Dave Rice 7:20 a.m., May 24
What words could I possibly use to describe my terrible loss? My beautiful dog, Bliss, died today at 3:17 p.m. She came to live with me in 1999, the day after I married my fourth husband. From the beginning the marriage had no chance. On our wedding night, he left at one a.m. to deliver newspapers for North County Times, which meant he had to sleep the next day. I was bored after I dropped my daughter off at the church for a youth activity, and as I was driving back home, I saw a car parked at the corner of Interstate 15 and Deer Springs Road. The sign propped on the windshield said "free puppies" which was not what I needed to see.
I was a volunteer at the County Department of Animal Services Shelter in Carlsbad and was constantly bringing home dogs that I really couldn't afford. So the last thing I needed was to bring home a puppy. But I was bored and decided to just "have a look." After pulling over and getting out of the car, I saw a man in his 30s wearing a greasy raincoat. His long hair was plastered to his head, and he just looked sinister, like someone who shouldn't be around animals and children.
I shivered when I saw several puppies bounding around in his open trunk. I hoped he didn't keep them there while riding in the car, but because I didn't see any boxes around, I supposed he did. Two of the pups were brown, one was black, and there were a gorgeous blonde in the middle. He said that another black pup had already been taken and I wondered who would take a black pup when this little yellow one was so extraordinarily beautiful and friendly. As she smiled up at me, I couldn't resist pickingher up, and when I did, she rested her chin right on my shoulder.
That was it. I knew right then that she was meant to be with me--if the guy would let me have her. I recalled my resolution not to get any more dogs, but I couldn't just leave her with the greasy guy, could I? What kind of animal lover would I be? I started to walk away with her and as I got to the car, I remembered to ask, "Can I have her?"
"Sure," the guy said.
"Well, what breed is she?"
"Looks like a Lab. I don't know. My dog is a Keeshond and apparently a Lab snuck into the backyard."
"When is her birthday?"
He scratched his chin. "Don't know exactly. The puppies were born in March."
He had kept them three months. No wonder they were so fat and round.
I got into my car and drove a block to the house, trying to think of a clever way to introduce her to my new husband. I finally decided to give her a snappy name so that he'd laugh instead of cry. I already had six cats and a dog that slept with me so I didn't expect him to be thrilled when he found out about the new member of the family. Something to do with our wedding day would give the dog sentimental value. That's when I thought of "Bliss" as in "wedded bliss" and even though the marriage didn't work out, the dog turned out to be the love of my life.
A few years ago, I was managing a kennel in Hidden Meadows. I took care of more than twenty Weimaraners for a breeder who often showed dogs on the weekends. The very old and the very young stayed with me. When Flash was finally retired, he stayed with me too. And on the very first day, he got for or five female members of the pack to gang up on Bliss and start poking her with their noses. I looked out the kitchen window and saw Bliss huddled against the garage door as each dog took a turn beating her up.
As I ran ouside screaming, my little dog, Maddy, a Cairn Terrier, rushed out the screen door barking wildly. Flash then picked her up and crushed her in his massive jaws right in front of me. I tried to catch him, but he was always a foot ahead of me. He didn't let me have her until she was dead and he left her in the middle of the driveway. Needless to say, we never went back, especially after the owner swore that her dog would never do a thing like that.
An agility teacher once told me that Bliss was extremely inteliigent and a natural athlete, which was true. She could always outsmart me when she wanted to get loose and could even jump the six-foot fence in our backyard until four months ago. None of the neighbors ever complained about having Bliss run around. She was a "people dog" who preferred going up to people even at the dog park, rather than playing with other dogs. I trusted her. She didn't have a mean bone in her body unless another dog in her pack tried to steal her food. Then she didn't back down.
Whever we went, people would whisper, "Look at that beautiful dog." Cream-colored coat, chestnut eyes. She was the doggie version of the husband I always wanted--smart, gorgeous, compassionate, and kind.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she stayed right by my side on the couch while I cried. No one else was there for me like she was. My own mother called once during that year and then sent me a gift basket even though she only lives fifteen minutes away. She said that she couldn't be at the hospital on the day of the surgery because she was having a fundraiser for her gardner's son who was "really sick."
Later, my grandmother said, "That dog has done more for you than anyone else in your family." And she was right.
In the last fifteen years, Bliss and I have only been a part for fifteen days. I don't know what I'm going to do when I wake up tomorrow and she is not on the floor beside the bed. It's been seven hours since I took her body to the humane society and I still look for her and wonder where she is. Not having Bliss will have its advantages. I won't have to search the neighborhood for her during thunderstorms because she always escapes. And I won't have to stay home on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve so she doesn't jump through the window when the neighbors set off fire crackers.
No matter how many times she ran away, she always came back. And not only that, but she stayed on the sidewalk so she didn't get hit by cars. One time, my daughter's friend called me from two miles away to say that she had seen Bliss trot passed her house. She was certain it was Bliss although she couldn't believe the dog had traveled that far.
Bliss was my heart and I've dreaded losing her. I know she dreaded losing me too because her eyes were always pinned on me even from across the room. In her final days, her body started to wilt. She couldn't stand up and the vet said she should have been dead years ago. She had a heart murmur, a bad liver, high cholesterol and low blood sugar; and, Labrador Retrievers rarely live passed the age of ten anyway. I know she was hanging on for my sake. She was all I really had.
For two days, she wouldn't eat and her legs became useless. Her ribs were showing and her back was swayed and still she wouldn't give up. This afternoon, I realized she hadn't been out for a potty break. So my friend put on her harness, carried her to the door. A substance with the color and consistency of fruit punch poured from her mouth. It left a trail on the floor, my pictures, and several of my books. When I subsequently saw her laying int the dirt because she couldn't stand up, I couldn't take watching her anymore.
I had my friend lay her on the front porch where it was cool. I then went into the house to get a photo of me, Bliss, and our old dog Katie who passed away four years old. I knelt down next to Bliss and held up the picture frame. Her eyes slid sideways so she could look at it. "Go find Katie," I said tearfully. I truly thought the words would kill me. "I love you and I'm glad you were my dog, but you need to go. Run away. Run like the wind. Jump the fence."
She opened her mouth and panted heavily. Then she stretched upward and lifted her chin as she pressed down with her front paws. She did this three times as I continued to coax her to "jump the fence" and "go find Katie." After three or four minutes, the light left her eyes. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Had she really obeyed me until the very end? I checked her breathing and her stomach wasn't moving. She was dead. I stumbled into the house and incoherently told my friend the news. He then covered her with an old comforter and carried her to the car.
We took her out to the humane society to have her body rendered. When Katie died, I had her cremated and the ashes are on the top shelf in my closet. I've told my kids that I don't care where our ashes end up, I just want them mixed together because Katie had been tied to a tree and left for dead in a riverbed before I adopted her. She always clung to me for security and I silently promised her that she would never be alone again.
But Bliss was different. She was strong, and courageous, and independent. No matter how heartbroken I am about losing her, I know she'll do just fine without me.