It was Father’s Day weekend. I had recently graduated from high school and I was enjoying that freedom and bliss that comes from being a young, indestructible adult. I was working part-time, making my own money. My responsibilities were limited to going to class, paying car insurance and taking care of my cat and dog.
My dog, Kisses, was only 5 years old. She was a beautiful Australian Shepherd, white with black markings and the most beautiful eyes. She was a smart girl and my best friend. She went cruising with me when I got my driver’s license, she slept with me at night and she was constantly by my side.
When I woke up Saturday morning, I prepared Kisses’ breakfast as usual, mixing canned dog food with dry kibble. She had a healthy appetite, but that morning she wasn’t interested. About an hour later, she was throwing up.
Concerned, we went to the veterinarian. He said she had some kind of intestinal upset and gave us some medicine and sent us home. I went home and spent some of the afternoon with Kisses before leaving with my mom to buy a Father’s Day gift. When I came home, she still didn’t seem herself, so I cuddled up with her on the couch and we had a movie night together.
The next morning Kisses acted uncomfortable. The house was quiet; my father had already opened his Father’s Day gifts and had headed to the lake. I sat on the couch with Kisses, telling my mom that I was worried that Kisses wasn’t acting like herself. We called the on-call emergency number and waited for the vet to call back. My instincts were telling me something was wrong.
As we waited, I held Kisses in my arms and told her how beautiful she was, how much I loved her and I wanted her to feel better. She looked up at me with a look of fear and discomfort in her eyes. She trembled for a minute and then her eyes rolled, her head falling into my chest. My baby girl had just died in my arms.
The phone rang. It was the veterinarian. He was too late.
Apparently, my sweet Kisses had an underlying heart condition that the vet had missed, and she had a sudden heart attack in my arms. I was overcome by feelings of loss & sadness, but also a sense of awe as I felt that sweet soul leave me.
Nothing had ever hurt like that did. My world was shattered. My heart broke and I had that brutal realization hit me – we all die. No one would escape it. I lost my best friend, and along with her, that feeling of indestructibility. It was a coming of age moment, experiencing the panicked sting of unexpected, unexplained, and unavoidable loss.
My dad helped me dig a grave on Father’s Day. He looked at me with genuine pity as he saw how grief was crushing me. The fear I felt while burying her was overwhelming. My mind was caught in a vicious loop replaying her sudden death. Was she really gone? How could she be gone? I didn’t want to put her in the ground. The hard, dry summer dirt was no place for my sweet dog. To make it even worse, we were expecting rain that night and she was afraid of thunderstorms. I struggled leaving her there. How could I do this? How could I say goodbye?
I cried for weeks. I cried before bed, I cried in the morning when I woke. I was a zombie for days. Not understanding that special connection and bond I had with my Kisses, most people didn’t realize what I was going through, so it became even easier for me to distance myself from friends and co-workers.
I had lost a grandparent when I was five and a cherished great aunt when I was 13. But this was different. Kisses wasn’t old. She wasn’t sick. She was just stolen from me.
So, it was then that I made a vow, a vow I had every intention of keeping. I would NEVER have another pet. I would keep a distance between myself and others because I couldn’t stand the pain of losing someone in which I shared a real connection. It hurt too much. My family was worried about me. Looking back, I can understand why. I became consumed… obsessed with death. I wanted answers and I searched for purpose. Life seemed to have no meaning. The whole life and death cycle seemed cruel and my outlook was bleak.
My analytical tirade was pushing me in to a hopeless spiral of depression. If you are fortunate enough to live a long life, your reward is getting to watch everyone you love die? Seriously? I was angry. I was sad. I was lost! I was reading the bible, reading philosophers, examining religious views. I was looking for explanations… looking for comfort. And more than that, I was trying to fill a void. I had loved Kisses so much and now she was gone. I had a hole burning in my chest and nothing took the pain away. I was not dealing with this well.
I have always loved Cocker Spaniels. Ever since I saw Lady and the Tramp on the big screen, I thought cocker spaniels were beautiful animals. I had never had one and, before my pledge to never have a dog again, I had made it known that I wanted to have a Cocker Spaniel one day.
My family and I didn’t know anything about organized animal rescue. We had “rescued” dogs when I was growing up, meaning we had taken in strays, but we also didn’t oppose buying a puppy. We didn’t even know the terms “puppy mill” or “backyard breeder”.
Daddy thought he found the cure for my pain- an advertisment in the paper for Cocker Spaniel puppies. They were only 6 weeks old.
I didn’t want another dog. How dare my father try to convince me to look at another dog. I couldn’t replace Kisses. I was so insulted. Did he not love her, too? She couldn’t be replaced like a lost sock!!!
But all of that immediately melted away when I saw Miss Scarlett. There she was sitting among three puppies. She was red and white, and she looked just like Lady with the white streak down her face and muzzle. She had beautiful wavy ears and she was so very tiny. Her eyes locked with mine and she spoke to my soul.
I couldn’t bring Kisses back, but Scarlett could help me find my way back. I needed her. I needed someone to love like I loved Kisses.
My father paid the $150 for the puppy. Immediately we went home and I set up a play pen for her. She only weighed three pounds and her food bowl was bigger than she was. At bedtime, I put her in her play pen and I laid down. The tears came that night just like they had every night since I lost my Kisses. But this time, my hurt and loss turned to feelings of guilt and betrayal. How could I get another dog?
Just then as I drew in a deep, whimpering breath, Scarlett leapt over the side of her playpen and onto my bed. She ran right up to me and jumped on my chest, covering my face in kisses, licking away my tears. My crying turned to laughter. How could it not? This little puppy was so cute, playful and so alive. It was in that moment that I realized I couldn’t change what had happened, but I COULD love this dog. And I did!
The playpen was moved out of the room the next day. Scarlett would sleep with me. She would be my sidekick, my constant companion and my baby. Scarlett was the LOVE OF MY LIFE. Kisses was my best friend, but Scarlett was more like having a child to hold, love and protect. She saved my life and brought me back from a very, sad and lonely place. I was so young and so emotionally exposed after I lost Kisses, but Scarlett made me smile again. She gave me that devoted, unconditional love that only a dog can give. She is the best gift I’ve ever received.
Scarlett came into my life in July of 1998. She left me in July of 2010. She was twelve years old. She had spent a lifetime with me. She was fine on Friday, but by Monday, July 12, 2010, she was in complete kidney failure. My husband and I held Scarlett in our arms. We whispered what a good girl she was. We told her how much she meant to us. Right before she closed her eyes for that last time, I was able to whisper to her, “You changed my life. You made me want to be something better. You made me want to be the person you always thought I was. I love you, Scarlett.” And with that, she left us.
I really think my parents and my husband were afraid I wouldn’t survive this loss. They knew what losing Kisses had done to me and they knew that I worshipped Miss Scarlett. But I did survive. I handled it with as much grace as I could, because I knew that Miss Scarlett didn’t like it when I cried. When I cried she did her best to make it stop!
I see Miss Scarlett everywhere now. I know her spirit is with me everyday. I see her in the eyes of some of the dogs we’ve brought into our home. Every time I visit the shelter I think of her and I am grateful and proud that I was a good pet parent to her. She never knew pain, sadness or neglect. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but Scarlett was one of my successes.
As painful as it was, I am so honored to have been able to hold both of my girls in my arms as they left this world. I hated to say goodbye, but I know I will see them again. Our souls will find one another. Our bonds are that strong.
I will never love another dog like I loved that special Cocker Spaniel girl. Miss Scarlett is the love of my life.
I miss you, Scarlett.