The Lily Pad


Portland, Oregon, USA
June 07
She Who Must Be Obeyed
Yes please! Come on over. We'll have tea.
Mom, editor, writer, wife, traveler, dog owner, laundry wrangler, and superintendent of homework.


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MARCH 12, 2009 4:37AM

Brown-eyed Girl

Rate: 40 Flag





When I saw her for the first time, I thought “hell, no.”

We are not keeping this rocketing yellow blur who is tearing around my lawn and completely out of control. Half yellow lab, half golden retriever, no sense, and no training. A six-month-old puppy with oh my god more energy than I’ve ever seen in a dog. Her mother was a field line labrador, which means energetic long-legged hunting dog, not placid slow-moving guide dog.

The kids were tiny then—a toddler and a baby. Cassie belonged to a woman in my office who was heading for a divorce and an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. Cassie spent the first six months of her puppyhood alone, stuck in a house all day while her owners worked.

She started limping last Friday.

And there we were in my back yard. My husband had the biggest grin I’ve ever seen. This rampaging animal stole the sock off the baby’s foot, right in my lap. But she did it gently, without hurting the baby. My son, nearly three, watched with wide eyes, a little afraid. But he laughed.

“This is a good dog,” said my husband.

“You are insane!” I wanted to shout, but I didn’t. He was the at-home dad then. I worked. He really wanted this dog, and the dog needed a home. I was so desperately tired, still nursing a baby who wouldn’t sleep through the night, and trying to be coherent enough to remember my co-workers’ names at work. I had said for years, we’d get a dog when the whole family was out of diapers. At this rate, I might be in them by the time the kids are out. But this dog was here now, she needed a home. Right dog, wrong time.

Another trip to the vet. Oh crap. We can’t afford this.

Cassie grew with us. I tried dog training once. She didn’t make me proud, but she did make it to age three, when she finally became an adult dog instead of an idiot. My husband trained her, which meant she obeyed him like a champ, and she obeyed me when she felt like it.

She came with us. On camping trips. To the school bus stop, every day since kindergarten. To my parents house for Christmas. Around the neighborhood for miles and miles while I pushed a jogging stroller and tried to get rid of the baby fat.  To the beach, where she loves the vast expanses of sand. To the TV room, where her favorite place in the world is on the floor with four pairs of her people’s feet. To the side of my bed after I broke my leg and was stuck in bed for a week. To the field near our house where she chased balls faster than we could throw them, until knee surgery ended her retrieving days.

Maybe she’s blown out her other knee. Damn. We really can’t afford this.

Her coat is the softest I’ve ever felt. She has a lab’s short hair, but her coat is light and fluffy like a golden retriever’s. She sheds great clouds of hair. All year round. I’ve vacuumed what seems like a metric ton of dog hair out of the house, and she’s not bald. When she shakes herself in a sunbeam, another whirlwind of it floats off into the air.

When my husband went back to school, he found Cassie to be the perfect stress relief. Better than taking up drinking, with which he was sorely tempted. When he couldn’t take another book or another paper, he took her for long late-night walks through the neighborhood, pounding out his frustrations on the pavement. When he had a late class, she waited by the door for him to come home. She still doesn’t like it when we’re not all where we belong.

It’s so quiet when she’s at the vet. The house is so empty. I’ll get her at 5:00 when her x-ray is done.

She loves anything warm. The fireplace, the back yard in the sun, a sunbeam on the carpet. Her belly freckles through her pale fur in the summer. She lies in the sun for hours, then comes inside to sprawl on the floor, and waits until she cools off enough to do it all again. When it rains, she pokes her head out the dog door with the plastic flap on her head like a roof, and surveys her world, trying to decide if the cold and wet is worth chasing a squirrel or not. Lately, mostly not. Too much bother. Maybe she finally realized she can’t catch them.

“Cassie is your dog?” says the vet. “Why don’t you come in here.” She motions me to an exam room.

Cassie was born within a few months of my daughter, that baby whose sock she stole so long ago. Which means they’ve always been the same age as the year. They both turn nine this year. While my daughter has progressed to elementary school, Cassie has grown into an old lady dog with a white face. She sleeps more now, on my floor while I work, anywhere she can, but she still rockets downstairs barking like mad for the doorbell, and wags her whole body when we come home. My favorite is when she picks up a dog toy in her mouth and barks at the same time. Not a woof, more of a mumph. She hasn’t figured out that she can’t talk with her mouth full.

“She’s under sedation, she’ll wake up in about half an hour. We x-rayed her knee, and her leg.”

