For my Daisy

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved

As I write this it has only been a few days since losing Daisy. Saying it out loud seems impossible but writing about her seems only fitting. I don't know if this paying tribute to the dogs who leave our lives would help each of us who lose them but I know they all deserve one.

14 years ago when Olivier brought Daisy home as a “surprise” I told him he changed our lives forever – now our lives would forever be punctuated and scheduled by house training, accidents –ours in not figuring out the house training fast enough, dog training, the eternal search for the right vets, pet sitters, dog walkers, what time to be home for the dog, whether she could come or not, -"what about the dog?" –with everything we would do.

I complained he hadn’t told me before bringing her home. People told me to give her back (except for one of my sisters who believed as I did that dogs are not disposable). I told them, no – now we had a dog. And what a dog she was. Sweet, playful, loving and a spirit that was wise, soulful and kind. She was family, teacher and more than best friend. She gave more with love and open heart than she ever took When we took our first puppy training class with Daisy, the instructor teased Olivier and I about babying her and called her "Baby Daisy." We loved that and it was one of our favorite nick names for her along with "Doodle"

Daisy taught me so much about dogs. I learned from her about how to listen to them to give them what they asked for or were saying and how to ask.

I learned how they can’t stand heat –when we lived in Florida an outdoor trip in the summer meant a few minutes before it was time to bring my hot dog home. We turned around so many times with Olivier saying: “we’re not taking that dog the next time,” we always did and we always turned around.

She taught me about groomers, about paying attention to what she was saying when she was so frightened she stood still in a groomer's doorway and peed on a return visit. I turned around, whatever happened had obviously hurt her in some way and was not to be repeated. We discovered “express grooms “ -55 minutes in full view – I wish they had these in NYC.

When I took the pet care technician teacher position at a vocational school one of the first changes I made to the program was to bring a cat and a dog into the class room so the students could learn how to work with them in real life. Daisy and I took therapy dog classes so when we went to school we could add in animal assisted therapy and quell the rigors of working in an office building banning dogs. For six years in a row Daisy was a registered therapy dog. She passed with flying colors two Pet Partners evaluations and her third with New York Therapy Animals. I passed too but it was all Daisy –the last test we got our highest evaluation, even as her hearing was almost gone, she aced that test being all over checking in and responding to visual cues. She was sharper than ever.

We were a team. Daisy and I taught students how to walk a dog, how to observe behavior and what it meant, how dogs play, how to put on a leash and halter, how to press the gum to check capillary refill time, how to tent skin to check for dehydration, parts of a dog’s anatomy, what a dog’s vocalization mean, how dogs learn and so very much more. She was groomed countless times for grooming demonstrations in front of the class room and at the sites my students interned at. Her mid day walks were field exercises in observing dog behavior out of the classroom with the packs of dog walkers, owners and other dogs we would see on the streets and in the local dog parks.

Daisy loved coming to class with me she was the most perfect dog when we worked together. I would bring her downtown on the subway in a pet carrier, the only time I ever used one with her. Every time she would see the bag come out of the closet her tail would wag and she would do her “happy dog dance” – a series of play moves and jubilation. I used to say when she was no longer happy to see the carrier I would know she did not want to come to school anymore. She was always happy to see that bag.

Daisy loved ice cream, food, especially cat and people food, chasing a cat that thought it could slink by another cat without being noticed, raiding the litter box, her toys, especially her tennis balls, car trips, being with her people 24/7, trapping lizards (she was very confused about where the lizards were when we moved to NY).

Daisy loved the kayak, the beach and swimming, she was a cocker spaniel after all, a true water dog. One time she was knocked over by a wave and some water got in her lungs. She was wary of water after that. We worked with her holding her in our arms chest high together for short periods in the water, she liked that. Then, we used a boogie board she could lie on to hold between us. She liked that too, soon she was swimming on her own just fine again. She loved being on the kayak so much she would shiver with anticipation when she saw it. I think the highlight of kayak trips for her was one very early morning in Clearwater when a pod of dolphins found us and swam along side us jumping over our kayak as they went along. We were their toy. Daisy wanted to join them, whimpering for it. I didn’t let her go, I was worried she would be their football –maybe I was wrong and I deprived them all of a perfectly good swim together.

