Saturday, October 29, 2011


It’s been three weeks since Phoebe died. And, since we walked everywhere, miles and miles, people knew her far and wide. Every day someone I haven’t seen for awhile, or someone I didn’t even know we knew, will ask, “How’s Phoebe?”

Sometimes I respond pragmatically: “I had to put her down this month.” Or, if it’s someone who met us from the get-go, my throat tightens, I clutch my fist to my chest and fold into a scrunchy face. Best of all, though, thus far, is when I lie, “She’s fine, thank you,” and keep walking.

I remember when Phoebe and I first met. It was at Boxer Rescue.

Boxer Rescue works sort of like a matchmaking service; you give your requirements and wait in a sitting area as they bring out likely candidates, one by one. The first guy was a black and white boxer, nice chap, docile. They brought out another, and another. No, no, not quite right…

Then a van pulled up to the shelter and out popped Phoebe. She had just been returned after an unsuccessful adoption, and they were trying to hurry her through the waiting room.

“Is she upset?” whispered the shelter manager to the handler.

“She’s really mad.”

“Wait!” I said.

Because Phoebe was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen.

“Wait,” I said. “I’d like to walk her around the block.”

The manager and handler whispered some more, then leashed Phoebe up, and I walked her. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a breed rescue before, but they are situated in industrial areas, surrounded, alternately, by places that sell broken car parts and then other breed rescue facilities. Phoebe lunged at every fence we passed.

Oh no, I thought, no. The dog I’d loved most in life had had a horrible temperament when it came to other dogs, and I just couldn’t see going through another decade of fights and bites.

And yet…

We got back to the waiting room and I said I didn’t think she would work for me. But a family had entered, with several kids. And the father took Phoebe’s leash and said to his wife, “This, Gracie, is one beautiful dog.”

Phoebe sat perfectly still like a statue -- staring off at some point in the distance, as though none of us existed.

“Alan, I don’t know … she’s so big … and, I don’t know…”

I realized something, suddenly. “Phoebe,” I said to her. “Phoebe.” Just that. And she looked in my eyes.

The father said, “Gracie, I like her.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and took the leash from his hand. “She’s mine.”

Some people have said to me, “Oh, losing your dog is like losing your child.” I disagree. My dog is not like anything or anyone else. We have a dog to human relationship; we look after each other in unique and lovely ways. We reach across the spectrum of species and somehow find agreement, trust, and affection. My dog is my dog.

Or more precisely, of course, my dog was my dog – though I’m not entirely able to face that yet.


  1. Well, I wish I could think of something good to say. That's beautiful. I'm glad you had her in your life. I'm glad you still have Albert.

  2. It's a gift when a writer as thoughtful and articulate as you are goes through the grieving process, you say so many things the rest of us know but can't quite express. And Phoebe was so, so lucky to have you for her hoomin.

  3. Yet another wonderful story.
    But what I most want to know is: how is Albert doing?!? Has he said anything, or has he been quiet about this whole thing?

  4. My eyes still sting when I read your Phoebe stories. You had such a deep and strong bond. You were meant for each other.

  5. Beautifully told. You are right, an animal/human relationship is nothing like a human/human one but that doesn't mean it is any less close or deep.

  6. This is close to home.

  7. We met Boz at Boxer Rescue, too. Not exactly in the same way, though he had been returned by a family who decided they didn't want him. That, I know now, is because he was supposed to come and bless our house.

    He is not my child. I am not his mother. That is exactly true. We are close in completely different ways and our communication is something we have taught each other, completely ours.

  8. In my experience, the absolute reality of losing a pet comes in waves, each one a little deeper and more real than the one before. And it doesn't stop after a few weeks or months.)

    (This was also true when my parents passed away although that's getting to be quite some time ago and I don't mean to slight them with a parenthetical comment.)

  9. Did Phoebe ever learn to play well with others?
    I figure our dogs aren't like 'children' at all. Our dogs know many more secrets about me than any family member will ever know!

    The bond... just lovely, AH.

  10. That's a lovely story about you and Phoebe. It's so hard to lose a furry loved one, especially when there is a special bond. I had that with my cat, Oscar, who I rescued out of a dumpster behind a pizza place. We were together for 19 years.

