It’s time for saying goodbye.

Mom sent the innocent text on January 28th. From the warm and safe distance of sunny Arizona, it popped up on my screen – “No blog since December?”

I paused to breathe, and basically responded “WINTER.” Because on January 28th, when it was some combination of zero degrees and dark and gray and precipitating, I was in survival mode. Sleep, eat, repeat, and count the days til daylight savings. It is my song through every Kansas winter, but especially this one.

My Ocho on February 27th

And just when more daylight arrived and I began to crawl from my hole, I had to say goodbye to this fantastic creature. And my heart cracked in two.

Warning: if you’re not a dog person, you’re gonna wanna stop reading here. Also warning: if you LOVE dogs, read on at your own risk.

Let’s continue.

On February 6th it was wonky liver enzymes. The next day it was a ginormous mass on her spleen. On Valentine’s Day, the spleen and the six pound(!) tumor were removed. It was myxosarcoma and had spread at least to her liver. Then we had four glorious and confusing weeks of a seemingly vibrant Ocho. She ran, she played, she ate everything. We had cautious hope.

And then on a horribly long March 13th night, while hurricane style winds blew (remember that night?), I laid on the couch and tried to get her to settle, with my hand on her side so she knew I was there. But also so I knew she was still breathing. I could feel she was well on her way to gone.

The next morning, the super human superhero Dr. Cindy helped us let her go. Ten years to the day after my own cancer diagnosis. She had just turned eleven.

April 4, 2009

When you have cancer and a one year old puppy, there’s no chance to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. She was the happiest distraction. She was motivation to get outside and walk and play. She was a clown and she was my security blanket. And despite me once rolling her head up in the car window and once slamming her tail in the car door, she went nearly everywhere with me for 11 years. I called her My Heart and made her promise to stay with me forever.

A few months ago, I was having a day with no trouble finding things to complain about. I have these days often. I’ve perfected a peculiar habit of wanting every thing in every moment to comply with my whims. It’s very becoming.

And on that particular day, a picture entered my head. Have you ever been to a four-year-old’s birthday party? They typically follow a script – the family plans a million details of delight for the birthday child. All of their favorite things. The decor, the food, the gifts. An extravagant show of love. And at some point, often during gift opening, there is a meltdown. Something happens that was not on the four-year-old’s agenda and they are displeased. Despite being surrounded by love and drowning in gifts, they lose sight of all of it. And it seems absurd. Until I recognize myself in it.

I am full of “thank you, buts…” (Which are similar to those worthless apologies that say, “I’m sorry, but…”)

“Thank you for this teeny home planet that sits in the exact Goldilocks spot, with the necessary churning energy core, protected by a gas layer made by microscopic organisms billions of years ago. I understand it’s swarming with life of all kinds in so many weird and beautiful forms and as far as we know, there’s virtually no life of any kind anywhere else. It feeds and nurtures 8 billion people, but could we do something about those cold winters and have a bit more 75 and sunny?”

“Thank you for this ridiculous body that’s faithfully carried me through 41.5 years and needs virtually no attention from me for my heart to beat 115,000 times a day. I understand my brain has 86 billion neurons and I can taste goat cheese and smell honeysuckle and see desert sunsets and feel Smitty’s hand and hear bird songs and thunder and I know all my parts are in a constant cycle of death and rebirth which allows me to continue to exist, but could we do something about my pasty skin and maybe my knees could be less saggy?”

“Thank you for the unexplainable kinship of a furry member of a completely different species. She understood my words, and wagged her tail when I laughed, and could somehow feel my feelings and help me cope. I know the last thing she saw here, in her bounded body, was my face, and the last thing she felt was her heavy, tired, soft, graying head in my hands, and the last thing she heard was my voice telling her what a good girl she is, but maybe she could’ve just stuck around, at least for my forever?”

This perspective transforms my deep, pure sadness and opens my eyes to the big picture – surrounded by love and drowning in gifts. And it feels like the right thing to do for my Ocho, who brought me nothing but joy and faithfulness for a quarter of my life. A thank you with a “but” wouldn’t do her justice.

Do you wear the mark of a dog (or dogs, lucky you) on your heart? Will you tell me about them? Their name(s), the funny things they did, the weird things (edible or inedible) they ate? How they made your life better? I need to hear their stories.

Thank you, Muppets, for being my authority on interspecies friendships.


