Dixie, a dog’s life
It was over 15 years ago and our family was not looking for a dog.
We had just put down our first family dog, Buttons, on my daughter’s fifth birthday. We managed to change plans for her birthday and she went to sleep over at a friend’s house that night, but she knew enough to say goodbye to her. She was the neighborhood dog and everyone knew her name and petted her and we were grieving the loss of a family member.
So it was a few weeks after that when we were out and about in the Southern suburbs. We stopped at a Petco when we saw a sign that there were rescue dogs up for adoption. My wife did not want another dog so soon after putting down our first dog, but I and our kids out-voted her and we went to look at what they had. We are Lab people. We like the breed and we like big dogs. The purebred lab puppies they had were all spoken for, and in fact every dog there was spoken for except for one. Erica.
Erica was a skinny little mix breed, part black Lab, part mutt. She looked like a black lab but had four white paws and the tip of her tail was white. She weighed about 35 pounds and we were told she would get to be about 40. Her age was unknown but they guessed she was between one and two years. The “person” who owned her beat her. She was abused so bad that when they spayed her they discovered that all of her internal organs were bruised. She was skittish of people. She really did not like men. When we walked with her she pulled hard and wanted to run. As I said, we were not really looking for a dog.
So we took her home. We renamed her Dixie because no dog should have to go through life with a name that could be associated with beatings. For the first two weeks we owned her every time I walked into the same room she was in, she ran away and into another room. She bonded with my wife and she liked the kids but there was no doubt she was my wife’s dog.
We were told Dixie was potty trained but when we got her she peed and pooped all over our house. As my wife was picking it up she saw there were worms in her poop and we later learned that worms make you feel like you have to go to the bathroom all the time. Once we got her the right pills that cleared up and she never had an accident in the house again. She was a smart dog.
She also grew. She grew big and strong getting fed regular meals and getting the worms out of her system. She made it up to 74 pounds and for the past couple of years she maintained a sleek 59 pounds. She looked the size and shape of a Lab. She also liked to run and she was fast. When she escaped from us the neighbors would call with sightings because she would not go up to any other human except those in our family. One night she ran away and we could not find her. The next morning our neighbor three doors down called to say she was laying by their patio door on that freezing winter morning.
Our neighbor across the street loves animals and she would always try to get Dixie to come to her by bribing her with a hot dog. She never took the bait. Two years ago when they adopted their first dog Moose, then a light switch went off in Dixie’s mind and she decided that our neighbor was alright. From that point on she went up to her all the time for treats and love and belly rubs. Our neighbor called her Princess.
A year later our neighbors adopted another puppy and named him Caribou. Caribou loved Dixie. He loved her. He always licked and kissed her and greeted her with excited yelps and barks and was basically a pain in the butt to her. But Dixie seemed to enjoy the attention and would sit there and take it and they soon had a May-December romance brewing. Dixie loved Bart, though. Bart was her first dog friend and a big beast of a lab weighing in at 95 pounds. Dixie could spot Bart from blocks away and when she got older, if she saw Bart walking home with her master, she would follow them down the street until we called her back.
Two years ago another dog was given to us to rescue and she accepted Shadow into our home. She was the queen, though, and she knew it. She was the first to get treats, she always got an extra treat from Julie our neighbor, and her face and muzzle had turned all gray. She was at a point in her life when she would go up to strangers at the dog park and ask to be petted or she would go to them if they called her. She had finally after a decade or more, come out of her shell and was not afraid.
Three days ago we were all at the dog park again and she did her usual routine. She went exploring in the woods, sniffed every bush in the park, greeted all the dogs that came into the park, especially the Labs, and she was happy to be outside and in her element. She was in great shape for an old gal and we went to the park almost every day. When it was time to go she did her usual routine and pretended like she could not hear very well and she would walk in the opposite direction. Hey Dixie, if we say it is time to go home and you turn and walk the other way, we know you can hear us.
Yesterday I sensed that it may be her last day. Her legs all of a sudden started to go out on her. I walked with her down the stairs and for the first time she fell a stair before I caught her. I carried her down the stairs and to her food and she did not want to eat and could not get up or stand. My wife was at work. She seemed comfortable and I was hoping she would take a nap and not wake up. Alas.
I went over to the neighbors and watched the Green Bay game. I came home and she was on the floor, this time a few feet from the soft carpet I had put her on that day. She moved to our wood floor because she had an accident in the house and I could tell she felt bad about it. After picking up the poop I told her it was OK and I laid next to her and cried like a baby. I told her I loved her, she was a great dog, etc. I then got up and called the vet whose voicemail referred me to a 24 hour emergency vet. I called my neighbors and then my wife came home with dinner. She too laid next to her baby and cried and petted her and told her she was a great girl.
I called my kids to tell them the news. If she had only made it to the end of this week they could have seen her one more time. I wish that it would have been so, but it was not. I called them and they said goodbye to her over the phone as I held the phone to her ear. They said later that I freaked them out because they had never heard me cry. I cried like a baby that night.
The neighbors got home from wherever they were at and they came over to say goodbye too. Caribou, for the first time ever, did not walk up to her and smother her with love. I think he sensed she was sick. There was crying and petting and of course Julie brought over treats, this time every single one was for Dixie. She decided she could and would eat treats. We took pictures and cried and said goodbyes, and then they left to make the long drive to the vet and to put her down.
I picked my baby up and brought her to the car. I told my wife to drive through McDonald’s and bought her one of her favorite treats, a plain hamburger. She knew where we were at because her tail was beating a happy tune. She ate that hamburger like a pro. We then went to the vet and for the first time ever, she did not shake like Barney Fife when she was brought into the vet. She knew we would not hurt her and she knew it was going to be OK.
She was wheeled in on a gurney with held her head high panting and smiling and looking like the queen she was. She was taken to the back room and they put a line in her vein and then she was wheeled to a room where my wife and I sat. She still looked regal. We smothered her with love and affection and told her what a difference she made in our lives. The vet came in, explained it to us even though we had been here before, and she then administered the cocktail. Dixie just laid her head down like she was going to take a nap. There was no deep sigh, no bowel evacuations or any other thing we were told might happen. She just went to sleep and died peacefully and not in pain.
I am going to miss her in ways I can’t put into words. As I type this I am crying. There is a hole in our house, a hole in our hearts and only time will make it better. When we get her ashes we are going to spread them in the wetlands in our backyard where Buttons went to rest. The neighbors will be there along with their dogs and I am going to buy them a big pint of soft-serve yogurt for them to celebrate a life well lived.
She had the worst start any animal could have in life but then she had a hell of a run. She was with us for 15 years, a long time for an old Lab, and it still feels like she was taken too soon. I hope we did right by her and I will miss her for the rest of my life.
RIP Dixie. ?-2000 or 2001 to 12-13-2015. I love you very much.
P.S. Two months have passed since we put Dixie down. We did indeed get her ashes back and we did indeed invite the neighbor and their dogs over for a celebration of her life. We all had vanilla frozen yogurt and before we spread her ashes we all said some words for our girl.
The first few weeks after she was gone were tough. I would look at the couch, her spot, and she was not there. I bought my wife a big painting/picture of her and the other dogs I had made at Costco. When we passed that picture we would feel sad. The other dog was confused when she got to eat out of the Queen’s bowls, but she figured that out after a couple of days.
As time passes the memories are all happy. She was a great dog, she had a great life, and I hope like hell there is a dog heaven so she would be there running and playing and enjoying her spiritual journey. This was written for Dixie. It would be hard to find a better dog.