  11. Judy - So CaliforniaOctober 30, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    I'd write something no doubt thoughtful if I could see through my tears. This is a beautiful rememberance of Phoebe. Sorry I never met her.

  12. beautifully put K!

    It annoys me when people tell me "oh, take care of my Tasha, she's my daughter" or "my son Bandit needs feeding twice a day and walk". wtf?

    Pets aren't people (some on both sides think otherwise), the bond is something more that. If you don't connect with your animal that way, you just don't understand.

    One client named their dog Oscar---he HATES it. I call him Jacob and when I do, he climbs in my lap and cuddles.

    Hope Albert is doing ok, grief is such a hard thing to explain to animals.

  13. Oh Karin, that' s such a poignant and beautifully written piece. You saved Phoebe from being returned again after that family found she didn't want to live with those children.

    Have you any more photos from her younger days?

    As for bonding with your pet, I feel sorry for people who have dogs that just don't bond with them that much. We picked up a stray boy dog once that lived in his own world., I guess he'd grown up on the streets of Singapore, and was almost feral. He soon ran off again. I've heard that chows are not really people dogs either. On the other hand, some dogs can't bear to be separated even for a moment. And then there are dogs like Phoebe, Abby and Boz, that are just perfect.

    You'll keep getting those waves of missing Phoebe for a long time. I was searching for an exact replacement of Tessa for months. I did eventually replace my beloved cat with a lookalike and it worked well, but they are only the same in looks, not character.

  14. How beautiful, true love. I know when I lost my Lab mix Bear back on 9/9/01, I lost the friend that had been with me longer than anyone in the world apart from my relatives. Its been 10 years and I still tear up when I think about our friendship. We spend almost 10 years in Lake Tahoe together in both of our primes, then 3 more her in Sierra Madre. Losing her I lost part of myself.

  15. We don't really have any choice in the matter. We like to think we do, but really, we don't. Phoebe was unique unto her own self and could never be compared to anyone else. You're right to continue to hold her in your heart and honour her in whatever way works for you. Your memories of her are sacred. xoxo

  16. Not much to add, but I too wonder if there's any news on Albert's coping.

  17. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I am so happy for the joy that you and Phoebe brought to each other's lives.

  18. What a wonderful rescue story. And how amazing that you suddenly connected with Phoebe like that. A match made in, um, an industrial area.

  19. As for Albert, we're pretty much alike. Most of time we're ok, but sometimes it hits us and we wander about the house, whining. As some of you said, it comes in waves.

  20. I know about not facing things. Hang in there.

  21. Both of our Golden Retrievers, Miss Daisy and Kelly Girl, came from Golden Retriever rescue organizations. We got Daisy at a monthly rescue event at Anderson's Pet Store in Montrose. We walked into the parking lot, told the people we were interested in looking at a young adult, and the woman somehow knew that Daisy was the right match. We took her for a short walk and sat down on some steps. Daisy looked us in the eyes and we knew she was the one. I can't explain it, but I know it was meant to be. We took her home, she walked around the yard to check it out and then curled up at my feet and went to sleep. Instant bonding.

    When we lost her at the age of 14 in March, I was ready for a period of no dog. I held out for two months and then threw in the towel. That was on a Thursday. The following Tuesday Kathy showed up with 13 month old Kelly, another Golden rescue from Ventura. She came from a family with five young children and was relegated to the back yard. She got no attention and the family wisely realized she needed to be given up. She had no house manners when we got her and was starved for affection. I've never had a dog that gave hugs like Kelly. She's captured our hearts like Miss Daisy did, although she's still a juvenile delinquent at times.

    I hope you and Albert are doing well.

  22. I will get another boxer eventually. I miss all that sunshine.

  23. Correction...DB took our Miss Daisy for a walk at the weekend rescue event...I was looking at another dog...I took one look at DB...and saw a little boy and his dog...Daisy was wiggling and smiling, DB had a big smile on his face....I knew then she was ours!!!

    As for Miss Kelly...she has certainly licked and hugged her way into our hearts!!!

    Hiker...there's a boxer at one of the shelters up here looking for a good home...

    Jus' sayin'....