We suffered a death in our family this week, and although I saw it coming, letting go of my good old dog Claudette (a.k.a. Big Girl, Baby Doll and Ms.Thang) was almost more than I could bear. She died peacefully in the vet’s office, almost 15 years to the day she came to live with us.
It was a snowy, cold morning in western Colorado when we drove three hours to the breeder’s home near Crested Butte to pick up our new baby, a ten-week-old, cream-colored Standard Poodle. I’d been smitten with her since I saw her photo in an email, but once I met her – a robust, oversized female puppy with a quiet disposition – I was over the moon. Even after she threw up her kibble all over me and the front seat of my new Subaru on the way home.
“What’s her name?” I asked the breeder.
“Oh, I never name the puppies,” she told me. “It just makes it harder to let them go, so I call them all Sweetie.”
Sweetie became Claudette, a name befitting both her French heritage and our last name. She was a healthy and happy dog with a calm, almost stoic demeanor. She excelled in obedience training (I believed her to be the smartest dog in her class) and seldom met a person or other animal that she didn’t like, with the possible exception of our male toy poodle, who liked to hump her leg.
And squirrels. She hated those little rodents, especially one with a stunted tail who used to taunt her from the high branches of a cottonwood tree near our back deck. Claudette chased that squirrel for at least two years until the day I saw her in the back yard mouthing something wet and furry. She’d finally killed her nemesis. For months afterward, she would run to the tree and look upward every time she was let outside. Making sure he was still dead, I suppose.
Claudette handled our monumental cross-country move last summer – two humans, two cats and three dogs in an SUV pulling a pop-up camper – like a trouper. I still laugh about the night she literally fell out of the camper through a gap in the tent. We didn’t realize she was missing until the next morning when we woke up and she wasn’t inside. I went into a panic until I opened the camper door to find her standing just outside, with muddy legs and what appeared to be a smile on her face. It must’ve been an excellent adventure because she slept the entire day.
We watched her slow decline over the past year, sleeping more, playing less and seeming confused, almost like a canine Alzheimer’s patient. Then, the week prior to her death, she seemed to rally, enjoying her food again, running in the yard with our other two dogs, and teasing the dogs next door through the fence. Maybe she sensed that her days were coming to an end.
She was my buddy, always eager for a walk or go in the car until she got too old to care. On the morning of her last ride, her sister, Simone, gently licked her face before Daddy put her in the car. Our daughter said Simone howled the entire time we were at the vet’s office. Somehow she must’ve known she would never see her sibling again.
I felt like howling, too. But I take some comfort in the fact that she lived a long and beautiful life, and that we able to give her a serene, dignified death. As the sedative took effect, she rested her chin on my leg while I talked to her about all the good times we had shared through the years.
She closed her eyes for the last time and left this world knowing how much she was loved. Our beloved pack leader is gone, and my heart is shattered.