Zoey’s Song

At four in the morn­ing our Pit Bull, P.D., stood on his hind legs with his front paws on my bed and nuz­zled my arm with his nose. He and Zoey, our Amer­i­can Bull­dog, usu­al­ly sleep through the night, but they wake me to let them out if they need to go to the bath­room. As soon as I get up P.D. usu­al­ly races down the stairs to the back door, but that night he walked over to his bed and laid down.

I went to the bed­room door. “You wan­na go out or not?”

P.D. didn’t move.

Curs­ing under my breath, I went back to sleep. P.D. woke me again. When I got up, he returned to his bed.

“What the hell’s going on?”

P.D. just stared at me.


Exas­per­at­ed, I went back to bed. He jumped up, walked over to Zoey’s bed, and sat down. When I looked at Zoey, I real­ized what P.D. had been try­ing to tell me. Unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, she hadn’t stirred dur­ing his ups and downs. She lay on her side, her eyes closed, her tongue stick­ing out of her mouth. I knelt beside her. Her bed was sop­ping wet with urine. Semi-con­scious, she couldn’t stand.

I made an emer­gency appoint­ment with the vet. He gave her a com­plete physical.

“Is it kid­ney fail­ure?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ll need to see the results of her blood pan­el to make a diagnosis.”

“What’s the treat­ment for kid­ney failure?”

He paused. “There’s no cure,” he said gently.

His words took my breath away. “How long has she got?” I choked out.

“We’re get­ting ahead of our­selves. Let’s wait for the blood work.”

On the dri­ve home I fought back tears as Zoey slept on the seat beside me.

When she was five months old, a dog breed­er who’d lost his home to fore­clo­sure begged my daugh­ter to take her for a few days, then dis­ap­peared, and wouldn’t answer her calls. My daugh­ter already had three dogs. She asked Cindy and me if we want­ed Zoey. A few years ear­li­er, two four­teen-year-old dogs we’d raised from pup­pies suc­cumbed to can­cer. We turned Zoey down at first because we were still heart­bro­ken, but we missed the love of a dog and we even­tu­al­ly agreed to take her.

I had recent­ly retired, and Zoey filled my sud­den­ly emp­ty days. When I walked her in the park, she bounced along like she had springs in her legs. She chased down ten­nis balls and leapt high in the air to catch fris­bees. At night, we rolled around on the floor in front of the tele­vi­sion, play­ing chew-toy tug of war. She fol­lowed me every­where and wait­ed for me at the front win­dows when­ev­er I left home with­out her.

Time passed. We moved to Hid­den Hills. To keep her safe from rat­tlesnake bites, I spent a small for­tune on a snake fence to enclose our big back­yard and took her to rat­tlesnake avoid­ance train­ing. She was smart and learned her lessons quickly.

When our grand­kids came over, she got excit­ed and played too rough. Know­ing Zoey was a quick study, I hired a dog train­er to break the habit. A nice young woman in her late twen­ties, the train­er was gen­tle with Zoey, but firm. Zoey didn’t like the firm part. She hid under the bed at the begin­ning of each ses­sion, and when I pulled her out in the open, she stood behind me and timid­ly peeked around my leg at the trainer.

“We’re get­ting nowhere,” the young woman said. “Zoey’s not the prob­lem. She’s smart. You’re the prob­lem. She knows you’ll let her get away with any­thing. You won’t dis­ci­pline her.”

The train­er was right. I spoiled Zoey. I still do. I can’t help it. It’s who I am.

I paid the train­er a bonus and ter­mi­nat­ed the lessons. Zoey mirac­u­lous­ly got bet­ter with the grand­kids on her own. That might have been a coin­ci­dence, but I like to think Zoey paid me back for get­ting rid of the trainer.

