I'm not a dog person. It's not that I don't like animals; I just don't care that much one way or the other about being around them. I don't even really like cute videos of kittens. Incidentally, this is why cats love me. I suspect they have a grudging respect for anything that cares as little for animal affection as they do.
So when my husband and kids began campaigning for a dog, I held them off as long as possible. Because I knew. I knew who would walk and feed and clean up after the dog. Oh, they all said they'd do it. "I'll clean up after her, Mom, I promise." I knew better. But it was only a matter of time.
One day I gave in and the next thing I knew, my husband had brought home a seven-week-old golden retriever puppy. Even I had to admit she was cute. My son named her Daisy. It suited her.
That first night around 11 p.m., when she cried in the makeshift kennel we'd made in our master bathroom, I sat on the floor and petted her until she fell asleep. And then I did it again around 1. The third time, I just scooped her up, took her into the bed and put her on my chest. Because she was a baby. And that's what I did with my babies.
Little did I know that letting her fall asleep on me would be my undoing. Because then, of course, the dog thought I was her mother. She followed me everywhere. And she insisted on sleeping on the floor, next to my side of the bed. I thought she'd grow out of it, and she would learn to sleep in my son's room. But she never did.
She got bigger. We moved into a house with a pool. As much as I do not like cute kitten videos, I do like swimming. Turns out, so did the dog. She would swim back and forth, knocking into the kids and scratching them with her paws. She never scratched me. All I had to do was shake my head and hold up my hand and she would turn around and paddle in another direction.
I got sick last summer and couldn't make it to the gym. So I started taking her for walks in the early morning, while it was still dark. She would always lunge after rabbits, sometimes tripping me over the leash, and I would scold her. "You're never going to catch one, you know," I told her. She never listened.
After those walks, she and I would head straight through the house and onto the back patio. I would flip on the pool light, which made the entire pool glow green. I'd go for a swim, and she would watch at the edge, dipping her head into the water for a drink. Sometimes she would join me. We could spend 20 minutes swimming laps, side by side. It was dark and hot outside, but the water was the perfect temperature. Eventually, my phone alarm would go off, and I would get out. So would she. I'd pour food into her bowl, and tell her to wait for me downstairs. But nine times out of ten, I'd get out of the shower and she'd be waiting for me in my room. Sometimes, the kids would have climbed into my bed, and she'd have joined them. "Dogs don't belong on the bed," I'd tell her. She didn't listen to that, either.
This past spring, I started getting ready for a half marathon. Some people would say "training" but that implies a lot more work than I put into it. I increased the length of our walks and she seemed to like the extra time. A few months later, I decided to do another one. This time, I was determined to actually run some of it, instead of just walking. So I tried running with Daisy. The first couple of times she kept right up with me. But then she started slowing down, panting. I chalked it up to the heat, since it was already 85 degrees at 5 am. And the extra 15 pounds she was carrying, not because of the food we actually fed her -- but the food she snatched off the kids' breakfast plates. Or the pizza slices she would steal off the counter if you turned around for even a minute. She would eat anything. I saw her eat a DVD once. It was a Lego Star Wars movie, which doesn't even sound the least bit edible. But she didn't care.
Then about a month ago, she fell down the stairs. I heard the noise, but I didn't actually see what happened so I assumed she'd slid down on her paws. She walked a little funny afterwards, like maybe she had sprained something. Then a week later, it happened again. Only this time I was standing right there and saw her stumble, lose her balance and then watched her entire 90 pound body flip over and over, smacking the stairs before I had a chance to reach for her.
My husband took her to the vet. Ear infection was the initial diagnosis. But her head was tilted, her body was cockeyed and crooked, and she was having trouble walking. She went back to the vet. "Neurological" was the diagnosis, so we took her to a second vet. Inner ear infection. More drugs. We were about to go out of town -- my husband and the boys first, and then, four days later, me. We arranged for neighbors and a pet sitter and hoped for the best.
