Lilly is our 13-year-old Sussex Spaniel. We’re spending this weekend saying goodbye to her.
On Friday we took her to the vet for a “Quality of Life” visit, and the news was what we’d feared for some time. The slow-growing tumor is getting bigger, she has fluid that has swollen her belly, her breathing is labored, and she’s lost most of her appetite. We had seen that Lilly could no longer navigate our stairs without help and that her hearing and eyesight had both deteriorated over the past few months. She has some medicine to help her with the fluid and keep her out of pain, but…
It is time. It isn’t easy.
Candice and I had promised Andrew and Claire a dog when they were old enough to help care for one and when we had a proper house (having lived in an apartment for our first two years in Washington). When that time arrived more than nine years ago, Claire (who drove this process) did a lot of internet research and use to come to the dinner table with printouts about different breeds that “were good with children.” But we’d never considered a Sussex Spaniel until we attended a dog show in Maryland right before Thanksgiving and fell in love with Lilly.
As a four-year-old show dog she was at the end of her “career”, and since she didn’t show an inclination to breed, her owner was willing to find Lilly a family. We brought her home and have loved every day Lilly’s been a part of us. This weekend, we’re all saying goodbye to her in our own ways.
As you can imagine, we’ve told Lilly stories, many of which revolve around Lilly and Candice. Sussex Spaniels attach themselves to one member of the family, and since Candice was home most of the time when Lilly first arrived, she was the lucky one. Lilly will play with the rest of us, but she absolutely adores my wife. That’s why the opening shot shows Lilly with her favorite person on earth doing what they both love – snuggling.
It is also appropriate that the shot is on a boat dock. One of the funniest Lilly stories involves the time Candice was in a canoe off of that dock. We didn’t think Lilly would try to join her, but before we knew it she had jumped off the dock – and missed the canoe! Candice, who was wearing her all-time favorite pair of sunglasses, jumped in the river after her. She rescued Lilly, but her glasses went to swim with the fishes. For years, whenever the topic of Candice buying another pair of sunglasses came up, the story of jumping in the river with Lilly was inevitably mentioned.
Lilly loves getting her belly rubbed, and so I’ve included a shot of her below in her favorite pose – waiting for someone to come along and indulge her. In fact, that’s generally how she begins each day as she wanders over to where Candice is doing her morning yoga stretches and positions herself to get a rub down. We’ve all spent time on the floor next to Lilly this weekend, trying to help her feel both comfortable and loved.
We’re remembering Lilly’s “Sussex smile” and the little jumps she takes when she’s out for a walk. Lilly has a great spirit – she’s faithful, loving, forgiving, gracious, trusting – and I think that’s something we’ll all miss. She was a regular at the Cathedral’s blessing of the animals, so you’ll see Dean Lloyd and Lilly in one of the photos. In the blog post above about the blessing of the animals, I also quoted from a great article on old dogs which describes Lilly these days.
Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.
But Lilly wasn’t always old, and she wasn’t always peaceful with everyone who came to the house…especially our cleaning ladies. I don’t know if it was the vacuum cleaner (which she always hated) or the fact that she felt that Candice was threatened when they were here, but she would bark incessantly when the house was being cleaned. One time she went beyond barking and nipped the ankle of our wonderful cleaning lady. Candice ran upstairs to wake up Andrew (it was summer) to have him translate in Spanish with our cleaning lady who was too distraught to speak in English. He was successful in convincing her not to quit on the spot. When Andrew and Candice tell the story now, they break up laughing at the absurdity of the scene. Afterwards, Lilly was banished to the garage or a locked up room every other Wednesday.
Claire loved to teach Lilly tricks, one of her favorite being to lie down in a doorway with Lilly’s biscuit on the other side so she would have to hurdle Claire to reach her prize. As our family photographer, Claire has taken countless pictures of Lilly through the years. Today she took an entire roll on her black and white camera. She said, “my teacher doesn’t like it when people just take pictures of their dog, but he’ll just have to get over it.” I wouldn’t want to be in the dark room when Claire goes to develop that roll. We’ve all had our share of tears this weekend.
I know we’ll all miss the rhythm of having Lilly in our lives. Andrew feeds her every single day. Claire is in charge of combing her hair. Candice takes her to the groomer and the vet, but most important she is responsible for just being there for Lilly. I know a dog is not a human, and I know there are people who scoff at families who become too attached to their canine companions. They say, “It’s just a dog.” But I don’t feel that way. Sure, I won’t have to get up at 5:30 every morning to take her out for a walk, and I won’t have to make sure she gets out around 10 p.m. each evening to do her business. But dammit, I’ll really miss her.
As I titled that earlier post, Lilly has been blessed…and so have we.
Goodbye old girl.
More to come…