Carol Jane Remsburg
She arrived as a duo of puppies gifted to me by my sister when I was very pregnant with my daughter just about twelve years ago. The puppies were mixed, half-purebred pit (father) and their mother was a white Shepard. I didn't want any dogs. I had three cats in the house and our pending "little visitor" as our child loomed as a monstrous responsibility that the full weight of parenthood was just coming to bear. I wasn't ready—for anything.
Still the puppies came, the pair, Sissy and Boo-Boo I dubbed them, both females and full of fun, frolic, and lots of love. Hubby had to erect a good-sized pen to accommodate them attached to the garage. We allotted them much food, love, and care. What we didn't realize was that their "puppy" shots hadn't been covered when I thought they had. Parvo arrived less than 2 weeks later. Parvo can kill within hours.
Sissy got it first when I didn't recognize it. Within two days she was well again after I'd called the vet for an appointment. Then I called my sister who had gifted me with the pups who had admitted that I needed the inoculation for them. It wasn't too late for Sissy, but it was too late for Boo-Boo. Parvo took her within four hours. It's a horrible way to die. I learned. The vet came and gave the inoculation to the pup who had contracted but survived, along with all the other shots a puppy needs. Now Sissy was alone, just what I didn't want.
Knowing I was pregnant and wouldn't be able to spend the time I wanted with a pup, I was frustrated but I began spending every evening with my "other" baby before our human baby was born. Sissy, the pup, seemed to know of the pending birth. She became gentle, loving, and soft. She sniffed and nudged the 'great belly' where the babe lay and seemed eager to meet the new arrival.
Come September of that year, Erin did arrive. One of the most eager greeters was my dog, my "Sissy-girl."
Just days old, I carried my daughter out to my young pup to meet and greet. Erin didn't understand the fuss but with the eager lapping of kisses bestowed on her, Erin understood love. Sissy was enthralled and the two bonded. She discovered that she had a baby of her own and claimed ownership then and there. From that moment on, Sissy OWNED Erin. That was HER child and she adored her from close or afar, come winter to fall to spring and summer, Erin was Sissy's lock-stock-and-barrel. Along with any other child within the vicinity, Sissy was in love.
Over the next years, Sissy not only staked out her territory, announced her intentions, but doted upon her family and those she lovingly adopted AS her family. Daily feedings were routine, but the loving exchanges were extraordinary. Other dogs beg, Sissy demanded. She deigned never to be out of the loop.
Unless it was "too" cold, Erin would accompany me to feed Sissy her dinner. The playtime, nuzzle, hugs, and general laughter were the bright spots of our days. Sissy seemed to know that human life wasn't easy either and she worked her way to make it so by being silly. Then she'd catch you with that solemn look to let you know that she wasn't crazy but she wanted just to lighten you mood. Sissy wasn't your ordinary mutt. She was smart and she had pizzazz.
Everyday became an adventure. Some days you could keep her in her pen and others you couldn't. This went on for a couple of years right up until one neighbor, who couldn't keep his brutal hands from his grandkids found out the hard way. Pitbulls, even of the mixed variety, have zero tolerance for whatever they deem unacceptable. Sissy loved kids, ALL kids. No child in her view should be struck in a way that produced hurt.
All our reinforcements of her fenced yard and reinforcements didn't matter that afternoon. She leaped the fence like she was blood-kin to a gazelle. She confronted that backwater (Kentucky) granddad transplant who thought it fine to smack around his grandkids for running around their backyard and hollering.
Sissy didn't think this was fit no matter how you boxed it. No she didn't. She leaped the fence and confronted the YOUNG granddad, about 40, putting herself between the 4 year-old and the man. She told him in her doggy way that she wasn't accepting his judgment.
From the noise I had come outside to witness her leaping of the fence and her defense of the child. Then I had to go and get her. "Grandpop" wasn't pleased and informed me that the next time my dog intruded she would be shot. This is a man who goes through dogs at a rate of about one every two years. He neglects them when another neighbor and myself try to save them. Sissy simply wouldn't stand for it and for all his gruff—the neighbor knew it. Still, his grandkid never got another public beating.
