I adopted my new best friend, a black-and-white border collie/spaniel mix, when she was just a puppy at the Nebraska Humane Society. Just turning three now, her black, panda-like spots were becoming more and more distinct on her white fur. My family was getting ready to move to St. George for my dad’s classic car business. “Susie, I am sure going to miss this,” I said. She looked at me, her jowls forming into what looked like a smile then started watching the baby birds that were chirping from the nest in our big tree. Nebraska was our home, and I, at eleven years old, couldn’t imagine somewhere else becoming that.
St. George became our new home the summer of 2005. We enjoyed the adventure, though. “What should I wear for my first day of school, Susie?” She laid on the edge of my bed, watching my every move. “This or this?” I stated, laying a pink and a blue shirt side by side. Susie looked at the shirts, then looked back at me. Her brown eyes had a certain sparkle to them.
“Susie, you aren’t helping!” I replied, choosing the pink shirt. “Okay, it is your turn now.” I pulled out a pink dress and fedora hat and held them up to Susie. “Dress up time!” Susie’s ears perked up interested. She rested as I slipped the frilly dress on her and fastened the hat as best I could. “Perfect! Now let’s go show you off.”
Susie slumped off of my pink bed down the hallway to the living room. Buddy, a black pitbull/lab mix as well as her best friend sniffed Susie curiously. My family couldn’t contain their laughter as Susie waddled around with her dress and hat wearing a smile.
With five more years came wisdom for Susie. Or at least that is what she thought. “Susie, mom made cookies!” I called to Susie while running to the kitchen. My mom’s cookies are a creation that no one has not fallen in love with, including Susie. “Are there more in the oven, mom?” I asked, staring at an empty cookie sheet.
“What? No … I just … Susie!” my mom shouted, seeing Susie whip around the corner and run to my room. “How did she do that? I turned for a second!”
I ran to my room and found Susie snug in her kennel, licking chocolate crumbs off of her jowls. “Susie? Did you steal the cookies?” She looked at me with a slightly guilty face. “And what’s all this?” I picked up an empty Cheetos bag along with multiple Twix wrappers and a loaf of stale bread still in its bag. “How did you … ?” I asked as I cleaned out her cluttered kennel. Susie laid in her kennel with a sigh of contentment then looked at me with a grin. “You are lucky you’re cute. Come on, let’s tuck you into bed.” I laid Susie under my covers placing my favorite stuffed panda under her arm. “Get some sleep, little ninja,” I said as her eyes started to droop while I stroked her head.
Susie’s grays showed more and more the spring of 2015. She just turned thirteen years old. Her gray hairs circled her brown eyes, and her lashes took on a salty color. With me being a college student, Susie’s daily highlights were me coming home on my class breaks to walk her. I opened my door to my smiling old pup, ecstatic for her daily walk. “Let’s go, girl!”
We walked under the sunlight every day, stopping at a nearby picnic table to practice her tricks. “Okay, sit! Good!” I praised. “Shake! Yes!” I rewarded. “Bang!” Susie rolled over, but popped her head up expecting her treat. “Good, Susie, good,” I said with a chuckle. We walked back to the house and ate a Jimmy John’s sandwich on my bed. She sat, watching me intently. Her eyes were a little cloudier now yet still had the special sparkle to them. “You are too good at this,” I said, giving her a small piece of my sandwich. She lifted her paw as always, her default trick and took a piece, wagging her tail in excitement.
Days were passing that Susie wasn’t getting excited about her food anymore. Her dog food would lay untouched when I got home. “Susie, are you becoming a picky eater?” I teased. She gazed at me as her tail wagged, loving my attention.
The next weekend, I woke up early for a dance rehearsal and gave Susie a squeeze goodbye, letting her know I’d be back. She looked at me with tired eyes and let out a sigh. I left the house with a feeling I just couldn’t pinpoint yet. Arriving home after rehearsal, I opened my door to find Susie in the same slumped position. “Hi, Susie, how are you?” Her belly looked as though there was a big balloon inside. “Are you not feeling well, sweetie?” I helped her up and led her to the backyard where she laid down again. The feeling got bigger in my stomach. “Mom? I think Susie is sick. I’m gonna bring her over to you.” I hung up the phone and helped Susie into my car to meet my mom and sister. “Cora, I think you need to get her to the vet right away. She doesn’t look good at all,” my mom urged. The feeling made its way to my heart, making it ache. I scheduled the soonest appointment they had available at the Washington City Vet Clinic.
As my sister, Kate, and I loaded Susie into my car, Susie looked at me with pain in her eyes. “We are gonna get you feeling better, okay girl? I promise,” I coaxed.
We were placed in a small, friendly looking room. Susie was on the ground again, looking exhausted. Normally she would sniff around and embrace all of the new smells. After a few minutes of waiting, a friendly and compassionate vet came in. “Hello, I am Dr. Boyter,” she said with a smile. Squatting next to Susie she said, “You must not be feeling too good, huh sweetie.” Susie rested with her chin on the ground and lifted her gaze for a second at the vet, then lowered her eyes back to the floor. I informed Dr. Boyter of Susie’s troubles the past few months, as she examined her. She will just get some medicine for this bloating, I thought to myself.
A few minutes later, the vet started to speak again. “Cancer … X-ray … examine. …”
I nodded numbly. “Okay, I will be right back, we are going to take Susie to the back.” She said in the most understanding tone she could muster. Susie was then carried out in a type of blanket sling held by two assistants.
