This week my thoughts will be devoted to the upcoming birthday of my German Shepherd dog Daisy who died a year and a half ago. Daisy came to me as a puppy at a 5K-road race. It was the last one I attended, realizing that entrance fees would get expensive if I kept bringing stray dogs home.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she was a very special dog, the kind of dog that we feel lucky to have in our lives. She didn’t ask for much. She wasn’t a fan of being hugged or kissed. She liked to be on her own. She didn’t bark a lot. She loved her corner in the living room behind a chair. Still, she dragged me through the park on our morning run each day leaving me frustrated with her. And when Joe brought puppy Hattie back from Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, Daisy took Hattie under her paw. The two were inseparable for the few short years they had together.
In late August 2009, a lump the size of a grapefruit suddenly appeared on Daisy’s hip. We thought for sure she had bumped into something. She was notorious for running into walls (we had to have several corners repaired because her head left marks when she hit the walls while chasing Hattie). We slipped into denial when tests confirmed it was Hemangiosarcoma, an incurable deadly cancer that spreads quickly. She was only five years old.
Reality set in when the holistic veterinarian explained to me that Daisy’s allergies, her benign tumors, and the debris that stubbornly never left her ears, were all immune related. Cancer was the end result. Guilt left me believing that I had let Daisy down. Her life was shortened because I didn’t know enough about the connections between her medical issues.
It was a sad three months as we worked to keep Daisy alive and comfortable although when the tumor ruptured, never to scab over and stop bleeding, the game changed. Daisy stayed at the veterinarian’s office first. We finally brought her home and changed her dressings twice a day, giving her a chance to be with us and the other dogs.
On an early December morning though, when she went out to the backyard and fell down and couldn’t get up, we knew it was time to let her go. She refused the treats we offered her. She was ready. We weren’t but we knew it wasn’t fair to try any longer. She had lost too much blood.
Before we left that morning, being the sign person that I am, I asked her to send me a sign when she arrived into her new life. About an hour after we arrived home, I ran the vacuum cleaner for no other reason than I didn’t know what else to do. I heard a funny noise, a very odd bark, come from the kitchen. I turned off the vacuum and Joe asked me what it was. I looked into the kitchen where Nestle sat with a perplexed look on her face. I knew then it was Daisy. Finally free.
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com.