lineage.

From that dog pound in the pouring rain to unexplainably being drawn to her card on the bulletin board, it was meant to be. She will be forever tied to our heartstrings.

Did I learn my lesson? No, I didn’t. Two months after Phoebe died, we brought home a teacup Chihuahua, whom we adore.

Somehow, we just can’t seem to live without the “patter of little paws” around our house.

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