“Cora, I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” Kate sobbed holding my hand. The feeling in me all day now possessed my whole body, making me weak with a sense of helplessness. Tears formed in my eyes and were soon running down past my cheek and chin and onto my shirt. I sat in silence as Kate called Mom and Dad, telling them they needed to come. Dr. Boyter came back about fifteen minutes later with the X-ray. “Okay this is Susie’s stomach, she pointed. This right here is a tumor.” She pointed to a mass that looked as big as a football. “It has grown in size and has recently been rubbing against her spine and is now pushing into her colon. Susie has most likely been in pain these past few months, but her tumor may have ruptured in the past few days, causing this bloating you see now.”
Susie was brought back in and placed on a comfy dog bed. I went and placed Susie’s head on my lap, stroking the top of her head as Kate softly tickled her belly and my mom sat at the edge of the bed with her hand on Susie’s back. My dad was behind me, his hand on my shoulder. “What should we do?” I asked.
My mom replied, “I think if you took her home, she would only be suffering, Cora. I think the best thing you can do for her is to let her go.”
“But I didn’t even know about this! I didn’t know she had cancer! How am I supposed to say goodbye?” I sobbed.
Susie rolled onto her stomach lifting her head up, scanning the room. Her mouth opened as her tongue hung out. She glanced at me and then my family. “How can we put her to sleep when she is smiling? She is happy,” I said through my tears.
I sat for a minute, reminiscing our daily walks and Jimmy John’s sandwiches. Then I imagined going home without Susie. I continued stroking Susie’s fur in silence for a few minutes and prayed. God, you let Susie and I make lots of memories. Thank you for that. I know it’s time for you to take her home now. Please don’t let her be in any pain. Wiping my flooded eyes I announced, “Okay let’s put her to sleep.”
Dr. Boyter came in a few minutes later and shaved a tiny bit of Susie’s fur on her arm, then placed a small needle in her vein. “Now when I insert this liquid, Susie will go to sleep and then her heart will stop. She won’t feel any pain.”
“It’s okay, Susie, it’s okay.” I whispered, as my tears were falling onto her head. “I love you.”
“Are you ready, Cora?” My mom asked. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away with Susie. I wanted her healed and happy and young again.
I nodded to the vet. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” I repeated, holding Susie in my arms as I felt her breath come to a stop.
Dr. Boyter checked Susie’s heartbeat. “She’s gone,” she whispered.
“It’s okay, Susie, it’s okay.” I continued to hold her, petting her head that was slightly damp from my tears.
“I will give you some time.” The vet said as she exited. “You did the right thing, Cora. That was greatest act of love you could have given her.”
I sat a few more moments with Susie in my arms, then unbuckled her collar and laid a blanket on top of her. I tucked her in as I did when she would lie in my bed and closed her eyes, giving her one last kiss. “Goodbye, Susie,” I whispered and walked out of the room leaving a piece of me behind. I arrived at home and opened the door to my room. Susie’s bowl was still full with fresh dog food, and her kennel was empty, displaying some of her loose fur, which I seemed to find everywhere.
I couldn’t go much longer with a piece of my heart missing. I had been thinking about adopting another companion. About a week after Susie’s passing, my phone lit up with a message from my mom. “Hey Cora, there is a three year old dog my friend Aggie thinks you might be interested in. Her name is Holly and she will be at the H.A.R.T pet adoption event this Saturday.”
Hesitant but hopeful, I drove myself to the event. The sun was shining on the white tents that were set up next to PetSmart with dozens hopeful dogs and cats waiting for their forever home. A slight breeze came across me as I walked over, along with a few butterflies that were unsettled in my stomach. I still love you, Susie. My new companion and I are going to make a lot of new memories just like you and I did. As I walked through the gate, a large white, smiling dog looked straight at me, her tail wagging in the breeze.
Aggie, my mom’s friend, met me saying, “Cora, this is Holly, I think she could be great for you. She is two years old, a lover, and as you can see very happy!”
“Hi, Holly! How are you?” I squat down, receiving immediate kisses. “Aren’t you just so happy? And beautiful!” She was pure white except for the right side of her face and both her ears that had a brownish gray marking. Holly looked at me, giving me a big smile with her tongue hanging loose that reminded me of Susie. “If you adopt her and it ends up not working out, you can always give her back to us.” Aggie stated.
I returned Holly’s smile. “Well, Holly, what do you say you come home with me?” Holly leaned up against me, her big boned body wiggling with excitement. Getting into my car, my phone buzzed. “Cora, Susie’s cremation is ready for pick up.” A receptionist said. I froze as my mind took me back to Susie’s last day.
Holly’s head popped out of the back window smelling the fresh, spring air. We arrived at the vet, and a pit in my stomach seemed to be forming. “You just stay in here, okay?” I told Holly.
As I walked to the front door, flashbacks came of Susie in my arms, the tears on her fur as I said goodbye for the last time. “Here you go. Sorry for your loss,” the receptionist intoned. The flatness in her voice told me she’d had to say something like this more times than she could count.
“Thanks,” I replied. Trying to not let my remembered tears become a reality.
I quickly walked back to my car. I let the tears return as I shut the door. I took out the wooden box that held my best friend. Her paw print and a small piece of her fur displayed on a separate card, along with some sweet poems. Holly, who was sitting in the back seat came forward with a concerned look on her face. I cried for a few minutes, remembering Susie and missing her presence. Holly gave me a kiss, then smiled at me, almost telling me it would be okay.
“It will be okay, huh, Holly?” I responded as I turned the car’s ignition and headed home.
Holly placed her head back out the window, enjoying the freedom of her new forever home.
Many dogs like Holly are still waiting for a new home. That is why on Friday, May 13, from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 14, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the same pet adoption event is going to be held outside of the PetSmart on River Road. Over 100 animals from 10 different Southern Utah rescue groups and shelters will be attending.
This is the place where I found my new companion. Will it be yours?