Sissy was a strange dog from the beginning. She worried—a lot! Everything bothered her and her only comfort was when you camped out with her and cuddled her. For all her size, she wanted to be an 'in house' dog when the kitties we had wouldn't tolerate it and neither would she. So she finally graduated to an enlarged pen, one that surrounded the garage and one that allowed her access to the comforts found within the garage.
Don finally put an oversized 'doggy-door' on the garage shop entry. Sissy hadn't a clue to what to do with it. Don laughed at me, but the only way she would know was to show her, so I did; crawling in and out of the door with Sissy looking on with a smirk. It must have been her smirk of the month.
There was no intruder that she tolerated from snake to bird to gopher. However, Mr. Louis's cat, which I dubbed, Spooky, held free reign to wander across the lawn and beneath the clothesline. Sissy and Spooky held a daily dialog. For as much spitting and contrariness, they held their own accord for "Spooky" also doted on Erin that made her "OKAY" in Sissy's eyes. Still, she wanted Erin on a daily basis.
Often Erin would accompany me with Sissy's daily fare. I constantly overcooked so that Sissy would have human eats to devour which was her want. Only occasionally was it that commercial doggy food came into play. She didn't like it and groused about it.
Cameras were something else that Sissy didn't like. She was fearful of the shutter-click. Like rumbling thunder, she always hid from them. Thus I ended up with only one good shot of my girl—even that one shows her concern.
Storms were something that terrified this normally fearless creature. All it took was a low rumble of thunder. If both adults were home, we spent time betwixt the 'storm babies,' Erin and Sissy. However on one memorable occasion, back when the porch was unfinished and we hadn't figured out Sissy's latest escape route, we all sat on the porch where Erin wrapped herself around her dog and neither one of them complained about the storm—that normally would have had Erin in tears and Sissy hysterical. Put the weenies together and they were just fine. Go figure!
It's been some time now since Sissy has passed. I couldn't bring myself to write about it earlier. It simply kept catching me off guard and the grief remained sharp.
How is it that the quiet company to and from the clothesline can mean so much? How is it that not having an extra chore of feeding the dog punches a hole in the evening? Why is it that I miss all the arrival home harassment she used to dish out when I felt overwhelmed facing dinner duty, homework, laundry, and all the rest? There was no longer the volley of mad barking, flinging of her dinner bowl and/or water dish if the mood took her. I no longer faced the quandary of greeting her or getting the mail first or reminding Erin of her home duties—all before unlocking the door.
I'd had twelve years, good years with my Sissy-girl. When the end came, it came quickly. The late spring heat bothered her. The heat always had in ways the cold never did. It was a Friday night and she didn't eat. That wasn't terribly unusual when it was very hot but she didn't come out to greet me either.
She was tired and kept to her special bed under the workbench in the garage. I brought her out a fresh pan of ice water and that didn't appeal. It was obvious she didn't feel good but she appreciated the company. She'd had those days in the past over the years and normally the next day was fine. Saturday she wasn't fine. She still wouldn't come out—but it was still hot.
I fixed her some scrambled eggs, and she didn't touch them. Then I knew something wasn't right. Since I hadn't seen her walking for a day or two I had no clue to how weak she was—still I had home chores and shopping to do. I brought home an oven-stuffer chicken and baked it for her on Sunday. When she didn't eat that, wild alarm bells went off. I had already mentioned to hubby that something wasn't right and I was worried. He put it down to the weather and reminded me of her age. Normally hubby is right about such things and I'm usually the one who raises the false alarm. Still, I knew she wasn't right and then I saw her get up, walk, and fall down.