My son is eleven now. He is the most attached to her. She tiptoes into his room at night and snuffles him awake. He talks to her, and he knows how to rub her ears just right to make her groan with happiness. He knows the Van Morrison song, “Brown-eyed Girl” and sings it with me when we hear it on the radio. It’s Cassie’s song. He’s old enough to take her on walks and feed her. She knows all his fifth grade problems, but she keeps her secrets.

When I started working at home a few years back, she became my office mate. It’s hard to pound away on a deadline with a snoring dog in my office. She pokes her nose under my mouse hand and flips it onto her head. She sleeps on my feet. She takes me for walks when I need them.

“Her knee is fine, but there’s a shadow on the x-ray near her ankle. We’re sending it to a radiologist to be read, but it looks like bone cancer.”

The vet is full of advice. Procedures. Tests. More sedation and x-rays and a biopsy and another sedation just to get enough information to see the veterinary oncologist. “We want you to have all the information.” But she speaks in if/then statements. If we do this, we might get that. Might. Maybe. If. At the outside, if we’re very lucky, we might get two years. She doesn’t say what we might get if we’re not lucky.

I wait in the car and cry. I call my husband on the phone. I can’t find another kleenex.

She’s an old lady dog. She loves us, and she hates the vet. She doesn’t like being groggy for hours. My husband and I talked and talked. He told me about Sid, his parent’s neighbor, who went through months of hellish cancer treatment. Just before he died, he said he wished he’d skipped the whole thing and gone fishing.

She’s groggy and tired. I have to lift up all eighty pounds of her to get her in the car.

I thought we had another three or four years. She’s so happy, so full of life. But along with not having buckets of money to spend, I can’t make the end of her life all about trips to the vet. It takes an odd kind of strength to say no. I want so badly to panic, to say yes, to put it all on the credit card. Dammit, I want her to live! But for dogs, all times are now. Every day is a good day. The vet says maybe one to three months before the pain pills she gave us won’t work any more.

How in hell are we going to tell the kids?

We told them this weekend. My son burst into tears. My daughter said, “Can we get another dog?” She’ll get it, eventually, but for now, she doesn’t. Sometimes it's a blessing to be oblivious.

It’s the questions that make my son cry all over again.

“Will she be with us for Christmas?”

“Probably not.”

“Can we take her to the beach?”

“Yes, we’re going next week, remember?”

“But then won’t that be her last trip?”

My son is learning the hard reality that people live longer than dogs.

She’s here with us, for a few more weeks or months. We don’t know how long. I can’t put it in my day planner. Some day, sooner than we want, it will be time. All we can do is wait.

Until then, she’s having good days. Sleeping in sunbeams. Walking to the bus stop. Barking with her mouth full. All times are now.



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Oh ... I'm ... I'm ... teary. And sorry.

They touch us, don't they? Even when we never wanted them to, in the first place.

Hugs to you, and the family. (And ear scratches for your brown-eyed girl.)
Hi AnniThyme,

Thanks. She's whining at me right now telling me it's time to go out. It doesn't seem real yet.
I'm so, so sorry. They worm their way into our hearts and then tear them to pieces at the end, but it's always, always worth it.

Bless you for the strength to do what's best for her. Much, much love and support to you and your family, and lots of those ear scratches for Cassie.
This is very sad. I'm very sorry.
what a beautiful elegy for your brown-eyed-girl. losing our friends is so hard, and having ot make a decision about their lives can be devastating.
thank you for posting this.

Froggy, my family went through something very similar with one of our dogs last summer, and we have a 13-year-old (my avatar) whose end of life will surely devastate me beyond consolation. (I banked the funeral leave I eschewed when my father died so I could use it to mourn my dog Tia when her time comes. I've put my employer on notice.) Death of a beloved pet is a heartbreaking lesson for our children to learn, but learn it they must if they are to receive the priceless gift of an animal's companionship. In "Harold and Maude, just before Maude suicides, Harold says "But I LOVE you!" to which Maude replies, "Oh, that's wonderful! Go and love some more." I can't think of better advice.
AshKW, thanks. It's so hard to believe this is the dog I didn't want.

OEsheepdog, thanks.

kmbearden, yes, sometimes it sucks so much to be the adult and have to make the decisions.

Cleo Bear, thanks.

SuiJuris, thanks so much for that Harold and Maude quote. It's been so many years since I've seen that movie. I think I need to rent it again. And it's so hard to see my son so sad, but it's part of life and loving. The not fun part.
What a beautiful girl!! All you can do is love her for as long as she's in your life and know that you gave her the best life a dog can have. I feel for you, as I've been through this. I lost my 12 year old cat, Charlie, to liver cancer last year. It's not easy, but you never know... she may surprise you.
Oh dear, this one got to me. I have to go hug my dog now.
I'm so sorry.

