Many times over the last nearly fifteen years, Tywana or I have uttered that phrase. “Zoe is the best dog ever.” Zoe was a 60-pound retriever mix. God only knows her true genetic background. She looks most like a flat-coated retriever. We got Zoe in February 2005, only a few weeks after our fur-baby Chloe made her transition. The hardest decision I ever had to make was to let Chloe go. We had decided to wait until at least spring to get another dog so I wouldn’t have to train a dog during the winter. But, a few weeks after Chloe transitioned, Tywana and the girls were on the internet combing shelters looking for our next baby.
The shelter where Zoe was born named her “Curly Girl” because of the curly hair on her ears. The girls wanted to name her Princess. But, since I was vetoed from using the name Zoe for Kayla, and Shayna, and since Tywana had named Chloe, I insisted on naming her Zoe, which means “life”.
Zoe, from the start, was the easiest dog to train. She has always been eager to please and mellow. The only problem with Zoe is she’s too friendly. She loves people, preferring them to dogs. At the dog park, she’d rather play with the people than the dogs.
Zoe was never much for chasing frisbees or balls. She never liked toys. Stevie brought toys back into the house after Chloe passed. Zoe ignored Stevie’s toys. Zoe just wants to lay at our feet.
Six years ago, when Zoe was nine years old, we got Stevie. Zoe was nine and a big dog. I didn’t anticipate she would be with us for very much longer. The girls wanted a little dog that they could cuddle. Zoe took Stevie under her wing like one of her own children. They have been inseparable ever since. They’ve never spent a night apart and on the very rare occasion when Zoe leaves the house and Stevie is here without her, Stevie watches the door and cries waiting for her return.
Zoe, finally began showing signs of aging a couple of years ago. I remember taking her to the vet when she was ten. The vet went on and on for about five minutes for how great she looked for a ten-year-old. Eyes clear, good teeth, not much gray. I’ve been preparing myself for her transition. But, she was showing almost no signs of aging. The last couple of years the gray has been coming in faster and faster. She’s been losing muscle mass. The cataracts were noticeable. And her hearing was not what it was. Zoe still had the heart of a puppy though. She still wanted to run.
I think the signs of aging are a grace given to us to let us know it’s almost time to move on from these mortal bodies. The walks with Zoe stopped a couple of years ago. She would get exhausted and overheated. Stevie is a terrible walker without Zoe. She learned from Zoe and when Zoe’s not there, she’s not interested in walking. Looking into Zoe’s eyes, every time I can see the years have taken their toll. The hearing loss, the lack of ability to get up and down the steps on the deck, these things let me know the day I dread was coming.
When my grandparents crossed over, I mourned but they were old and it was expected. Even with the signs of aging, I could never accept that Zoe was old. She will forever be my baby. She still wanted to run. She couldn’t get up and down the stairs to the deck anymore. She would go down the deck stairs sometimes. But, she would walk around to the front of the house to be let in. She took the steps back into the house with a little leap though, right up until the end.
Two weeks ago Zoe started showing signs of weakness and dizziness. There were times when she cannot even stand. She would collapse to the ground unable to get up. Zoe slept in our bathroom. We had a morning routine. I would go in to get dressed and she would look up at me, usually not even moving a muscle. I would check to make sure she was still breathing because she would be laying so still, it was hard to tell. As I would put on my clothes, wash my face, etc. she would just lay there. When I turned on my toothbrush is when she would come alive. She would walk over and I’d rub her behind the ear for exactly the two minutes it took my toothbrush to go through its cycle. This was the only time Stevie would allow me to pet Zoe without complaining. She knew this was our time. When the toothbrush would turn off, Zoe would obediently walk over to her bed and lay down, all without a word from me.
The last few mornings she was not able to stand through the whole two minutes. She would either go back to her bed or just lay down on the floor next to me at my sink. Our last morning together, yesterday, I went to her with my toothbrush, sat on the floor, put her head in my lap and told her it was the day she was going to be with Shayna.
Thursday night, two days before we put Zoe to sleep, Zoe was so weak I thought maybe I was watching her last moments. She’s been spending all day in her room because we can’t trust her to make it up and down the steps. Zoe would normally spend the day in the basement with Tywana and Stevie while Tywana worked. I cried for a week knowing I was going to have to make the decision with her that I made with Chloe almost fifteen years ago.
Finally, on Friday we made the call to the vet. It was time. I was having to carry Zoe in and every time she had to go outside. Zoe, always, attacked her food with gusto every single morning and evening meal. She was barely eating, finally losing interest in treats, even. When I would take her out, she would do her business then, just look back towards the house, not making a move to try to get back up the stairs, I assume because several times she had collapsed and rolled over onto her side in a seizure just making that small effort.