By | 2019-04-14T20:35:59-06:00 April 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Jes April 14, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    My favorite dog, ever, was Bubba. I loved him because I trained him how to hug. He would jump up and place his front legs on my shoulders every day when I got home. He would sleep next to me when I took naps, and sometimes snuck in at night. He would sleep in my bed in a way that said “I know it’s a privilege to sleep here and I know it’s against the rules, so I won’t take up too much space or make any noise if you just let me continue.” He brightened so many of my days and helped me when I reached my lowest points. Dogs. They often treat us better than other humans. Thanks for the reminder that we don’t get them forever and that we ought to cherish every moment we do. I am so sorry for your loss. 💕

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Jes. I could use a Bubba hug right now. Seems like dogs are at their best when we’re at our lowest. So grateful for that gift.

  2. Rhonda April 14, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    What an amazing and heartfelt post. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. My Oscar is almost 12, and I tell him every day to stay with me forever. I can’t even imagine my world without him in it. I hope you find comfort in the memory of your beloved Ocho. She sounds like an amazing companion.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks, Rhonda. Give your Oscar a good belly rub (or butt scratch, whichever he prefers) from me. I wasn’t sure how I would do my days without Ocho, but somehow I am. She was the best companion.

  3. Carly April 14, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    We had Bo, a Weimaraner who thought he was human. He was my husband’s originally, but once I came into the picture, he quickly became my shadow. He rode to the office with me (he was our mascot, much like Ocho), and he would sit in my front seat with his back all the way up against the back of the seat, looking around at stoplights as if he were a person. I found his birth certificate and it turned out he had been born on my 18th birthday (April 3rd). Obvi, “Goobs” & I had a special bond. On my husband’s and my wedding day, Bo wore a black bow tie and was there to celebrate. He was gentle and protective when we brought our babies home from the hospital and he let them crawl all over him. He lived to be 14. I miss him terribly. They just don’t live long enough. Hugs to you, friend. Our daughter & son will miss petting Ocho when we pop in for cards.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Oh, Carly. Bo sounds fantastic. I have so many friends who love or have loved amazing Weimars. Thanks for the hugs. Rio will still be here awaiting pets from any and all willing hands 🙂

  4. Emily April 14, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    What a beautiful perspective to take in such a difficult to navigate time- it’s a great reminder for us all. Reminds me of a quote by one of my favorite authors/artists Brian Andreas: “They left me with your shadow, saying things like life is not fair & I believed them for a long time. But today I remembered the way you laughed and the heat of your hand in mine, and I know that life is more fair than we can ever imagine if we are there to live it.”
    Right now my husband and I have an amazing dog named Summit who has brought us more joy than I can process. I have loved watching her transform from a shy, skittish rescue puppy to the vocal, protective, and loving dog she is now. She tells us when we take to long to get her leash, she growls at my husband whenever he gets frustrated with me, and when I’m feeling sad she reminds me it’s because I’m not petting her enough. She’s always able to bring us out of all of life’s distractions and back to the present moment. I will be broken when it’s time for her to leave us, but I will take this reminder to make sure her life is as full of love as she has made ours.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:19 pm

      Emily, THAT is an amazing quote. I love Brian Andreas, but have never heard that one. It’s genius. Summit sounds perfect. They do seem to always know what we need, even when we don’t. Love her hard and well and you’ll have no regrets.

  5. Emily April 14, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    We just lost our dog this week. Sending love and light your way.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      Oh, Emily. So much booooo to that. Thanks for sharing. Sending all that love and light right back to you.

  6. Stacy April 14, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    I rescued Arlo when I was 21 and a senior in college. He went from 8 lbs to 120 lbs, and came with me thru graduation, law school, a move back to kc, many failed relationships, and my father dying. I left him to protect my grieving mom while I chased a dream in DC. I came back and he was still here, happy to see me. A few years later I met my husband, fell in love, and got married. Arlo passed away just shortly after. He was my best friend through so much, but it’s almost as if he was finally comfortable going knowing I was happy and in a good place. Until you meet again on the rainbow bridge. Run wild Ocho!

    • Angie April 15, 2019 at 10:13 am

      I am sorry for your loss! I adopted Barnaby as a puppy when I was going through my divorce – I needed his help to get out of bed every day (turned out he loved to sleep as much as I did!) and to get me outside to enjoy life and nature. He did all that and more. He had so much personality! He got sick and went downhill very fast earlier this year. I made the horrible decision to help him cross over on Valentine’s day and we said goodbye the following morning. Thank God for compassionate vets and their employees. I’ll be forever grateful for the kindness shown to us during that time.

      • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 3:23 pm

        Sleepy dogs are the best. I’m sorry you lost your Barnaby so recently, too. Vets and their staff are AMAZING. Don’t know how they do what they do.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      Aw, Arlo. Love that name. What a good boy. He knew his job here was done. Thanks for sharing his story, Stacy.

  7. Sofia April 14, 2019 at 10:27 pm

    I had to say goodbye for the first time ever, to our Deerhound, Fiona, just after Easter in 2011. She was a retired racer with a difficult past and it took us 2 years to work with her to become a loving pet. I was so worried when K was born that we would have problems but she just looked at me when he used her as a toddler ladder. She was our family protector.
    Shortly after she passed, I went to Chicago to commiserate, with my good friend, about how awful it was to lose a dog and how I was so happy it would be a long time before I had to do it again. Came home and found out that my beloved soulmate dog, Honey, was terminally ill. Honey was the most elegant, sweet, and fierce Whippet there ever was. Her ears were the size of her head, so she had been given up and it gave us the chance to swoop in and adopt her. She was our clown, diva, den mother and the most comfortable pillow ever. She knew the depths of my soul and I swear she was human in another life. I Iike to believe she has come back again and some day we will meet and I will know her.
    xo

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Oh, Sof. Heart pieces broken all over the place. I always said Ocho wasn’t actually a dog, she was An Ocho…which was some strange, human like creature in a dog’s body. Typically with the attitude of an eye rolling 14yo girl 🙂 I hope you find Honey soon. I’m certain you will know her instantly.

  8. Maria April 15, 2019 at 3:54 am

    Such a beautiful tribute to Ocho. I am so sorry for your loss. Sending hugs 💗

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      Thanks, Maria. Had to stop typing many times to finish crying before I could see the screen again. Appreciate your hugs.

  9. Suzy Carter April 15, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Such a heartfelt post. Thank you.
    I lost my husband and my dog within 6 months of each other. Both were crushing losses. Dawson was our therapy dog, he helped us through our trauma and then his work was done. How grateful I am for his companionship.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      Suzy, you are one tough cookie. Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad to know you.

  10. Ann DeFeo April 15, 2019 at 6:58 am

    Ashley, I love reading every one of your blogs but this one is my absolute favorite. You are a beautiful writer. For those of us who are dog lovers, we could feel every emotion you expressed. I realized long ago that our dogs always let us be our best selves. Thank goodness for that.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks, Ann. Such nice things to say. Thank goodness is right 🙂

  11. Sara April 15, 2019 at 7:45 am

    I just recently lost my babe of 13 years, he was by my side when my husband went over seas, he would rest his huge head on my massive stomach and relax me while I was pregnant, he never left her side when she arrived. He took care of myself and the baby when my husband left yet again to chase Iraq plans, he stood by my side when I’d cry after months of marriage counseling, he laid with me when I took my girls and left our home. He was the only person my 9 year old would talk to about anything that hurt her heart through our transition. He’s been my constant for 13 years of blessing and heartbreaks. He took more than a piece of me with him, forever irreplaceable. I feel your pain friend, love and hugs.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Oh, Sara. What a faithful friend for you and your girls. I’m so glad you had him and so sorry he’s gone.

  12. Rachel L Sarafin April 15, 2019 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for sharing! My dog CJ has been with me through a failed marriage, a move to KC, and the start of a new marriage. I know my heart will be broken in two when I lose him. Sending love and light your way.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      So glad you’ve had CJ to get you this far. Having Ocho for five weeks between diagnosis and gone was kind of amazing because we lived as if we knew she could leave at any time. But since that’s actually true of all of us always, I think there’s a good lesson in there 🙂

  13. Barbara Moriarty April 15, 2019 at 8:46 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss and know how hard it is, having had two 14-year-old Labs to send over the “rainbow bridge.” I’m glad I got to meet Ocho a few times and know it’s especially difficult to say goodbye when you’ve had such a faithful companion through difficult days.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks, Barbara. She definitely made those difficult days better. And lately, since Milagro, she would often let me know I’d spent too much time working at my desk and it was time to go out and play. So grateful for that.

  14. Becky April 15, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Is it weird that I heard the opening of that Muppets song and was immediately all, “Nope. Not today. I cannot cry that much today?”

    That song just splits me in two.

