It all started with Brandy.
When I was a small child I used to fantasize about having a dog. Laying in bed at night I would pretend to call “my dog” into my room and then invite him on my bed with a pat on the blankets. In my mind he would jump up and I would fall asleep petting him.
The first dog in my life was a small German Shepard mix that my sister brought home when she was 14 – my sister was 14, not the dog :). I was about 10. A neighbor’s dog had a liter and my sister picked out one of the eight-week old pups, a bitch – the dog not my sister – and brought her home without first asking my parents if it was ok. I was excited to say to say the least about finally having a dog in our family. But my bubble was quickly burst when I heard my mom talking to my sister. Mom’s reaction was something like, “Oh no! You’re not bringing that dirty dog into my clean house. You don’t know how to take care of a dog and I’m certainly not going bother with all the fuss of taking care of her; not to mention all the cleaning. You need to take her back where you got her”. I was crushed. So much for a dog ever jumping up on my bed and me petting it while I fell asleep…
The dog was still around when my dad got home from work. I came out of my bedroom to see my dad sitting in his chair with the little pup on his chest licking his chin. And that was that. “Brandy” was now part of the family.
This was the sixties and our family structure and culture was very sixties Americana. Dad was boss and what he said was how it was. But mom was the real boss and while she rarely challenged my dad, at least not in front of my sister and I, she was very effective at navigating their marriage and getting what she wanted. Even though my parents were both born in Mexico they were very assimilated to the American culture. Later in my teens my friends would jokingly refer to my parents as Ward and June Cleaver; the parents in the iconic sixties sitcom Leave It To Beaver.
Even in later years after I was married and Holly and I would go to my parents home my mom would mention something like she needed new drapes. My dad would say the drapes are fine and that was that. Or was it? Because the next time I went over, lo and behold there were new drapes hanging. “Look Holly, aren’t my new drapes beautiful?” My dad would look at me and say something like, “I decided the old drapes were worn out” with a telling grin. He loved my mom and did whatever he could to always make her happy. My mom was a master at this dance. It was the secret to a successful 50 year marriage until the day my dad passed away at 70 years old from cancer.
So, back to Brandy. The dog my mom could not relate to in any way and wanted nothing to do with. She was absolutely right the day my sister brought her home. My sister didn’t know how to take care of a dog and quickly became much more interested in boys than dogs.
Fast forward a few years and Brandy is now my mom’s dog. My mom loved Brandy! Brandy sat at her feet while she had her morning coffee. Brandy told her when she was hungry and when she wanted to go outside to pee. Brandy sat by her side in the evening when she watched TV (my mom, not Brandy). And Brandy slept at the foot of my mom and dad’s bed in a cushy bed made of soft foam and blankets that slid neatly under the bed during the day. Yes, mom loved that dog as much as my sister and I.
Parents with more than one child often mix up their names when calling out to them or referring to them, stuttering half names in their haste to get the right name out. “Victori.., er Brand.., Michael, yes Michael. You’re Michael. Please go to the pantry and get me a case of soda to put in the fridge”. Seriously. Brandy was definitely part of this pack!
One day shortly after I had moved out of my parent’s house my mom called me to tell me that she was going to take Brandy to the vet to put her down. Crying, she asked me if I wanted to go with her to the Vet and I told her no. Why didn’t I? Why wouldn’t I? Maybe I thought she was offering just in case I wanted to go. Or maybe she was asking me to go to be with her and Brandy for support. To this day I regret that hastily made decision. Blame it on youth? I don’t know but I wish I had gone to be there with my mom. And Brandy should have had more of the pack with her during her final hours alive.
Years later I called my own son who was away at school to tell him I was taking his dog Bailey to the vet to put him down. I arrived home one day to find him lodged in the corner of the living room howling into the wall. Bailey was seemingly fine with few symptoms of being sick before this day. Now In obvious discomfort and pain there was clearly something wrong. The Vet found him to be very dehydrated and he had a large mass. At 12 years old he may not have made it through a surgery and there was no guarantee of any good outcome. I made the decision to put him down. It was the right thing to do and as Bailey was going “to sleep” he looked into my eyes and I looked back into his. I saw gratitude and peace. I loved Bailey as much as my own children and I was grateful that he could tell me with his eyes that it was ok to end his life and his pain.