Daisy had dog friends in every neighborhood we lived in and a decided preference for fluffy white dogs wherever she would meet them. More than once when I mentioned this to an owner they would tell me that they had heard this before (I believe there's a study in that). When Daisy really liked a dog she would give them little patented cocker spaniel hip bumps. Once on West End Avenue, the receiving dog's owner asked me if Daisy was spayed. I assured him she was, he shook his head -"I'd get that checked if were you" he said. Even towards the end her dog friends would give her so much joy with her hip bumps and doggy smiles you would never know there was anything wrong -especially in those moments because there wasn't.

And Daisy had people friends too. When we lived on West End Avenue the little children on our floor loved Daisy. Whenever they would see us together they would plead to pet her. I would let them take a tennis ball and throw it down the hallway for her to fetch. One little girl was distraught when her parents decided to move to Brooklyn. She told them she was worried she would never meet another dog that liked her the way Daisy did. We had play dates with Zoe for a while and then years later saw each other again. When Zoe and her parents pulled up to the house we were outside of, Zoe told her parents she wondered if Daisy would remember her. As soon as the car door opened, Daisy lifted her head and ran across the open field in between, right to Zoe. Once, when we were walking down the hall in our building on the way to a walk, I realized I had forgotten something and told her we needed to go back to get it. A little girl was walking by with her mother. "Mom! Dogs can talk!!" she exclaimed with joy. I agreed with her.

Daisy also had pet sitters and we always wondered if they took as good care of her as we wanted them to. After a snow storm in Manhattan, the snow is plowed into high banks parallel to sidewalks. Crossing the street can be challenge, those banks can be several feet high. On one of those days, Olivier saw Daisy and Paulette, her pet sitter, from a distance. When he told me about this the first thing I asked was, how they were together, did he say hi? He told me was too far away but he never worried because when they got to the corner, Paulette picked Daisy up gently and carried her over the drifts and to the other side of the street. That was the best report I could have had. I was very happy that Daisy had so much love and care in her life. Once she was your friend, you would never forget her and she would never forget you.

The happiest parts of her day were when we came home to her and saddest when we left her. She was so thrilled to see us home I trained her to get a toy to channel all that jubilance. When we would leave, she would retreat to a resting spot with eyes downcast and head down, not happy. When we found out Daisy’s kidneys were failing we knew we had less time than she or we wanted. It is always this way – God does not give them to us for long but he charges us to care for them with the utmost love while he does.

I can never know what she bore inside her but I knew her well enough to know there was discomfort in how she would hold her body at times, a stiffness that came and went. Jumping on things became harder and she would place her front legs where she wanted to be and turn and look at me for a boost up. And in those same days there would be contentment, that full sigh as she settled down next to me, that way of lying with hind legs rotated out -her frog posture, that must feel good if they do it.

Even so there was so much that I went through with giving her all that she wanted in the end. When she would not eat I tried everything I could imagine to tempt her palate and when she went from eating two of those impossible to come up with meals a day to one the bar got higher. At the end I was up to Haagen Dazs ice cream- she still loved it enough to eat some. Mostly Daisy wanted to be with me every minute. So I spent as much time with her as I could. Every minute and told her how much I loved her. She got very weak and had a hard time walking down the long hallway in our building. I would carry her to elevator and she would take it from the lobby. Every walk at the end was to Petland around the corner even when she couldn’t eat the biscuits they would always give her. We went anyway and she still liked going – she walked faster in that direction and still made sure I took those biscuits for her. We slept with "wee wee"pads and she suffered through baby diapers in the end - my little noble girl.

This saying "you'll know when it is time" is never so It's not you that knows, it's them and as close attention as you may pay to what they are saying you can never know what they are thinking. And you know they are thinking about this just like you are. I can only try and do some justice to her with this. And I can only pray that I can somehow be close to the person she believed me to be. I hope we did not take too much of the good moments she had left or of the life she still wanted to live because no matter what we know we can never know this. I wish that it is true that we spared her pain and gave her a peaceful passing. I know how quickly she slipped over I think her spirit was so much stronger than her body in the end.

I don't have the right words for how much heart aches for her or for how very much I can not keep but still loving her. Part of me does not believe this is real, I catch myself thinking I need to hurry up to get home to walk her, expect to see her bouncing ahead of me at the beach, on a walk, at the park turning around to check and make sure we are there – with her doggy smile, making sure no one is left behind and asking us to come along.

I believe our dogs love us so very much, maybe even more than we can ever love them that's how they're made. And that our hearts and homes cannot but miss that very love and them when they leave us. In Spanish when you say you miss someone you use the phrase “te echo de menos” which means “I am less without you.” Without Daisy, I am infinitely less. I do not know if there is a rainbow bridge but I do know if there is a heaven Daisy is in it.

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