She moved very little during the day. But she kept trying to go up the stairs at night. I realized she was going up to find me, at bedtime. So I slept on the couch downstairs for a few nights. She curled up on a dog bed next to the couch. Then everyone else left for vacation, and it was just me and Daisy. She sat next to me that first night, when I was thrilled to have the house to myself for the first time in ten years and spent the evening reading trashy tabloids. Daisy tried more than once to lick my glass of Chardonnay. Guess swimming wasn't the only thing we had in common.
She kept me company for four nights. She was there when I sang Madonna way too loudly for someone alone in the house. She was there when my girlfriends and I stayed up too late drinking Prosecco. She was there the night I kept waking up, with too many thoughts in my head, and jumped in the pool at 4 am. She could barely walk, but she made it to the side and hung her head over the edge. She just looked at me, as if she knew what I was thinking. And liked me anyway.
Then I left for vacation. My husband returned two days later and reported she seemed okay at first. Then she got worse. The night before the kids and I came home, he took her to a vet hospital on the advice of the specialist our vet had recommended.
The next morning, I got up at 330 am. We had an early morning flight. We landed, tried to eat some lunch, and he told the kids something was wrong with Daisy. Then we went to the hospital. She was unconscious. I talked to her, petted her, but all she did was twitch her leg. My oldest son started crying. I told him maybe she was dreaming about swimming with us. I hoped it was true.
Seemed like we were there for hours, waiting to talk to the doctor. Cancer, or maybe meningitis, he said. Either way, the problem was in her brain, and the options didn't really sound like options, but like lengthy, painful things you do to delay the inevitable. We told the kids to say goodbye, but by this point, they just wanted to leave. "I don't want to hear anymore, I just want to go."
I wanted to stay.
They put a soft pad and blanket on the floor of an exam room. They wheeled her in on a cart and lifted her, placing her on the pad. The social worker asked me a bunch of questions and kept saying stuff about how hard these decisions were. She was all of about 22 and she was very sweet, but I just wanted her to leave. Because I loathe letting anyone see me cry, and because I wanted Daisy all to myself one last time. The social worker finally left, giving me a button that I was to push when I was ready for the doctor to come in and give her the medicine.
I petted Daisy, who still had not woken. I told her I was sorry for getting annoyed every time she tripped me on the leash. I said I hoped the rabbits were way slower in dog heaven. And then I hoped that dog heaven was even a thing. I sat there for a while. And I finally pushed the button.
The doctor came in. He was very nice and explained how the first shot was a sedative and the second would stop her heart. He gave her the sedative. I kept my hand on her neck. I told her I loved her. He gave her the second shot. Then he checked her heart and told me it had stopped.
I sat there with her for a while, again. I just couldn't seem to make myself leave. But eventually I got up and walked out of the room. I sat in the lobby, grateful for the sunglasses hiding my puffy eyes while I waited for a ride And then I was grateful that I didn't get a chatty Uber driver.
Later that night, after I sat with my kids while they cried themselves to sleep, I went outside by myself. I drank some wine. And I swam. But it didn't feel right, without Daisy there, sitting by the side of the pool with her head hanging over the edge.
The next day, everyone started crying all over again. And then they played video games. Because that's what boys do. I unpacked, unloaded the dishwasher and put away her clean food and water dish before anyone saw them and started crying again. I looked outside. The sun was too bright and it was already hot. I don't really care that much for swimming in the daylight; I prefer the night, when it's quiet and dark. But I couldn't think of anything else to do.
So I put on my swimsuit. I went out back and looked at the cushion under the table, where Daisy used to nap. Looked at the edge of the pool where she used to sit and dunk her head. Put on my sunglasses to hide my still-puffy eyes (because grief? Is not a good look on me).
I thought about all the times she'd followed me out here, followed me everywhere, really. How I could be at my lowest point and she would just look at me, as if to say, it's ok. You feed me, I'm yours. It's that simple.
I thought about watching the vet give her that shot. And I thought about putting her on my chest when she was seven weeks old.
And then I got in the pool. And I swam.