When I was three years old, my mom took me to look at a litter of new puppies. They were tiny, scrawling balls of curly gray and brown fur. I think there were three or four of them; I don’t really remember. I just remember smiling when my mom told me to choose.
We came back a bit later, when the puppies had gotten bigger. Ours came home with us, and we settled into new puppy life. And while yes, she was the family dog, her special place was always with my mother. My mother named her Ewok. It seemed fitting. She was cute.
Ewok lived fifteen long years. She went camping and fishing, moved state to state. My mother and I said goodbye to her, holding each other in the vet’s office. We both cried. I was thankful she had had a good life. The following week, my mom kicked me out. We didn’t speak for months, but I had paid for Ewok’s cremation. When her ashes came back, I placed them on my parents’ front porch. I knew she was my mother’s special dog.
A year passed. I turned twenty. I had joined the Air Force. My parents and I made up, and they came to my graduation. My older sister had found my mother a new dog, in the same breed mix — Poodle and Lhasa Apso. We called her a Lhasa-poo. They picked her up after my graduation from Basic Training. Her name was Amy Anne.
I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision. I think most people know you can’t replace a special dog. There may have been some reaching; some desire and old memories. I don’t think anyone realized it wouldn’t be the same.
I came home from military training to this cuddlesome, gray-brown fluff-ball. She had so much energy, and I loved her immediately. Amy and I slept together for several evenings. She was warm and liked to cuddle, and full of so much love. She wasn’t Ewok, and that was okay. It was okay for me.
After a while, I moved away. I didn’t take Amy with me; she was meant to be my mother’s dog. I came back to visit frequently, though, and I always slept with Amy. She was a cuddler, and the best lap dog.
When my younger brother was in his twenties, he adopted a one-year-old Jack Russell terrier. This puppy was bigger, and full of more energy than any ten Amy Annes. My parents were initially annoyed, but they grew to love him. He was the spot of joy they needed in their lives. But he wasn’t good for Amy.
Every time I came home after that, Amy had grown more sullen and defensive. The Jack had de-squeaked all her toys, and she growled whenever he came near. She still slept with me while I visited, and I wondered if I was her only happiness. She wasn’t young anymore, and he was still full of energy. Amy seemed to only want peace.
One July, one year before I would try to have a baby, I went home again. I didn’t realize then it would be the last time. Amy was still unhappy, and I was feeling some personal stress. It only made sense that we needed each other. I took her home with me.
For the next three years, we belonged to each other. I would get up early each morning to take her for a walk. She moved from state to state with me, and we had easy adventures. She helped me keep my sanity when things got hard.
In October of 2016, I became pregnant. I was happy, and my little family felt fulfilled. I took maternity photos with my Amy and my kitty Saki. They were going to be big sisters. I was in love.
I still wonder, now, if either of them understood what was coming. They were both pretty attached to me, so it’s hard to say for sure. Amy and Saki liked to cuddle around my big belly on the couch at night. Some nights I would sleep there, surrounded by snuggles. Life seemed pretty good…And then my son died.
I think about those last days a lot. The last days of my innocence, the last days I lived without fear. It feels like a different lifetime, now.
When I got home from the hospital, Amy was waiting. A coworker had been caring for her; taking her for walks. But while I had left her in his care before, this time was just different. Amy knew before I stepped inside that something was wrong. She met me at the door and barked a heartbreaking sound. I’d only heard it before when she was severely overwhelmed. She ran in circles and jumped on my legs, eager to make contact. It was like she wanted to know I was alright.
I didn’t have a plan that day. I had come home from giving birth without a living child. I don’t know why, now, but it seemed logical to take Amy into the backyard to pee. It felt like routine. I opened the door and sat down in the grass, holding my weighted teddy bear. Amy tried once to take it from me, but stopped when I said, “No.” He was mine. He was all I had.
Amy ran in circles outside, never veering very far. She ran back several times to sniff me, paw at the adhesive left over from the IV on my hand. I smelled like the hospital, and that was new to her. But then she licked my face. I was still her human.
I don’t remember much more of that night. I’m pretty sure I went to bed then. I know I was exhausted. Amy and Saki slept with me, like always. My stomach was still bloated, but my baby was gone.
I woke up the next morning, swollen with milk. It doesn’t seem fair that I couldn’t just sleep. I let Amy outside to pee, and dug through boxes for the pumping supplies. I needed that task, needed something to do.