Her breathing had become ragged and weak. I called the vet's. The vet we have makes house calls because Sissy never could stand the ride—worse we could never keep a collar on her (another of her little quirks), so trying to take her somewhere else was out of the question. The vet said she could come on Wednesday morning and Don would arrange to be home.
By Monday morning I called the vet again and asked if there wasn't someway she could come sooner. What she didn't tell me on Sunday was that she was out of town until Wednesday—that I learned from her recording—and I certainly didn't have her cell number.
I just knew she wouldn't make it through the night on Monday. Hubby and I sat out there with her and kept Erin at bay. Horrible thoughts ran through my mind.
Erin kept asking and I kept her away. The sight of a dying pet sticks with you and I didn't want that for Erin. I didn't think she was old enough to handle it well. Yes, Erin is a little 'drama' queen, but for all that she feels such losses keenly. It would still hurt but hurt perhaps less if she didn't have the visuals to go along with it.
I knew Sissy was no spring chicken and her main bloodline was 'pit' with a Shepard mom. The tightly bred pits, like her blue-blooded daddy, were often too tightly bred and they don't have a great immune system and often don't live beyond 7-9 years even in the best of circumstances. However, Sissy was mixed but more like her dad that a Shepard.
Yes, she was old. A ride to the vet's would give the dog a heart attack. She had certain fears and they were few, but those she did have made her nuts. The vision of me trying to carry this 45 lb. dog sans a collar into the other vet's office, especially since her lineage was obvious, wouldn't work. Besides, to be truthful, I tried that too. The other vet we used was 'on vacation' and I knew it was done.
Worse, I knew even if the vet came, there wasn't going to be any saving of my baby. Not only had she stopped eating, she couldn't drink water either. I used a washcloth to help dribble moisture to her and keep her from choking. Then we both cried.
Sissy was hanging on and it hurt her so to do it. I spent most of that long Monday night and into early Tuesday with her. Death would have been welcome by then but Sissy was holding off, struggling to keep it away.
Finally I went to bed. My employer doesn't view any pet's pending demise as an excuse for not working and not being at your peak performance—like I was on Tuesday.
I grabbed about 4 hours sleep and leaped out of bed well before the alarm. It must have been the first time in my life I didn't think about leaving the house 'dressed.' I ran out the back door in my nightgown and into the garage. Sissy was still there.
She didn't seem at all surprised to see me at that hour. Her big brown eyes still shone with the same loving devotion she had always given me. She had tried to get up during the night and had fallen and lay in an awkward position. I remade her bed and carefully put her back in it. I had brought a new clean cloth with me to wet and wash out her mouth and try to get her to drink. It helped but not much.
Then I had to leave her to ready for the workday. All night long I had pondered the dilemma of Sissy's death. Not just the pain of her loss but worse the pain of her suffering and dying alone. No one should suffer until death and she was in pain. Real thoughts of putting her out of her misery, yes, suffocation in a quick method, did more than flit across my mind as the vet wasn't there to make it any quicker. But I couldn't do it, I just couldn't. I was chicken and even though I didn't voice my thoughts to hubby, I knew he felt the same way.
All day long, all I could think about was my baby Sissy-girl. I started to cry a few times and managed to stay focused on work—in my job I have to. Still when my workday was over I raced home. I literally pushed my daughter into the truck and hurried home. Once there I leaped out of the truck and into the garage—I knew it was over already, but it wasn't.
Sissy was still there. Still alive but barely. Now she was moaning, not quite howling because she didn't have the strength. It broke me and I cried. Erin tried to come in and I hollered at her to get in the house and stay away.
Erin didn't know yet. I'd told her that Sissy was sick and that she had to stay away and about how Sissy was old and to think about the future when Sissy might not be with us.
Since January when Spikey, Don's cat died, Erin had been totally distraught over losing any pet and had loved them all probably too hard in the intervening period. She still was missing Spike and talking about him. Now it was June and Erin adored Sissy. I didn't want Erin to see her dog this way. Sissy looked a wreck and not only was her chest heaving with the respiration that only near-death pneumonia victims get, she was bleeding heavily from her rear quarters.
