There goes my girl: Gypsy, 1997(?) – 2010

It’s still sinking in that after more than eleven years, two states, three cities, and four homes, I don’t have a dog any more.

I never knew how Gypsy’s story began. I was never even sure of her exact age. All I ever knew was that by the time I met her, in September of 1998, she had been pregnant at least once, so I assumed she was at least 18 months old. She was left tied to someone’s carport not long before she gave birth. The woman who found her took her in and eventually found homes for all of the puppies, but as often happens, no one would take the mom. Since her rescuer couldn’t keep her herself, she decided to bring the dog to an “adoption event” at a local pet-supply store (after having her spayed, of course). First Husband, our son Chris, and I had been talking about getting a second dog as a companion for our flat-coated retriever, Shadow, and went to the store that Sunday afternoon with that thought. When Gypsy and I first saw each other, it was an immediate connection. She was very pretty and friendly, and I’ve always been sure that when she looked at me, she thought “There’s a sucker! There’s a sap!”

Shadow and Gypsy were never best friends, but they generally got along. She didn’t like toys, but when Shadow would run after a tennis ball, she’d run after him. She was a shepherd-mix (most likely Australian or Shetland Sheepdog), and she always liked to know where her “flock” was. She was always more of a “people dog” than a “dog dog.”

But – perhaps because of her early history, perhaps for some other reason – Gypsy was a challenge at times. She responded well to some behavior training and ignored the rest, and she could be rather high-strung. She wasn’t an indiscriminate barker, but she showed her anxiety in other ways. When she was younger, it was usually by pacing and panting, although there was also her brief career as an escape artist during the fall and winter of 1999/2000, during which she figured out how to jump a six-foot fence and roam the neighborhood during the day. She always came home – until the day Animal Control finally caught up with her. I arrived in time to bail her out so she wouldn’t have to stay overnight, but after that, she pretty much stayed in the backyard. The time period when this happened was an extremely difficult one – the beginning of the end of my first marriage – so I really couldn’t blame her for wanting to get away from our house. Even after she stopped running off, if she wanted to get into – or out of – something in the house, a door or a gate might not deter her. And only putting the trashcan out of her reach deterred her from getting in there.

When First Husband and I divorced, our son was seventeen and planning to leave for college in a few months, so we didn’t have major custody issues as far as he was concerned. However, we did have the two dogs…and we decided to split them up. We each kept our favorite. Shadow stayed in Memphis with my ex, and Gypsy moved to California with me in 2002. The day-to-day portion of my “single parent” years was spent with her. For the most part, she seemed to adapt well to apartment life (and the loss of a backyard), but my full-time job and long commute meant she spent most of her days alone. Some days, I could tell when I got home that something must have upset her while I was gone, but since I was never there when it happened I never knew what set her off. But most of the time she was peaceful, and I give her a lot of credit for helping me get through some of toughest times of my life. (I had not discovered blogging then; I’m sure it would have helped, too.) Obviously, she wasn’t much for conversation, but she was always up for a ride in the car or a trail hike, and I always felt safer with her around. I was living on my own for the first time, and if I hadn’t had her daily care to help keep me focused – and her nightly companionship on the couch and the bed – I can only imagine how much harder those days would have been.

When Tall Paul and I met in 2005, Gypsy took to him quickly, which was pretty important for the future of our relationship – and for the most part, he liked her too, occasional behavioral lapses aside (he’d grown up with very well-behaved dogs, as his mom is an excellent trainer). And when his daughter Katie, then 10 years old, was introduced to Gypsy, the “click” was almost as immediate as it had originally been for Gypsy and me. Katie has loved dogs from infancy – her first spoken word was “doggie” – and I’ll always believe that the fact I came with a dog helped her accept me into her dad’s life. When we decided to move in together, a place that accepted dogs was a must.

