This last week our family unexpectedly lost one of our beloved dogs. Zoe was actually my sons dog. When he moved back home in February to save for college this fall, it was with the understanding that he had to find somewhere for Zoe to stay. We already had three dogs and I did not want four. Thankfully, a friend of his was able to take her in. Our ‘puppies’ range in weight from 5lbs, Gizzy, a 6yr old Chihuahua who needs to lose a pound, Sweetie, a 1yr old malitipoo maybe weighs 8lbs, Sweetie is technically my mom’s dog and Pumpkin, my 8yr old furbag who weighs 40lbs. Adding another 70lbs to the mix, well, I just kept envisioning mass chaos and us walking around looking like Chewbacca from all the dog hair.

Within two weeks after my son moved in, I came home to “mom, Zoe got beat up by one of the other dogs where she was staying and I have her in my room.” I have been unintentionally rescuing dogs and cats for years. I make a point of avoiding adopt a pet day, homeless kitties, sad puppy dog eyes and stories of neediness that have any part of …”can’t you please, just for a little while, and I promise we’re looking for a home…” because I just buckle. I have the same affliction when it comes to kids. I’m just pathetic.

I walked into his bedroom and Zoe was laid out on her bed with a few minor scratches, a few deeper cuts and dried blood. She slowly lifted her head and looked at me with those huge, sad, hazel eyes, wet pink nose and tail trying to thump a few times before she laid her head back down, seemingly defeated. Her injuries were minor so we were able to treat her at home. As we cleaned her up, she told me the whole terrible story of how she was picked on, bullied and beaten up. Maybe I made that up in my head, but she wasn’t going anywhere.

The days that followed were chaotic. Sweetie was Zoe’s new play toy while Gizzy and Pumpkin just growled at her all the time. Although Zoe was 2yrs old, she was all paws and legs. She was comically clumsy, tripping, running into walls and falling through the doggie door. Zoe and Sweetie used the backyard like a race track and then loved flying through the doggie door at mach 10. Or, in Zoe’s case slamming through as though she was trying to take the door with her. She liked to stand in the back yard and bark at the sky to hear herself talk. She was also the most curious dog I had ever met. She would push the rocking chair with her nose and stand back with her head cocked watching it rock, as if she was trying to figure out what the hell it did. She did that a lot, pushing things with her nose out of curiosity to see what they would do. She would walk in and sit in front of you and just watch you. At times, it was disconcerting, her gaze so intense. So too was her love of my son, she was happiest when she was with him. How patiently she would wait by the door or in his room. I would tell her, ‘he’ll be home soon’ and she would sigh, as if to say I hope so. Sweetie and Zoe competed for who was the friendliest and most loving, and it was neck in neck. When Zoe loved you, she loved you hard – literally, all 70lbs of rock hard, wiggling muscle and two feet of tongue trying to climb into your lap, where she thought she belonged.

I’m grieving for this dog that isn’t mine. As I write this, thinking of her, my eyes water and my heart becomes heavy. Our family misses her so very much. My son hurts, I see it in his eyes and in the language of his body. The day that she died, it was horrible to see him hurting so much. A mother heals and wants to take all the pain away and there was nothing, nothing I could do but hold him. My daughter has put this away, as she often does with her pain, to deal with on another day. The dogs are different, especially Sweetie. Sweetie and I like to go into Zoe’s room and sit. There are moments that I think I must be crazy to be this upset over a dog. But dog is God spelled backwards and Zoe brought so much love and joy that I’m ok with being a bit crazy right now. It strikes me that we often don’t get permission to grieve those things that we need to. People say, “It was just a dog,” or “Suck it up!” or “There’s other fish in the sea.” We don’t get permission to grieve that pet we loved so much, or the job we lost  or the relationship that we thought would last forever. If you see me driving down the road or walking through the grocery store, I will be the one grieving a silly, 70 lb, slobbering slab of a pit bull that touched my heart. Excuse the tears in my eyes.

(we’re unsure what caused Zoe’s death. she had been out on a normal hike earlier before she died, the vet said it could have been a bite or heat exhaustion, even though the temps have been much cooler)

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