Her name was Daisy, and she was my dog. She lived with me until Friday, August 29, 2014, and then she died.
She was 14 years and nine months old when we put her to sleep.
She was not a fancy, purebred dog. She never took first in show at an American Kennel Club event. She was a Beagle mix with long, sometimes matted hair, a large, protruding belly, and soulful eyes.
She wasn’t important to the world, but she was important to me. Harry Truman said if you want a friend, buy a dog. That’s the God’s truth.
My then-girlfriend Paula brought Daisy home on Saturday, January 8, 2000. My journal entry on that date reads: “Went to Paula’s apt…. She had adopted a new mixed breed puppy from someone giving them out in front of WalMart. Paula named her ‘Daisy.’”
Daisy was impossibly small, but her stomach was disproportionately large. She was a belly with legs.
I liked the new puppy well enough — who doesn’t like a puppy? — but I had no inkling of the bond that would develop between this little Beagle mix and me in the years to come.
For the first two-and-a-half years of her life, Daisy did not live with me. When Paula and I set up a common household in June 2002, Daisy took up residence. She stayed with me through all the long years that followed. Even after Paula had departed, Daisy remained my constant companion.
I suppose we firmly established our bond on Friday, March 17, 2000. Daisy was still a puppy and Paula had brought her to play at my house that day because my back yard was fenced in. Unfortunately, my neighbor’s pit bull broke through the privacy fence and grabbed Daisy in its steel jaws. I was standing next to the fence. When I realized what was happening, I jumped onto the pit bull and wrenched Daisy out of the dog’s mouth. My quick response probably saved her life. The pit bull bit my knuckles during the struggle.
I am not known for my physical bravery. I like to think I possess many stellar qualities of good character and wise judgment — and I may be delusional here — but manly courage is not usually on the list. I suppose I jumped onto the pit bull out of instinct.
By the way, the neighbors refused to pay Daisy’s veterinarian bills or the repairs to my fence. When I explained that their dog had attacked Daisy, the man who rented the house told me to “stop being an ass” and get off his lawn. My mother lived with me at the time. She walked over and tried to reason with the neighbors, but to no avail. Mom’s parting words to them were prophetic: “There is nothing more dangerous than a lawyer with one case.”
That conversation occurred on a Saturday afternoon. On Monday morning, March 20, 2000, I filed a personal injury lawsuit — my one case — in the Gwinnett County Superior Court against the next-door rednecks for $100,000. I named their landlord as a co-defendant in the suit. We settled the case, as I knew we would, for far less than $100,000. I wanted the vet bills paid, the fence fixed, and a few hundred dollars to cover the court filing fee and compensate me for my time to prepare the suit. I sued for an exorbitant sum so the rednecks would be forced to hire an attorney, which they did. He was far more reasonable than his clients. In the meantime, the landlord eventually took steps to evict the nasty tenants. Being named in a lawsuit was not the landlord’s cup of tea, as I had anticipated. (The tenants also bought a Rottweiler after they were forced to give away their pit bull. Some people never learn.)
From that point on, Daisy and I were best buddies. I saved her from the pit bull and I removed the rednecks from the neighborhood. Not bad work for a weenie like me.
In her salad days, Daisy was a ball of energy. She loved to race around the room and bounce off the sofa and loveseat. She could not be contained.
Fast forward a couple of years. When she came to live with me, Daisy generally stayed at Paula’s side, although she gravitated to me in Paula’s absence. When Paula moved out of the house after five years, Daisy stayed behind and became my dog. The little Beagle mix slept in the bed with me for the rest of her life.
Daisy sleeps with me, circa 2003. My cat Cuatro (1991-2004) is on the bed, too
When I was down, she was there for me. On bad hair days, on low confidence, high flatulence days, she was there. When my publisher dropped me after I labored for two-and-a-half years on a book manuscript, Daisy was there. When my mother died an excruciating death from cancer and I felt alone, an orphan in the world, Daisy slept next to me and was always there when I reached out for her in the dead of night. When Paula, who had become my wife, confessed she had a boyfriend and I was as despondent as I have ever been, Dairy rested her muzzle on my leg and gazed at me lovingly. That kind of unconditional acceptance is priceless in times of trouble.
Willie Morris said there is something special about a person’s childhood dog, and I suppose that’s true enough. But there is something special about the bond between a human being and his or her dog at any age. Daisy taught me that lesson.
Animals come and go. They are born, live, and die. It is the way of the world and there is no getting around that inescapable reality. We all bow to the inevitable. I know this fact, and I accept it. That doesn’t mean I like it.
In the end, Daisy and I grew old together. She suffered from arthritis, especially in the leg where the pit bull had bitten her so many years earlier. She had to endure back surgery and hernia surgery. (I suffered through hernia surgery as well, so we had something else in common.)
Daisy and me, June 2014. How did we get so old, Daisy?
During a routine check-up at the vet in May 2014, Daisy was diagnosed with renal failure. We fed her special foods and gave her all sorts of medications, but we could not prevent the inevitable. We merely postponed the day. I am so grateful we enjoyed one final summer together. I treasured every day because I knew what was coming. Mercifully, Daisy had no clue.
Around 1:30 a.m. on Friday, August 29, 2014, Daisy suffered a seizure lying in the bed next to me. I snapped awake, grabbed some towels so she would not have to lie in her own urine, and held her close. I thought she would die at that moment, but she somehow survived. I texted Paula and we agreed that the day of reckoning had arrived.
I was sick to my stomach as I loaded Daisy into the car for her final ride to the Walton-Gwinnett Animal Clinic. I usually put her in the back seat when she rode in the car to avoid possible injury or death if the airbag deployed. On this day, she sat in the front passenger’s seat next to me. I stroked her fur and told her how much I loved her. Tears poured down my face.
Paula met me at the vet’s office. We discussed our options, but we both knew we had none.
“It’s time,” the vet, Dr. Franks, told us. She had a terrific bedside manner. “If she were my dog, I would put her to sleep,” she said. “We need to ease her pain.”
“Okay,” Paula and I agreed. “Let’s do it.”
As Daisy sank down into whatever place we go when we depart this life, Paula and I stood where she could see us. I kept whispering, “You’re a good dog, Daisy. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
We had her tired old body cremated.
When Paula’s mother, Linda, died in October 2013, we had her body cremated as well. One day, we will travel to Destin, Florida, one of Linda’s favorite places, and sprinkle Linda’s ashes into the Gulf of Mexico, as she requested. Daisy and Linda were good friends. We will sprinkle their ashes together.
Tears are streaming down my face as I write these words. The only thing that keeps me smiling when I think of Daisy is I know she lived a long and healthy life surrounded by people who loved her. Thoreau once wrote that he wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. Daisy did that. And because of her, I have done that as well.
I feel so privileged that Daisy was my dog for all those years. Someone once said you should try to be the person your dog thinks you are.
I promise I will try to be a good person, Daisy. I will try.
Yes, her name was Daisy, and she was my dog. She lived with me until Friday, August 29, 2014, and then she died.
But that’s not really true. Daisy will live forever in my heart.