Not Get­ting Along

When Zoey turned five, we added P.D. to the fam­i­ly. It didn’t work out well at first. She was jeal­ous and mis­er­able when­ev­er I paid atten­tion to P.D. I asked the vet for advice. He said Zoey’s reac­tion to P.D. was typ­i­cal of dogs who’d been the sole pet in a house­hold for sev­er­al years. “She doesn’t want to share you with anoth­er dog. She’s like an only-child tod­dler, who resents the atten­tion her dad gives to a new­born baby. She’ll get over it with time, but my guess is she secret­ly likes him already. Spy on them when they’re alone. See how she acts.”

The vet was right. From the kitchen win­dow where Zoey couldn’t see me, I watched her play­ing with P.D. in the back­yard. They wres­tled like pup­pies hav­ing the time of their lives. Zoey’s jeal­ousy soon fad­ed away, and she became good pals with P.D. even when I was around.

Good Pals

A few years lat­er, arthri­tis crip­pled me so bad­ly I couldn’t take Zoey and P.D. on their dai­ly walks, so I hired our dog groomer to cov­er for me. Zoey didn’t want to leave the house with­out me. I had to shove her out the door, and at the end of her walks, she ran back to me. When I went through knee replace­ment surg­eries to get back on my feet, Zoey kept vig­il at the foot of my bed dur­ing my recov­er­ies, and she was over­joyed when we hit the trails again.

After Met­al Implant

The years rolled by, and age began to take its toll. The vet implant­ed met­al screws in Zoey’s back knee to hold it togeth­er; arthri­tis ate away at her shoul­ders; and nascent cysts bud­ded in her eyes. The vet pre­scribed Carpro­fen for arthrit­ic inflam­ma­tion and Ketero­lac eye­drops to keep the cysts at bay. Even with the med­i­cine, Zoey’s eye­sight dimmed, her gait became stiff-legged, and climb­ing steps grew difficult.

Despite her aches and pains, she seemed hap­py and remained active until the morn­ing of our emer­gency trip to the vet. When we returned home, I placed a rub­ber pad under her dog bed. List­less and lethar­gic, she spent most of the day there. That night she fell into a deep sleep. Shafts of moon­light com­ing through the win­dows high­light­ed the fawn spots on her white back. Watch­ing over her, I tried to come to grips with her mor­tal­i­ty. I could not.

Steps are Difficult

The vet called me the next day. “It isn’t renal fail­ure,” he said. “The blood work is con­sis­tent with a treat­able con­di­tion. Some female dogs, who were spayed young, suf­fer from weak blad­ders in old age. Zoey was spayed at five months.” He pre­scribed Proin to restore blad­der con­trol and ordered a more exten­sive blood pan­el to rule out oth­er illnesses.

The med­i­cine worked. Zoey’s ener­gy and per­son­al­i­ty came back, and the blood analy­sis cleared her of every­thing else.

That all went down three months ago.

Since then, her brush with death has forced me to face up to a harsh truth. Zoey and I have grown old togeth­er, but time march­es to a faster, mean­er beat of the drum for her. The life expectan­cy for her breed is ten. She’s thir­teen. A heart-break­ing day lurks out there some­where in the future. I have to accept it.

Still Young at Heart

But for now, she’s still with me. She wags her tail when she wakes up in the morn­ing, plays tug of war with her chew toys, jumps around like a pup­py when I grab her leash, and enjoys the sights and scents of two walks a day. Our dog groomer, who knows more about canine health than most vets, thinks she has sev­er­al good years ahead of her. I hope he’s right. In the mean­time, I’ll savor the mem­o­ries of our long, good run togeth­er and make the most of the fun times still to come.

Post Script: “Old age is the way of all liv­ing things. It’s nat­ur­al and ordi­nary. All crea­tures are born, grow old, and die. There’s no point in cry­ing about it.” I put those words in Jolene Hukstep’s mind in Old Wounds to the Heart. They seemed to help her, but when the day of loss came, she still cried.

For more about Zoey and P.D., see Dog Days, Rat­tlesnake Avoid­ance Train­ing, Ani­mal Pharm, and Coy­ote Run.