But as Gypsy got older, the “occasional behavioral lapses” were becoming less occasional, and while she never seriously hurt herself, she was capable of making quite a mess – which we’d find when we got home, because the acting out almost never happened unless she was alone. Her anxiety was starting to cause anxiety for me when I was away from her.
After consulting with her vet in May 2009 following her most destructive episode to date, he concluded that it was probably fueled by separation anxiety – which she may have had for years, but becomes more pronounced in older dogs. However, it was also possible that she was developing canine dementia – or that the conditions were combined. Since the anxiety was more treatable than the dementia, we put her on anti-anxiety medication after that vet visit, and doubled her dosage a month later. It helped reduce the frequency and severity of the incidents, but it didn’t end them – it was rare for a week to go by without her chewing or clawing or displacing something. We realized that when these things happened, it was because she was scared and confused, and trying to find something or someone to comfort her, but we could only guess about what triggered a “bad day,” and it was becoming a strain on us all.

Gypsy was never anxious about riding in the car; it was one of the places she behaved best. She’d just settle into her spot and lie down; we eventually bought her a car harness, and that made her an even better traveler.

But one thing that always made Gypsy anxious was thunderstorms. However, since leaving Memphis almost eight years ago and moving to the Los Angeles area, they hadn’t been an issue all that often. Still, animals are known to be more sensitive to environmental and weather changes than humans; we think that a small earthquake may have triggered the incident in May. And when a recent – and highly unusual for Southern California – series of daytime thunderstorms seemed to be the catalyst for the worst episode in a while, we had to accept that this was unlikely to get better, especially given her age. We just couldn’t give her the care and attention she clearly needed. We could increase her medication or put her on full-blown tranquilizers, but we couldn’t help the underlying causes of her behavior – and we couldn’t be with her all the time. And an elderly dog with serious behavior issues is unlikely to find a new adoptive home.

Almost everyone who has an older pet knows that they’ll probably have to make a very difficult decision one day. Gypsy had very little gray in her coat, and she still moved well most of the time – just less than she used to, unless she was having an episode. It was easy to forget how old she was; I still called her “puppy girl” half the time. In any case, her physical condition wasn’t bad for her age, so we hadn’t really expected to be faced with these thoughts just yet. If she were human, we’d have looked for a good nursing home for her, but that’s not an option for pets. There’s really no option with pets other than letting them go, and despite the pain of that option, we decided that the time had come to do that. Without question, it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever confronted, and carrying it out was even tougher.

My stepchildren said goodbye to Gypsy on a Friday morning before leaving for school; they would be spending the weekend at their mom’s house, and she’d be gone when they came back to ours. Chris, who’s known her since he was 14, didn’t get that chance; since he lives across the country, I had to tell him over the phone. He took it hard, but was glad he’d spent a little extra time with us – and her – during his holiday visit. He’d always felt that Gypsy was his dog. From the time Tall Paul and I moved in together, Katie felt that Gypsy was her dog. When they were both around – which, granted, doesn’t happen often – it was always amusing to watch the two of them try to assert their claims. But a dog only has one “alpha” – and whether or not the kids want to admit it, Gypsy’s alpha was me. She was our dog, of course – but she was my dog.

Tall Paul and I took Gypsy to the vet’s office for the last time on the morning of January 23, and then we spent the day away from the house. When we returned, we packed up a few of her things and put them aside. It’s too hard to see them, but we’re not ready to get rid of them, either.

A few things I said when I reviewed Marley & Me several months ago come back to me now:

(I)f you’ve had at least one beloved pet in your lifetime, the last few chapters of the book are tough. My own mutt Gypsy is now around the age Marley was when he died, and although she’s seemingly in good shape, one thing I learned from reading Marley & Me was that signs of aging can appear very quickly in dogs, and I couldn’t help projecting myself and my dog into that scenario…

Enzo, the canine narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain, often laments being a dog and hopes to come back as a human in his next life. While Marley doesn’t get to tell his own story, I can’t imagine he would have ever wanted to be anything but a dog. He revels in being a dog. He is loyal, loving, and affectionate – by all measures except for his incorrigible behavior, he’s pretty much everything you could ask for in a dog.

