She came into my life when I was 7 years old, and boy did I fall in love. Dad said he had a a surprise for me and I excitedly waited for him to unveil his present. She peered meekly over the edge of the cardboard box, her brown eyes piercing my shy and lonely only-child heart. Seconds later, she was being hoisted out and into my skinny arms. She was small. Very small. We were told she was a mini smooth Fox Terrier, but everyone always mistook her for a Jack Russell. Who cared, she was cute as f***.
She started off constantly digging holes, whether it was from a canine instinct, desire to escape or sexual frustration we did not know, but that habit disappeared shortly after we got her desexed. Coincidence? Maybe. She had a brown patch of fur on her back in the shape of a heart, and it made 7 year-old me believe she was the most special dog in the world. I still stand by that til this day. Dad, being a clean freak, made sure she was an “outside,” dog, which meant I was always in the backyard playing with her. Every day after school my first call of business when we arrived home was to lift that rolling door between the garage and and backyard and listen for her tiny nails pattering on the concrete as she came running for me. She’d jump and clamour as high as she could (which for a dog of her stature was barely above the knee), her tail wagging so hard you’d think it’d fall off. After dinner, I’d be back outside. And pretty much whenever I felt like seeing her (which was often). I’d always squat, and position one leg so she could stand on her hind legs and perch so that we’d almost be face to face. We did that every day without fail until a few weeks before she died.
She loved licking you, and would go to town on any exposed skin, licking with a tenacity that never tired. As she got older, her doggy breath got stinkier but I strangely loved the scent, and how her dried saliva smelled on my hands. I would cradle her tiny body in my arms when dad wasn’t around to scold me about getting fur everywhere on my clothes, and compulsively brush as many furs off myself before I headed back inside. You could never get every single one, and he would often find patches of her short, white fur on my trackies and lecture me. Sometimes, when my parents weren’t home, I’d let her inside and give her a tour of our house, letting her sit on furniture and sniff around our tiny double-storey home.
When we went on walks she was scared of anything bigger than her, which was included cats. She loved no one else but us, and I couldn’t imagine life without her. We placed her kennel (which was made for a dog much larger than her so was very spacious) in front of our glass sliding doors facing the backyard, so that we could always see each other. She’d often sit outside her kennel, eagerly waiting for one of us to go outside and play with her. Every time I stood up and headed towards our back door she’d perk up and go sprinting out of her kennel to greet me, so that I’d never open that door and not see her jumping for joy. Regardless of what sort of day I’d had, she would always be cheerily waiting for me, and made even the best of days better.
It was a few months into 2017 when I noticed she wasn’t always racing to the back door when she saw me get up. She wasn’t voraciously swallowing her kibble whole. She didn’t feel like trying to jump up to kiss me on her 10cm long legs. We put it down to the fact that she was nearing 15 and was just getting old, and that our baby girl was now an elderly senior. However, in the space of a few months it got to the point where she would not eat, and one night after tucking her into the garage to be warmer, we were woken up by terrible yelping that terrified me. My parents booked the soonest appointment they could at the vets, but I couldn’t attend due to class. I comforted myself thinking we could at least get some answers and know how to treat her illness. I called them after the appointment whilst I was at uni, and dad said curtly, “she’s okay.” I should have known he was lying. When he picked me up from the station, he told me, “the truth is, this might be the end for her.” I remember bursting into tears, and feeling as if someone had just ripped a chunk out of me. He tried to console me and suggested we wait for what the vet would say, but I had already heard enough to know we were working with a death sentence.
We went directly to the vet to visit her, because they had temporarily admitted her to put a drip in. When I walked in, you’d think they had cured her. She started wagging her tail as soon as she saw us and didn’t stop licking my hand. It had been weeks since she last slobbered all over me, and I deluded myself into thinking, maybe we have some more time. She looked so much better, and I lulled myself into a false sense of security hoping that they were wrong. That she could pull through. The vet explained that she had chronic kidney disease, that the condition progresses much faster in dogs than humans and whilst the drip they had put in mimicked dialysis and was making her feel better, it was temporary and as soon as she came off it she would revert back to how she was. He recommended that we put her out of her suffering, and he was available at that very moment to do it. What? No. No. No.
I refused. I was not prepared for this. I thought she was just sick, that we had months maybe years before she finally would leave me. We asked him whether we could take her home, so that we could prepare and have some final moments together. He agreed, and so wrapping her up in a thick blanket I carried her out. Maybe I was being selfish, maybe I didn’t think about the fact that I was prolonging her suffering, but I just really, really could not let her go. She was my longest friend, someone I had loved for 15 years and and had watched me grow up. I was not going to kill her in a split second just because some vet said she was dying.
The first day she even ate, and looked happy to see us all. We let her sleep inside, and would check on her regularly, even throughout the night. Dad carried her around the house, taking photos of her in every conceivable location. We kept this up for 2 weeks, before that fateful morning. My dad woke me up, and when I went down to see her I just knew. It was her time to go. She had lost so much weight you could see her spine, and she couldn’t stand. She would not look at me, and did not want to do anything but lie there, curled in a trembling, little ball. I hated it with every inch of my soul, but I knew we had to send her off. I had hoped by some miracle she would get better, that maybe we got the wrong diagnosis, but even my delusional eyes could see I was only prolonging her pain. We drove her down to the veterinary clinic and 10 minutes later, I watched the light drain from her eyes as she left me forever. I remember the receptionist giving me a teddy that said “deepest sympathy,” and I had placed it underneath her head as a pillow as I watched her pass. It sits now on top of her urn in my room, and sometimes I still smell it to see if I can remember her scent. Even though I knew it was a stupid question, I had asked them “Was it something I did,” to which everyone always answers, “no.” I sometimes still that that if I had done something differently, that if we had taken her in a little earlier we could have saved her. But life is full unanswered “what ifs,” and death is the only certainty we can have faith in. It was her time to leave this world, and I can only hope she is enjoying herself in doggy heaven. I left for home leaving a piece of myself behind, and a huge chunk of my happiness too.
For months I didn’t go into our backyard, and to this day I find very little reason to spend time there. I think about her frequently, and how much joy she brought to my life. I will never not miss her, and will always cherish her as my best friend and family. I keep a lock of her fur in my desk, and sometimes will go out into the garage to smell the sweater that she absolutely hated to wear. I’ve continued to keep the exact same picture of her as my phone screensaver since 2014, and have no intentions of changing it. Sissy was the best thing to have happened to 7 year-old me, and 24 year-old me continues to thank her every day for it.
A tribute to Sissy, 2/1/2002 – 3/8/2017