The vet had an appointment for Saturday morning. Tywana wanted to try to wait until Monday to see if Zoe would go on her own. But, we decided, with Kayla to do it Saturday morning before we moved Kayla into her new house.
I barely slept a wink on Friday night. I wanted to believe I was making the best call for Zoe, not for me. I would live with any inconvenience I needed to make her happy. I would give anything to cure her. I couldn’t believe she had deteriorated so much so fast. We took her to vet just on Tuesday and even though we agreed the day was coming very soon, we knew Tuesday wasn’t the day. I didn’t expect at that time the day would be Saturday.
I did my meditation Saturday morning then went downstairs and sat in silence, still not believing the day had come. When the time came to get Zoe, I went upstairs to pick her up and bring her down. As I went to reach for her, I had a pang of guilt and burst out in tears. I couldn’t do this to my baby. I couldn’t take her and watch her die in front of my eyes. But, I knew what had to be done. Zoe never liked being carried much and never by anyone other than me. She didn’t trust anyone else. I knew I couldn’t be there to carry her in and out every time. And, she couldn’t go on much longer without eating. I didn’t want her to starve to death.
I put Zoe in the car and we made the twenty-minute drive to the vet’s office. They were incredibly kind and understanding. They offered us options for the disposal of her body. Kayla had already made it clear she finds cremains in the house to be “creepy”. I was surprised when she said she wanted Zoe’s ashes back to spread under Shayna’s tree. So, I suppose we will have a ceremony for Zoe then. Tywana found meditation music on her phone and we played it while the procedure began. Zoe was always excited about going to the vet because…treats. But, Tuesday, she didn’t even nuzzle the doctor’s lab coat looking for treats in the pocket. So, I was surprised that when I opened the bag of treats they said I could give her, she popped up and eagerly gobbled several down. I thought for a split second that maybe I had made a mistake. But, then her legs collapsed and she went to the ground. She couldn’t stand for more than few seconds.
They administered the first drug which is an anesthetic. So you know in case you ever have to do this, they don’t feel anything once this kicks in. They kind of go to sleep. But, their eyes remain open. They remain open the whole time. After the anesthesia does its thing, the doctor returns to the room. It takes about ten minutes. Then, they give the drug that stops the heart. I could not even tell exactly when Zoe crossed over unless it was when I experienced a pang of emotional pain so intense that I cried out “O God!”.
I take solace in the fact that Zoe will get to meet Chloe, her older sister that she never met. That morning, as I came down the steps and greeted Shayna, I told her that she better be there to welcome Zoe. I knew she would. But, I wanted to be sure.
I know Shayna was there when Zoe crossed. I had prayed for a shared crossing experience. I wanted to see Zoe running into Shayna’s arms. I didn’t get that. But, there was a shared crossing experience. Someone in the room saw Shayna there, waiting, as Zoe was going through the process of shedding her body. I am so grateful for that. I baby my dogs just like my biological children. Someone has to be there to baby Zoe.
I am happy that she’ll be healthy and able to run again. I cry not for her but for me. In spite of all my grief work, in spite of Zoe trying to prepare me by showing me her age over the last couple of years, it still hurts like hell. I tell myself to focus on the positive, to reframe her passing. Instead of focusing on the pain I’m experiencing now, I’m trying to focus on the nearly fifteen years she brought joy into my life on a daily basis. Not many people get that long with their dogs. Other than Tywana and Kayla, no one else got that with Zoe. I am overflowing with gratitude for our time together.
The tears are flowing and will continue to flow, I’m sure. A friend said that Zoe was lucky to have us as her human family. I am blessed indeed. Zoe is the best dog ever. She will forever remain in my heart. She will remain a part of our family. It’s good to know that on the day I see Shayna again, I’ll also see my other baby.
p.s.- I happened to see that Susanne Wilson was doing a Zoom meeting today, the day after we transitioned Zoe. I had the opportunity to ask Susanne a question. This week I re-listened to the reading she did with me three years ago as the run-up to Zoe’s crossing. It brought me comfort as her predictions were spot on. I know that she’s an amazing medium.
I asked if she had ever communicated with a pet who crossed over and was met by their human. She said absolutely yes.
She asked if I had seen Zoe’s soul leave her body. I didn’t see Zoe leave. But, I felt like I felt her passing through me; which is the way Susanne described it. I felt it as intense emotional pain for me though.
She also said she saw Shayna with a dog and Shayna was rubbing her braids across the dog as it lay in her lap. Lastly, she said that Shayna was there with us when we were there with Zoe. She was standing in the corner of the room! This is exactly as reported by someone who was in the room. Shayna was there in the corner. Shayna set this up, knowing I would be on the meeting with Susanne today to get validation.