I had to put the Siamese Wonder Cat to sleep far to young last week, and even though it was the right thing it was so hard. I miss her pointy skull digging into my back at night, forcing me to assume the correct cuddling position.
LOVE LOVE LOVE - it's all about love - true love.
Of course, Cassie's story brings back memories of the wonderful dogs I've lost over the years. It's never been easy, whether they were old and I was "prepared" or whether they were young and I was totally "unprepared". Bottomline - their loss is not something you can prepare yourself for - it is always difficult. They are so very special.
Anyway - Don't be afraid to seek out grief counseling - check with your local humane society/shelter. Often they offer group "therapy" free of charge . And often there are participants who are anticipating the loss of a beloved companion. And check out "My Personal Pet Remembrance Journal" by Enid Samuel Traisman, MSW (available at Amazon last time I checked). I found both of these to be very helpful in working thru my grief.
p.s. you may want to find a vet who can put her down at home where she is the happiest.
I know well the loss of a fine dog. Cherish the time you have, remember dogs have the gift of living in "the now." Everyone always says you'll know, when it's time, and you will.
oh. so sad. and froggy, it won't seem real until it is real. I feel for all of you because I know the depths these guys get inside us. I just started over with a puppy much like your brown-eyed girl when you first met, though slightly younger and deaf. I resisted the adoption of her at first but I couldn't see her not being allowed a life just because she couldn't hear. So, that old cycle...
rated for heartbreak & good writing.
This is so well-written. I have my own rocketing blur that I didn't want. The good news is, Cassie only knows that she's loved.
My parents got Candy when we moved into our new house when I was 2. I never remember her not being there.

She had her ways that we all loved. She got to where she could turn over a pillow on the bed, put her bone under it and turn the pillow back over and you would never know. Well not until you went to sleep at night anyway.

Back when all you had was stick butter she always got the wrapper to lick clean. She figured out how to put her toes just on the corner to hold it down. Couldn't waste any of the butter.

She died when I was 16. I lost my best friend that day. She also knew all my secrets and places to be alone.

I buried her out back. I still miss her.

Several pets later and I was found by a puppy named Neena. Named after the girl at Petsmart who gave her a bath. Now she is working her way into my heart like no other dog has done since Candy.
It is so so hard to do what your family is doing. To allow our pets to grow old, and eventually save them from pain. Because you know what is coming. And you know you and your husband are the ones who will tell the vet that it's time for the needle. I have done this once, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I have an elderly kitty now, and I know it's only a matter of time. My heart goes out to your family.
ikilledhiswife--so sorry to hear about Charlie. It just hurts, there's no way around it.

luluandphoebe--I've had several friends tell me stories like your brother's. Everyone I've heard from who did canine cancer treatment wishes they hadn't. And it's not for the money, it's for quality of life.

outrider--I know. I do it all the time.

Bella99--I'm so sorry about SiameseWonderCat. Their quirks stay with you for so long.

ZeusMom--thanks for all the suggestions. It turns out my vet does house calls. I hope she never has to go there again.

Ablonde--thanks. It's amazing how much they live for "now." I have to remind myself every day that she's still happy, and she doesn't know.

ElaInMay--thanks so much. Good luck with your new puppy.

Mrs. Michaels--thanks. It's amazing how attached we become to dogs that we swear we didn't want.
She's really cute. I think you've got a good plan. I'm sorry.
catnlion--I know what you mean about the dog you had as a kid. I haven't had a dog since my childhood family dog died, and then Cassie came along. It's amazing how all their little quirks stay with you forever. Thanks.

voicegal--yes... it's coming. This is the part of being a grownup that stinks, having to make these decisions, and decide when. Good luck with your kitty.
I love animals too much to have them. I know they will die before me and that's why I'm selfish.

I've had four dogs and they're buried in the back yard among the flowers, trees and bushes. I still miss them.

I have my two turtles but they will live for another 40, 50 years and long after I'm dead. That I could handle.

I'm so terribly, terribly sorry. The story really, really got to me...
oh noes.

I want to kiss that pink nose. I am so sorry. Poor family.
What a sweetie.

You should ask the vet more about cancer treatments if there is a possibility of a cure. They affect animals differently than they do humans. My neighbor's cat had cancer and was treated eith radiation and chemo and went on to live another 4 years. While going through treatment, the only thing she didn't like was the e-collar to prevent her from licking the site. No nausea or pain - at least she didn't act any different. She was happy and didn't have any kind of personality change. If your dog is young enough, it might be worth it. And if possible, consider amputation. Dogs do fine with 3 legs.

