As most of you probably know, I’m a lover of animals, especially dogs. To the point where if I see a dog while I’m out walking and see a dog, I will say “Dog!” or “Puppy!” I’m like a small child in this regard. Not even sorry. Dogs are awesome. If the dog is close enough, sometimes I’ll go make friends. Few things give me greater joy than being in the presence of dogs.
There is no dog that I’ve loved more than our family dog, Carmen. A collie-husky mix who possessed the greatest personality that an animal – even a person – ever could.
Writing in the past tense is still difficult, new, and strange for me. Two weeks ago, my family made the difficult decision to ensure that Carmen didn’t suffer any more than she already had after a terminal cancer diagnosis, and had her put to sleep. In the weeks previous to her diagnosis, she began to have difficulty getting up the stairs, but my parents attributed this to age – she would’ve been thirteen in August. But the week before her appointment with the vet she wasn’t eating her food, and when she did, she would throw it up a little while later. My mum made an appointment for her to see the vet on Friday, and after some tests were done, the diagnosis was cancer in both her spleen and pancreas. The spleen could be removed, but not the pancreas. She had a couple of months at the most, and those months would begin to get very painful for her, with a very strong risk of the tumor rupturing. Though the most difficult decision, my parents made the right one, not wanting her to suffer, or being in any pain.
It was made all the more difficult for me, being on the opposite side of the country, with no way to truly say goodbye to her. I asked my parents to give her all kinds of hugs and kisses from me, to feed her some toast crusts (it was one of the few people foods I gave her), and let her know that I loved her.
Our goodbye was tearful enough when I left my parents’ house before going to the airport at the end of January. I nuzzled the top of her head, and she licked my face. I told her to be a good girl, and that I would see her in couple of months. There was no way of knowing then what we found out this week, but had I known, I would’ve taken a bit more time with her. Although, looking back on it now, there was a small part of me that almost knew that I would never see her again – she was getting old. But had I known, really truly known, I would’ve spent as much time with her as I could before leaving and boarding that plane.
I’ve done a lot of crying since that Friday when my folks called me. Carmen was my fluffy baby girl. I’ll be fine one moment, and just burst into tears. I find when I tell funny stories about her, or things she did that made me happy, I feel a lot better. So, I’m going to do that now.
We got her when she was just a three month old puppy from the local SPCA. She and her sister had been left in a cardboard box on the side of the road. Our family had been discussing getting a dog for a couple of months – we’d had to put our first dog, Blizzard, to sleep, early in the summer. We had a list of names that we were considering for a new puppy – Carmen and Sasha were on the top of the list. One day, upon arriving at the shelter, we caught sight of Carmen and her sister. The name on Carmen’s cage was the sign that she was going to be ours – “Carmen.” But really, we didn’t choose her, she chose us. She wriggled her way into our laps, and our hearts. There was no scenario in which she wasn’t coming home with us.
Carmen, as a puppy, was a rambunctious little shit who liked to get into things that she wasn’t supposed to, and had a tendency to run off when she realized she wasn’t on a leash. On her second day with us she almost got run over by a dump truck because she darted out into the street, and seemed to not at all realize the danger she was in, despite the truck backing up, and us screaming for her to come back. We realized then that she wasn’t the kind of dog you could just leave unattended in the yard, she needed to be tied up or left on the back deck, where we ended up installing a baby gate. She never really destroyed anything, but she liked to drag things that didn’t belong to her into the living room and mouth on them – particularly shoes and my little sister’s stuffed animals. She eventually grew out of those habits, thankfully! We tried putting her in the kitchen and putting a table across the doorway, but she jumped over it! Carmen was very crafty, and often figured out ways to get out of places where we were trying to keep her, or into things and places we were trying to keep her away from. Crating her when we went out didn’t work, because she either escaped or panicked and drooled all over the place. Poor thing!
Even as she got older, she had a tendency to get up to no good. She frequently got into the garbage – but never really ate anything, merely tracked it all over the house. Even in her later years she seemed to continue to do this once in a while, more as an act of defiance, punishment for my parents for leaving her alone while they went out shopping or something. I thought it was funny, and smacked of “Fuck all ya’ll.” Mind you, I didn’t have to clean it up. She also once ate an entire loaf of banana bread, plastic wrap and all. And there was the Muffin Incident, when she climbed onto a table while we were out, and ate an abundance of oatmeal muffins. Problem was, she then couldn’t get down from the table. We came from wherever we were, to find her standing on the table, standing almost completely still. I’m sure she was afraid, but it was pretty funny from our perspective. I think there’s a video of it somewhere. We felt badly though because we didn’t know how long she’d been up on that table – since right after we left or shortly before we got home? It remains a mystery!
But Carmen was so much more than a dog who got into things that she shouldn’t. She was very affectionate, wanting to practically be in your pocket if she could. She would often cuddle with me on the couch (even if she wasn’t supposed to be on the furniture). Any time I stayed over at my parents’, she slept with me in my bed, and when I still lived at home, she often hung out with me in my room if that’s where I was. I was one of the few people who let her up on furniture, you see, and she seemed to really like it. What dog doesn’t? She would know when I was sick, and come and rest her head on my lap if nothing else. She knew that I liked being comforted. Funnily enough, she was the first member of my family I told that I was moving to Victoria. I went to my parents house to do laundry, to find them gone. Carmen was there, though. I burst into tears and began petting her. She sat down on the floor and I sat beside her. She leaned against me and rested her head on my chest, and just let me pet her and kiss her as I bawled my eyes out. Carmen was the absolute best at comforting me when I was feeling down.
She was so smart, and easy to train. She proved the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks was wrong, picking up new tricks in the last few years of her life. Carmen also trained us in a lot ways, thinking up ways to get treats. She did this thing where she would spin around in circles and bark, and when she did that you needed to give her a treat. It started off as trying to teach her something, and she was quite good at it! But if you were standing, not really do anything, she would just start spinning and barking, basically saying “Look! I’m doing the thing! Give me a treat!” Most of the time, we would. And any time you’d start getting ready to take her for a walk, once you put her leash on, she would pick it up and walk herself around the house, tailing wagging non-stop.
When I moved out of my parents’ house, I would often come home on Sundays – save for if I was away, or some other sort of circumstance. Carmen used to wait for me, yet only on Sundays. She knew that was the day I came home. She would start “waiting” about an hour before I usually arrived, going to the window and looking out it, laying down on top of the stairs, looking at the door. And every single day she would bark and run down the stairs as I opened the door, wagging her tail so fast that it looked like it send her into orbit, and then start doing laps around the house, until I sat down on the floor with her and petted her to her satisfaction.
I miss her so deeply, it feels like a part of my heart is gone now that she is no longer here. I’ve missed her so much since I moved out to Victoria, and have had my father send my lots of pictures of her. The last one was from that Friday night, after my parents brought her home. She looks comfortable, relaxed, content, enjoying being spoiled by those that she loved, and who loved her. Exactly how I want to remember her. I don’t at all want to think about the actual process – but my father did tell me that it was peaceful, that she just closed her eyes and went to sleep. That’s the best I could’ve asked for – not in any pain, with those she loved and who loved her with her, telling her how good she was, how loved she was.
I could write a novel on Carmen and how wonderful, sweet, and intelligent she was. She enriched my life by being in it, for however short a time. I know that I’ll love other dogs, but there will never be another like Carmen. I wouldn’t want there to be. She was one in a million, and I’m so glad that she was mine, and that I was hers.
August 4, 2001 – June 21, 2014