I never knew what it was like to lose a dear pet. My family has had our share of pet fish - RIP Tokyo and Jelly - and my feeder mice, Meece Witherspoon and Meeces Pieces, both died while I was away at college. None of these losses hit me hard; I didn’t necessarily connect with the fish and my most memorable days as a mouse owner consisted of them pooping on me, then escaping and eating pencils off my desk.
But while Freckles was still alive, I tried hard not to think about it. Four years ago, I even ruined a family vacation to Los Angeles by sitting on the hotel balcony and sobbing to my boyfriend on the phone. I had reduced myself to tears just thinking about the possibility of my dog dying. At that time, Freckles was almost 6 and perfectly healthy. I was being ridiculous.
Freckles was our English Springer Spaniel. We got her as a little puppy just a year after moving to the states from Tokyo. Freckles was always a part of my life in the U.S. She was there when I learned English and got my first pair of glasses. She was my mom’s favorite daughter and my sister’s favorite sibling. We made her birthday cake out of dog food every year, and wrapped presents for her on Christmas Eve. (She often got bored of trying to open presents, or would consume some of the wrapping paper.)
Above: Freckles on her tenth (and last) birthday
I always figured it’d be just like how My Dog Skip plays out, where the dog passes away peacefully of old age while the owner is away at school. It didn’t register until recently that Freckles was getting older. But a 10-year-old dog isn’t considered old; I had always thought that Freckles would live to be 14, even 15. We spoiled her rotten with attention and treated her like family.
Last week, Freckles suddenly fell gravely ill. She had been throwing up for a while, but she was being monitored by the doctor and we had hoped that her stomach problems were temporary. Her condition took a turn for the worse over night and she was sent into emergency surgery. They removed a tennis ball-sized tumor from her intestines, and she came out alive. My family visited her in the hospital for the next couple days in hopes of taking her home with us at the end of the week. For two days, she seemed fine - a bit dopey from the drugs, but her usual happy, loving self. Every time we left the vet, she put her paw up on the cage, as if to say, “C’mon fam, I’m ready to go home.”
She was supposed to come home last Friday. My mom set up the living room with blankets and cushions the night before. My family drove to the vet to pick her up, but came home without Freckles. She had contracted a high fever, possibly from an infection. That night, my entire family was quiet. I tried to keep my spirits up by watching The Office with my sister in the living room. My mom was lying in my dog’s bed, sobbing.
Freckles succumbed to the infection later that night, alone in the hospital. I pray that she passed peacefully in her sleep. Like anyone with a recently deceased dog, I wish I could spend one more day with her. I wish more than anything that I was with her that night, keeping her company. The day she died, I was burying myself with regrets and sadness. What if she went to a different vet? Why didn’t we know about the tumor until now? Why didn’t I stay with her longer during our visit?
With the help of friends and the rest of my family, I’ve been able to accept what has happened. It’s only been less than a week, but my thoughts about her passing have slowly changed from completely negative to positive. I’ll always miss Freckles, but instead of having regrets, I now think about what a tremendous influence she was on my family. She kept my family together when none of us miserable humans could. She cheered my dad up from a hard day’s work by greeting him and immediately running for the frisbee. She was always there to be my little spoon when boys sucked. No matter what, she gave us so much love and I could never thank her enough.
Above: Freckles naps on my sister's foot. There are more pictures of her in our house than of us kids.
I guess my point in writing about Freckles is that sharing stories has been one of my best coping mechanisms. Instead of crying all the time, I’ve learned to laugh about the time Freckles (unfortunately) ate a tampon and had to have it pulled out by my dad. Or, the time I came into the living room late one night and found out that she slept on her back, arms in the air, tongue flopped out (seen below).
And of course, it helps that there are plenty of funny pet pictures and videos on the internet these days. Stuff On My Mutt reminds me of some of the silly things we made our dog do, like wear reindeer antlers. (That lasted for all of thirty seconds before she shook it off and tried to eat it.) Mirco the French Bulldog and her awesome baby sidekick never fail to cheer me up. There are literally hundreds of videos of dog and baby doing...dog and baby things.
Did you recently lose your beloved pet? Do you have stories about a pet that you loved, or currently love? I would love to hear about your awesome animals. Share them below in the comments, and don’t forget to share these stories with friends and family.
Illustration by Erina Davidson - This one was started a few days before her surgery, and completed the day after she died.