Bailey was my son’s dog and he took good care of Bailey when he was a pre-teen and teenager. After he went away to college he always made time for Bailey when he came home and and remained a close and nurturing mini-dad to Bailey. He loved him very much. So when I called my son and told him I was taking Bailey to put him down I was crying. My son now crying too said, “Now? You’re taking him now?” I told him yes and we hung up in silence. It was the hardest phone call I’ve ever made in my life.
There is an odd symmetry of me being a few miles away from my mom’s house and deciding not to go to the vet with her and Brandy. My son, 400 miles away in Southern California would have jumped in his car or a plane, or walked over hot coals to be with Bailey and I when Bailey was put down. But Bailey couldn’t wait and my son understood and accepted that.
Kali is almost six years-old and by all accounts in great health thanks to her sponsors in Taiwan who took her in as a stray and lovingly nursed her to good health while preparing her to join our family in America. Of course eventually her time will come to cross the Rainbow Bridge. When that time comes I hope as much of the pack as possible will be with her to say goodbye, thank you, and I love you. With continued blessings that will be many years from now. But when the time does come I’ll think back fondly about my “pretend” dog jumping onto my bed, and the real dog named Brandy who sealed the deal with my dad the same day my mom had said “no way”. And of course I’ll think about our Bailey who grew up by my son’s side and in later years by my side as my best friend.
So Miss Golden Kali, if you’re reading this, that is our fur-family heritage and lineage. Your circle of life and love that all started with (a little pup named) Brandy.
This post did not leave me dry-eyed. Our dog Snickers is 13 1/2 soon and our younger one, Polly, is 6. The years have gone by so fast. Both my cats in childhood died at home when I wasn’t near them due to living elsewhere, and I didn’t get to say goodbye in the way I knew it was the last time. It was almost better that way. (I might have known more so with the older one, though, but that was also the last time I saw my dad alive.) I was present at the putting-down of our family dog from my college days, and he did not leave this world peacefully, so I’m hoping that Snickers’ end comes quietly at home. I would not want to be the one to have to end her life in a cold, stark room and have her struggling to stay conscious. I say this from a personal feeling of not wanting to have that control and feeling guilty about it. I know if the time comes that I’ll know what the right thing is to do, but I just hope that I won’t have to make that decision. Anyway, good post! I love hearing stories of people’s childhood pets.
Thanks for your comment. Shortly after I put Bailey down I got a card from the vet with a personal note. In it she pointed out that, as hard as it may be, ending our pet’s suffering is often the last great gift we can give them. Her words of reassurance at the time were very comforting and they’ve stayed with me over the years. But on to happier thoughts now like, sleeping in the sun, belly scratches, and peanut butter filled Kongs! 🙂
I have been blessed with not seeing any of my 3 dogs be put down. The first ran away, so there is a lingering mystery of her fate. The second was taken to the vet by my parents while I was still in high school, and I knew in advance, so she and I said goodbye before I went to school — a very difficult day to stay focused. My third slipped away, in little noticeable discomfort, as we drove her to the hospital. I’m not sure I could have made the decision, and I think she did her best to spare us that. I believe a loyal dog lives on without complaint very much for OUR sake, and that could be why they look upon us gratefully when the time comes.
Thanks for your comment Rainman.
Most dogs won’t complain even if they are in discomfort instead focusing on the people they love (I think it’s more love than loyalty but we’re probably saying the same thing…) This is why we didn’t know Bailey was sick with a mass in his chest until the very end. It’s remarkable how much discomfort they will endure to be nearby those they love.
It is a heartbreaking experience as we know only roo well. Thank you for reminding us that the good memories remain.
Thanks so much for sharing such a personal history. I cannot imagine a life without Ray, but no doubt it will happen one day. In the meantime however, he will be much loved and probably spoiled……. and will have no doubts about whether he is part of our pack. Thanks again for sharing. That was quite the emotional piece of reading.