Gypsy was pretty much everything I could have asked for in a dog – nowhere near perfect, but in so many ways, just right for me. Her breath was horrendous even by dog standards, but her coat was beautiful, her mouth was smiley, her nature was sweet, and she was pretty smart more than half the time. I hope I gave her a good and happy life, even if I couldn’t spend all my time with her. I miss her terribly, and it’s going to take awhile for me to stop expecting to see her wagging tail when I come home, her bed in the corner, her dishes in the kitchen, and her watchful, hopeful presence when anyone in the family is eating.

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  1. What a beautiful tribute to Gypsy. It certainly is both sad and hard losing a family pet that's been with you for so long! I'm so sorry.

  2. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Gypsy sounds like a gem of a dog. Our dog is 14 now and I'm really trying to make an effort to enjoy every minute with her I can.

  3. Clover – Thank you for your condolences, and I'm glad you liked the tribute. I put a lot into it; it helped me process the whole thing.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I know that your Milou is in Gypsy's age range, and we've talked about this before. Definitely enjoy her now!

    Gypsy wasn't always a "gem" – sometimes she was a lump of coal :-)- but life was certainly better because she was around.

  4. That was really beautiful, thank you for sharing. Gypsy sounds like a really terrific dog, and you're lucky to have found each other when you did.

    I just got a cat this weekend, Hannah, and your post is making look forward to all the good times we're going to have together.

  5. Such a great post! My cat, Bobbie, has seen me through so much, and your post is a tough reminder that someday, sooner than I'll be ready, I'll be facing this, too.

  6. Ugh. That is not fun at all. You know, they should have senior centers for dogs. That's a great idea for dogs as they start to get up there.

    I'm sorry for your loss. Gypsy sounds a lot like Cosmo was at the end. He hated thunderstorms, and we got them more frequently.

  7. I am sure this was a very difficult post to write, but I hope it was also somewhat cathartic. You did a beautiful job of showing us the true gypsy.

    Prayers and hugs still go out to you and for months to come….

  8. Kim – I hope you and Hannah have many great years together! Gypsy was definitely the right dog at the right time, for me.

    April – It sounds like you know exactly what I was trying to say. And I'm not sure we're ever ready…

    Michelle – Thank you. I was really hoping that I expressed that.

    Susan – Thanks. I know dogs are a big part of your life too.

    Mike – I really think the "pet nursing home" is a business opportunity for someone. Not me, though.

    You know, I'm not sure I've known any dogs who liked thunderstorms. Gypsy didn't even like water very much.

    Molly – It really was a bit therapeutic, both in the writing and selection of the pictures. Your support means a lot – thank you.

  9. I wish I could give you a big hug, Florinda. Dogs bring us such joy. Even as I've become more and more a cat person through the years, there's nothing like a dog's love and companionship. It's one of a kind. It's so hard watching them grow older and knowing when it is time to say goodbye. My heart is with you. And I just know that Gypsy is waiting for you on the other side of that rainbow bridge. Maybe even playing with my Huppy.

  10. Wendy (Literary Feline) – Your comment made me tear up a little. Thanks for your understanding.

    I grew up with cats, and they came and went, but losing Gypsy is different. You're right that there's nothing like a dog's companionship, and one day, I'll have it again.

  11. What a lovely tribute; I'm so sorry for your loss. My parents bought a dog for us when I was twelve and she stayed with them when we kids moved out (she really was more my dad's dog anyway). She has been gone for 22 years and there are still times when I go to my parents' door and expect to hear her toenails on the other side of the door. Beloved pets never leave us completely.

  12. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your dog! It is never easy to lose a member of the family, but you wrote a wonderful post in tribute.

  13. From Teresa, whose OpenID never seems to be recognized by Blogger (via e-mail):

    "Well, I TRIED to leave a comment. This was a beautiful tribute. I'm sorry you had to say goodbye to your puppy girl.

    love, t"
    T – You called her my "four-legged daughter," and I think you were right!

    Anna – Thanks, for the condolences AND the hugs :-).