Breastfeeding makes you thirsty. I guess pumping is the same. I drank a lot of water. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I don’t know when exactly I noticed it, but it kept happening — whenever I went to pee, Amy followed me. She walked me to the toilet, then turned around and faced the door. She was guarding me. She was making sure I was okay.
This went on for several days. I never really kept track; it just became part of our routine. And when my cousins invited me to San Diego, I asked if I could bring Amy. She was one of my strongest comforts in those dark days.
For the next year, I treasured her and Saki. They moved with me to California, explored a different part of a once-familiar state. They were part of what kept me grounded and present. I am so thankful for my time with them. They were my everything.
In August of 2018, I took Amy camping. It was inland, and much hotter there than on the coast. In the afternoon, I opened the tent to find Amy sleeping so deeply, I immediately assumed the worst. She was just tired, though. She was already sixteen.
I think back, now, to the last moments with Ewok. She was so active and happy until her last days. She had kidney problems at the end, and had been back and forth to the vet. I was probably overly hopeful she would be okay. But when I woke up one morning, she had thrown up all over the front hallway. We had been feeding her chicken soup, and she couldn’t keep it down. That morning, she looked up at me and her eyes said, “No more.” She told us it was time.
Amy never had one of those days. I may have held on too long; I really don’t know. We came home from camping, and she seemed like her normal self again. She had grown a little slower, but I put that down to old age.
One morning, while out on her morning walk, she threw up unexpectedly and started turning in circles. I thought maybe she had had a stroke. I rushed her to the vet, hoping for a miracle. Even at 16 years, it was still too soon. I wasn’t ready for her to die.
After many tests and specialists, I still don’t know what exactly was wrong. She was severely anemic and she had a mass on her spleen, but they don’t think it was cancer. It wasn’t a tick-borne illness, which had worried me after camping. She was just tired, and she lost so much weight the vet told me to feed her anything she would keep down. She finally got all the junk food of every dog’s dreams.
We kept her alive for a month. She was on steroids for appetite, and immunosuppressants to protect the last of her red blood. Her body was attacking itself. There was no way to win.
I drove her to the specialist on a Tuesday. It was the day after my insemination, and I didn’t yet know I was on my way to being pregnant with my second child. I could only think of Amy, and how she had been so tired she couldn’t muster the energy to leave the cocoon of blankets on the bed to eat or even to pee. She had even refused water. I wasn’t ready to say another goodbye.
I walked into the hospital, cuddling Amy like a baby. I still held hope there was something they could do. They took her back, and I was waiting. And then they were telling me it was time, and I still wasn’t ready. And it hit me all over again — the painful futility. And how much she needed me, with no voice of her own.
I had called someone to be with me. I wasn’t strong this time. There’d been too much death; I couldn’t bear it. He held me, and let me cry. We got Amy to drink some water. I told her all the things I’d never said. I told her I was grateful.
I’d read somewhere some owners aren’t physically present at the end. They make the vet do it alone, and I will never understand. Because the first thing I asked, when he brought the syringe, was if I could hold her. I needed her to know how much she meant to me.
So I held her, and he held me, and together we said goodbye. And with the first injection, Amy looked up and licked my face. And then the second came, and it was so sudden, her tongue was caught outside her mouth, and her eyes were frozen, and then she was gone.
I tried to write about her immediately after that day. Writing was my comfort, but the words just didn’t flow. All I could think of was the emptiness, and the way I looked for her upon coming home each day. It never quite seemed real. And I just missed her. And I missed my son.
It wasn’t very much later that I found out I was pregnant. The signs all came early, and the next week, I took a test. And I still don’t know how to reconcile both the love and pain I feel. I am both thankful, and I’m hurting. And I’m thinking about that one day —
One day, I went to the clinic, happy and hopeful and ready for life. And the next, I had to learn — again — how to say goodbye. But for one day, in between, my daughter and Amy shared space in my life. And that one day is so very special to me.
Amy died on 11 September 2018. Three days earlier, a litter of beagle puppies was born. And in November, once again heartbroken and also hopeful, I picked up the tiniest of the bunch. He was cute and rambunctious, and he has since then eaten my favorite shoes and in all ways turned my life upside down.
He’s not Amy. My daughter is not my son. And that’s alright. They are all loved.
Miranda Hernandez is a writer and mother to two children: Adrian James, who was stillborn at term, and his living sister, “Peanut”. Miranda writes about stillbirth, life after loss, and normalization of grief at https://adrianjameshernandez.com.
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