    When I was growing up, we shared our home with Hildegard the Wonder Beagle. She once ate an entire raw pot roast. But her real skill was bread. She could somehow get a loaf of bread off the kitchen counter, then eat the entire thing through a tiny hole in the sack. The only problem was that then she’d get thirsty, so she’d empty her water dish … and balloon to twice her normal size. She did this routine multiple times and never quite grasped the cause and effect.

    Even when they’re the worst, they’re the best.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 2:39 pm

      Not weird at all. The Muppets are the soundtrack to my childhood. “Rainbow Connection” gets me every time. Hildegard is my new favorite Becky dog. Her antics are similar to my nephew Lincoln, but he’s a ginormous doodle, so his bread eating capacity is more fathomable. Cause and effect are difficult concepts for most human adults, too. I’m thankful for you and your stories, Becky.

  15. Erin April 15, 2019 at 9:00 am

    It’s such a hard loss. My best boy, Foster, passed away about 2 years ago at 16 years old. For about half of his life, he lived with an endocrine disorder but was always cheerful, active and hungry. Always hungry. He got me through graduate school, several moves, a divorce and finding a new life. Foster was the sweetest soul, and I just hoped I would know when it was time. One day, he didn’t eat his breakfast, and I let him go a few hours later. I miss him every day, and he gave me the greatest gift – the capacity to allow a new dog to find a place in my heart. Never replaced, always remembered with lots of love. Thinking of you

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Wow, 16! Well done, Foster. I’m glad he had a peaceful passing. Ocho did too and I’m so thankful. Makes it easier to focus on the 11 fantastic years instead of the last few weeks. We’re gonna miss you around here, Erin.

  16. Brittany Garber April 15, 2019 at 9:32 am

    Molly was our first dog. She was a Westie and we brought both our kids home to her. She always sat between the door and the babies. To protect them. One year at Christmas….there were some chocolates wrapped under our tree. She had gotten into them….but there was no evidence she ate them.
    One day i see her walking to my bedroom and i follow her. She hid a piece of the candy under our bed. I thought…..”where is the rest?” I followed her again without her knowing and she led me to the stash….in the curtains down stairs…..this brilliant dog hid the candy around the house so she could snack as she please. What a HOOT!

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Haha, Molly sounds AWESOME. They are so often too smart, aren’t they? Stashing chocolate? My kind of girl 🙂

  17. Kristin Smith April 15, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss, Ashley and Brad. There is something so sweet, intangible and unconditional about the love of a dog. You describe it beautifully. I know that you loved Ocho well and can only imagine how you will miss your pup dearly. Love to you guys!

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks, Kristin. Can’t decide if I miss her more or less every day she’s gone. Just different, I guess.

  18. Deidra April 16, 2019 at 11:02 am

    I have a soft spot for large breed dogs. Our Lucca was 40 pounds and 4 months old the day I brought her home. For an entire year she tested my authority, looking for any opportunity to take her rightful seat as alpha of the pack. But with every day, every step of every walk, every stop of every passer-by to comment on her size and “is that dog walking you, or are you walking that dog” stemmed a friendship that would imprint on my heart for all of my human life. She was my keeper and my sweet girl. And on a day like any other, an autoimmune disease swooped into our life and stole her away like a thief in the night. She was protector of our home and yet ever-so docile with our sons, each of whom began using her as a bean bag from the moment they began crawling. Thank you for allowing me to speak of a companion that I will miss – without a doubt – for all of my life. It was a visit that was long overdue. Sending my love from small-town Kansas.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      Oh, Deidra. Sweet, sweet Lucca. I can remember how much you loved your girl. I think our convos about our dogs are what bonded us quickly. I’m so sorry. There’s something about knowing other people have experienced that bond that makes the sad a bit easier. Like, “I’m really not crazy. They really are that amazing.”

  19. Sherie April 16, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Oh Ashley I am so very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute you wrote. Our Keeley turns 15 this year, my husband rescued her 13 years ago. I so wish these fur babies would last forever. Then I think if they did live longer than us, who would take care of them? How could they survive the heartbreak? Sending hugs and positive thoughts to you.

    • Ashley April 17, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you, Sherie. You are right, I don’t know how I would do it differently. Maybe we could just go at exactly the same time, holding paws? Is that too much to ask? 😉

  20. Jessica Bennett May 4, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Ash. My heart hurts for you. Luv & hugs. Thank you for sharing. Your love is amazing and Ocho was blessed that you … were her forever.

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