The garage stank of illness and pending death. Sissy let out periodic moan/howls while Don and I took turns keeping vigil and telling her of our love. I kept stroking her and telling her to go to sleep for if she actually did sleep I knew she'd slip away. Sissy was consciously holding on, fighting for her life even though she knew she wasn't going to make it.
I came in and put Erin to bed and the phone rang. Don was outside with Sissy so I picked up the phone. It was a dear friend calling who was also worried about Sissy. I gave my friend the full, unadulterated report. I told her that even though I didn't think Sissy would make it through last night, tonight was different. There would be no tomorrow. Death was that close.
It was about 9:20 PM when I hung up the phone. Little did I know that Erin had become an eavesdropper on the phone—her first I think. Probably her last too because the news was so bad.
I didn't realize it at the time. I relieved Don and Erin had followed delaying just long enough to be sure to miss her father. Erin marched into the garage, surveyed the situation, looked me dead-in-the-eye and accused me of withholding her dog's death from her.
"I'm old enough to see Sissy. I'm old enough to say goodbye."
But the tears and the quivering lower lip were also in evidence.
At that point you just can't explain. There aren't the words.
What was obvious was the twitch of Sissy's ears. The moaning had stopped. It had just been that harsh, ragged, tearing breathing for the last hour—as she was now sightlessly staring. Sissy wasn't seeing anything now. No, not seeing, but she was still 'hearing.' She heard Erin and even tried to shuffle over towards her.
Erin rushed forward to the tangle of blankets where Sissy lay. She gave no heed to the blood, the stink, the flecks of foam as the bellows of Sissy's lungs still worked. Erin gently wrapped herself around her dog and cried. Two tears dropped upon Sissy's snout and Sissy felt them. Sissy heard every word of love and devotion from the 'little person' to whom Sissy had devoted her life to. Erin got to say goodbye.
Five minutes later I dragged Erin away. I had to. I couldn't stand the tears from either of them another minute. Both child and dog were crying. I couldn't cry but disembowelment with a hot poker would have almost felt good by comparison.
Once Erin was inside, I washed her up and put her back to bed. In bed, Erin begged God to make Sissy well again. I suggested that she ask God to help Sissy not have any more pain. Erin asked me if that meant Sissy had to die. Then I asked Erin if she would prefer Sissy to live in pain or to die and go to heaven with Spikey, Cotton, and Muffie. Erin knew the answer. She didn't want Sissy to hurt but it's awful to have to let go of anyone we love.
So Erin prayed. I kissed her goodnight and told her I'd stay with Sissy.
It doesn't take long to wash up a kid, even an 11 year old, and put them back to bed even when they are crying. I had left Sissy for less than 15 minutes. It was apparent she died before the porch door had closed behind us.
It was even more obvious that she'd waited to say her goodbyes to Erin before she let go.
That night both Stink & Pye kept watch on the porch and both seemed to know what was happening and seemed lost over the next few days. Still, they'd never known her like Spikey did. Sissy had mourned him.
However the next day, Spooky, Mr. Louis's cat, brought her condolences—to birds at my doorstep, something in all her 14 years she's NEVER done before. Then she came over and cuddled me. She knew too. Now, she's the one who makes sure my strolls to the clothesline aren't alone. She hasn't missed a one since.
It's now July and I still come home without the leaps of joyous barking. I go to the clothesline without her—but with a substitute. I can no longer make enormous dinners storing leftovers for my girl. I no longer hear the screeching giggles from my child as she plays with her dog. I no longer gaze into her brown eyes and know absolution. I am bereft.
Sissy is gone. Yea, she is gone and has left a big hole in my heart.
Such a stalwart and loving one as she won't be around again for a very long time. I miss my Sissy-girl, the one who would sneak out of her pen, who would steal toys and other odd items left about, and one who loved us so very much. You will remain long in my heart and mind.