Six months ago tomorrow, we had to let Penny go. With her loss, our family became dog free and now, indeed, pet free for the first time in my memory. (Muffy, the scorpion I kept in my office, passed away over the summer.) It's been a rather sad six months.
Reportedly, my family had a dog — a
beagle basset hound — when I was very young, but I don't remember it. We got another dog when I was in elementary school: a boxer. Her name was Miss Boxer and, as children, we liked to imagine her wearing a tutu and carrying a purse. I grew up thinking that a boxer was what a dog ought to look (and act) like — and other kinds of dogs just didn't compare.
There was a brief time in my life, when I first started living with Alisa, when we had cats. Brrr. Cats. To say "I have cats" would now feel like a disease.
When we bought a house, one of our first plans was to fence in the back yard and install a door to get into the yard. With this accomplished, we got a dog. And not just any dog.
We went through a reputable breeder and bought a purebred fawn male boxer named Plato. (His full name was Platonic Harmony of the Spheres). I created a website about Plato to document our early adventures with him. He was a wonderful dog, although Alisa never really warmed to him. He was my dog: he didn't really care about anyone else. He tolerated most people, but had really very simple interests. He wanted a walk. He wanted some food. And he desperately wanted the companionship of other dogs (to romp -- and to fight).
Alisa had been thinking about getting another puppy for a while before we got Penny. We did not get her from a reputable breeder. (Although she was AKC registered -- we ultimately named her "Pretty Penelope Go Penny Go"). We were at a rest-stop in Pennsylvania and saw someone with a whole flood of boxer puppies. She was a broker carrying puppies, probably from a puppy mill and probably intended for pet stores. She was reluctant to sell us a puppy but we persuaded her and took Penny home with us to meet Plato.
Plato adored her. At first. Eventually, he would retreat to his crate to avoid her ankle-biting. Penny was a terrible menace: she chewed up anything and everything, including the parking brake handle in our car. She ruined several pieces of furniture and some of our chairs still bear her tooth marks.
She was fearless when she was with Plato and they romped and played and were inseparable. Then Plato was diagnosed with canine lymphoma and died within months. She never really recovered from the shock. She grew increasingly timid and eventually was largely governed by her fears: of things that flap, of going over rumble strips in the car…
Penny was Lucy's dog. Whenever anything happened — any noise or conflict — and Penny would be cowering behind Lucy's knees. But Lucy cared for her, treasured her, and doted on her in spite of her idiosyncrasies.
Penny's muzzle had turned grey even when she was quite young. And when one of her hind legs had gone lame years before, we'd investigated cruciate ligament surgery, but they'd said she had a heart murmur and directed us take her to a doggy cardiologist for an echocardiogram before they could evaluate her for surgery. At his point, we'd said to her, "Well, we hope you just get better on your own." Which she did. At the time. But we didn't have high hopes for a long life. But she surprised us.
She lived a long life for a boxer. She got slower and slower. Eventually, Lucy would take her out for a walk and, although you could see that she wanted to go, she'd get to the edge of the yard, look longingly out at the world, and then sadly turn around to go back inside.
In the end, she couldn't get comfortable. Especially as the summer approached, she was hot and couldn't settle. She would try to lie down and then scramble back to a sitting position. Her joints were obviously painful. She could barely get down the one or two steps into the front yard.
She also was obviously confused. She would get stuck in a corner and have a hard time working herself back out. She didn't seem to know where she was or what was going on. She didn't always seem to recognize people anymore.
We came together as a family and decided it was time. Alisa found a webpage that said, "A day will come when it is clear to you that your pet needs to be put down. And that day will be one day too late." This was helpful to us as we watched Penny's quality of life decline and dreaded what was coming.
During her last couple of days, someone was with her almost constantly. We coddled and cossetted her and tried to make her last hours as comfortable as possible. We all had time to say goodbye and then Alisa and I took her to the vet and we let her go.
In the six months that have followed, we've missed the doggy companionship. The house seemed very empty and quiet, especially at first. I miss her velvety muppies and soft ears. And her short, waggly tail.
We're not likely to get another dog. I find that people (including myself) tend toward overly romanticized conceptions about what a dog is. You see this most clearly in Disney movies where all the characters have animal familiars: non-human-actors that are subservient allies who try to advance the agenda of their human partners. That's not what dogs are. They're not like children or people or friends — they're animals that have been selected to push our socialization buttons.
But I still miss Penny. She was a good dog.