Best of luck
Oh what a wonderful and terrible post. I am so very sorry.
My beloved cat, Mary Alice, died a few days before Christmas, on my mom's birthday. We, too, had the weeks and months of 'how long do we have?' before she went. Cherish it - I know I did. One of these days I'll write the story, and I hope I have as much clarity as you do here, and can show my love as deeply as you show yours. Blessings on you all.
Dear froggy - yours is a decision I wouldn't wish on anyone. You are doing the right thing by putting her comfort first. I have seen entirely too many animals put thru treatments that comforted the owners, but not the pet. She will let you know when it's time. But I do agree with Marcelle - many pets do just fine with 3 legs (we've got a 3-legged cat right now), so if the cancer hasn't spread, you should give serious consideration to this option. They do much better than human amputees right off the bat. My good thoughts are with you no matter what you decide. Peace.
I lost my lovely 11.5 year old dog last summer to cancer. I opted out of chemo and such things, and though it was hard, waited it out with him until it was clear the days were not so good anymore.

There is a very useful quality of life scale that I used to keep myself on track with what was really going on with him. You can find it at

Hope this helps.
Your story brought tears to my eyes. Dogs are much more than pets. Dogs are children that are harder to train but often times listen better. I feel for you.

Sleeping in sunbeams is such a pretty image.
Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

Damn damn damn damn damn damn.

It's just not fair.
Beautifully written tribute for a best friend.
Thanks everyone for all your supportive comments. I appreciate every one. You guys are the best.

Today Cassie slept in the sun in the back yard, she got to eat half a sandwich, and she slept for a while in the dirty laundry pile. Life is good.

You have my utmost sympathy. Give Cassie all of the love you can, while you can. It's all you can do, but at least you can do that. I wish you and your family and Cassie the very best. I've hugged each of my two dogs since reading your story.
Thank you for that sad story. She's a beauty, and she's your family. I"m so sorry.
Lovely, lovely photo. Beautiful eyes. I just want to pet her and rub my face in her fur.

I enjoyed the writing, too.
All of us dog people are sharing your joy and your sorrow. Beautiful thoughts and words.

What a good dog. And her nose is just a bit darker than Pip's, our golden / flatcoat mix. We love them so much, and know they will go before.

But all times are now.
And I forgot: I think you are doing the right thing.
so sorry...i got pepper, my shih tzu, last October and she's the family's first ever dog. she's wonderful, very active. but i now there will come a time i had to let her go. she's just 6 months now but already i am dreading that day. what you're doing is right though, cherish every single moment while she's still here...
"All times are now." Dogs are so wonderful because life is always that to them. I'm so sorry you're losing your family member. She looks and sounds like a sweetie. Very touching post.
Thanks again everyone for all your kind words. I'm sorry I can't respond to everyone individually, I also have the world's worst cold. I appreciate all your comments very much.

We asked the vet about amputation, and she said that amputation on its own wouldn't do anything for this type of cancer. It would have to be together with either radiation or chemo or both. Even with all that, we'd be lucky to get two years. That was my first thought, that we could have a three-legged dog. Except that it wouldn't help much.

Thanks so much for telling me about your pets too--they all touch us. I'm sure we'll have another dog some day. What I appreciate so much is their unconditional acceptance of me however I am. Their needs are so simple, and they give so much in return.
Beautiful and poignant. Have lovely days with your brown-eyed girl.
My heart feels what your heart does: I had to putdown my dear beagle last winter. And I so agree that Cassie's last months should not be spent with trips to the vet. It's quality of life and that you love her enough to care about the time she has left on earth: that's what counts.
that is so sweet. it's so amazing how a dog by its very being can enter the human heart. no pretence. no judgement. pure love.
She is such a beautiful, beautiful girl--I could just drown in those eyes.

I have lost two wonderful dogs to cancer, in both cases it was quite advanced by the time it was found and we had only 2-3 days with them. It's such a horrible thing to go through, but only because we love them and they love us so much.

We have a 13 y.o. Aussie whose time with us is getting pretty short. He's mostly blind, mostly deaf, somewhat senile, and not as spry as he used to be. But he's still HAPPY. And as long as he's happy, he will be here with us. When he's not happy anymore, then we'll have to make the hard decision. I dread it every day. He does have a heart murmur, and my secret hope is that his heart will fail while he's out running the fenceline with our border collie and the neighbor dogs, because then I will know without a doubt that he died doing what he loves most in the world.
This is lovely. I have been through this more than once and it's never easy. You brought this dog a better life by adopting her and brought her TO life in your writing of her. Very well done.
Thanks Cartouche. Cassie's gone now, and we still miss her. It was especially hard at Christmas, finding all the various Labrador and Golden Retriever tree ornaments that people have given us over the years.
"She knows all his fifth grade problems, but she keeps her secrets. "

Dogs are good like that.