    Lisa – I can imagine. I think it'll be a while before I realize I'm really NOT seeing or hearing her around the house.

    Kailana – Thanks. I worked on it for a while; it was important to me.

  14. Oh Florinda! She was a beauty and I know how hard it must have been to say goodbye to her. Losing a furry family member is absolutely heartwrenching and even though we all agree to do this hard thing when we open our hearts to creatures whose life expectancy is so much shorter than ours, it is never easy. And the unconditional love they offer us and the ways in which they make us better, more compassionate, loving people makes it that much harder. Gypsy will always be curled up in a corner of your heart. ::hug::

  15. Jeanne – Mine, too.

    Kristen – What you said about pets making us better, more compassionate and loving people is absolutely true. Among other things, Gypsy helped bring me out of my shell.

  16. What a wonderful tribute to your best friend Gypsy! Your post made me want to run home and hug my own dog and it also brought me to tears! I can't imagine how heart wrenching it was to have to let her go but it nice you have so many fond memories of your time together.

  17. Kathleen – I envy you for having a dog to hug. I miss that. It was a terribly hard decision, but I've known for at least a couple of years that it was approaching…I just didn't know when.

  18. Florinda,

    This was an amazingly touching post. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like for you. I put a beloved and sick pet to sleep and I was a total wreck. As you know, I have my two young girls (the pups) and I still have hopefully 10 more years with them. I absolutely cannot imagine coming home and them not being there.

    After your heart heals, I hope that you and your hubby adopt another "child" to warm your hearts and home.

    Your Gypsy was beautiful!


  19. Sheri – Thanks. As you know, it's a difficult thing to do. And we will get another dog (or maybe a cat? MAYBE) eventually, but probably not for a while. A home without a pet is missing something important, in my opinion.

    And yes, Gypsy definitely was a "beautiful baby" :-).

  20. I didn't realize how much of our early days with our dogs paralleled each other. We got Buster at a pet-supply store adoption event as a companion for our other dog as well. He had been found roaming around in Albuquerque, and he had a huge scar on the back of his head. He was probably 1 or 2, but we were never sure.

    Last month, we thought he was starting to suffer from dementia as well, but it seems to have been physical-his back end went out, but it happened all of a sudden and he was freaked out about moving, but we didn't realize it was because he was in pain. He managed to hold on for another month after that, but we finally had to put him down on Tuesday night.

    You're right about the suddenness of old age in pets-even when you know it's coming, it comes as a shock. I'm so sorry you had to make the decision to put Gypsy down, and I know what you mean about expecting to see her. When Buster finally went it was very quick-one or two breaths and he was gone, and I felt like he was finally able to rest, something he'd been trying so hard to do in the previous hours. I hope Gypsy found the same peace.

    Thanks for sharing her story with us, and I hope each day is getting a little bit easier for you.

  21. Dreamybee – I'm so sorry about Buster. It is interesting how similar his and Gypsy's early stories seem to be.

    It takes time, definitely, but I hope things will get easier for you too.

  22. What a beautiful tribute. I'm so so sorry for your loss. I can't begin to imagine how difficult making this decision must have been 🙁 *hugs*

  23. Hey there Florinda! I am so sorry to hear about the recent loss of your best gal. She sure was a beauty. Hubby and I are nursing a sick Rocky, have been for the last two months, and have at least two months to go. Staph and mites are a bitch to get rid of. I lost my childhood dog when I was nineteen and my mom still dreams about him and can't bring herself to get a new friend for her and my dad. They love their grandpuppy with all their hearts. We love our doggies unconditionaly, through mites and bad breath, and wouldn't have them any other way don't we. XOXOXO

  24. Karen (Planet Books) – Long time no see! I'm glad you stopped by, although I wish it weren't for such a sad occasion. Thanks for your sympathy, and I hope Rocky makes a good recovery!

  25. Sorry to hear about your loss-a pet is a part of your life and hard to be without. I am trying not to cry as I read this. Sounds like you had a great pet and friend in her.