I woke up extra early this morning, on a Saturday, with a pit in my stomach. Trying not to feel so sick, I looked over to see my dog snoozing on the futon next to my bed. “Good morning, sweet girl,” I said, for the last time.
Before we got Darby in 2004, I was terrified of dogs. 14 years later, I’m terrified of life without one.
She was the runt of her litter, tiny and trampled by her brothers and sisters on the day we got her. I was 8 years old. She was so small that she had to wear a cat collar.
It’s so incredible that we got to spend 14 years with this quirky Coonhound-Doberman mix. Everyone thinks their dog is the best dog, but Darby truly was a once in a lifetime dog. She was so sweet and so funny. She boldly stole chicken nuggets from my plate, gave side-eye when she felt ignored, and would kick golf balls back and forth to herself on the wooden deck. We lived close to the shore. She was afraid of the water, but constantly tried to eat crabs on the beach.
She quickly stole the hearts of my entire family. My mother, who once insisted that our dog would mostly stay outside as her dogs had when she grew up, shared her master bed with Darby. The dog’s preferred sleep number was a solid 25, in case you were wondering.
Darby’s silly yet sweet temperament became the focal point of our whole family dynamic. My parents initially joked that Darby surpassed me in the family ranks. In our four person family, I became #5.
There are so many moments with her I will never forget. When I cried in the weeks before my high school prom, she sat extra close to me and licked my hands. When she revenge-shat on a stack of my laundry (her only real accident in our house, and one that my parents will never not find funny.) The many times I sat in the grass next to her as she outstretched her silky body in the sun. She was a pizza crust vacuum and sass queen.
I liked my dog more than I liked most people. Friends came and went, but I always had my little buddy. Whenever I didn’t want to face unfavorable realities in my life, I’d gloss over them to focus on her. “Well…how is the dog?” I’d say over the phone, when I was at college and didn’t want to have hard conversations.
A few months ago, we found out she had cancer. A mass started to grow in her mouth. I was heartbroken, and I cried in my apartment about the thought of her leaving us. I started coming home from college every weekend, just to get more time with her. As the mass grew, and began to bleed and smell, she mostly was still the same happy-go-lucky dog. A week ago, I watched her hop in the yard after a squirrel as if she was 12 years younger. At my arrival, she would still wap her tail back and forth. At the same time, I realized that she was ready to go, no longer able to go up the stairs by herself, and skipping meals. 14 years is an incredible amount of time to have with a dog. I know that. When I arrived home for our last day together, I noticed the black mass that once hung from her mouth was missing. My mom informed me that it fell off two days ago. She wasn’t in any less pain, but I’m glad that thing fell off. I’m sure she felt more comfortable by its absence. I thought I’d be okay today, knowing how lucky we were to get 14 years, but at around 12:30 I found myself desperately crying to my mother in the kitchen, “Can’t you just cancel it? We can take care of her if she falls again!” As the day ticked by, the countdown aspect of this was extra haunting. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.
Moving forward, it’s going to be so hard. I’m anticipate a hollow feeling in my household as I pass by all of her favorite places. Even the places where she once puked on the carpet will hold sentiment.
Over the summer, I found a golden, tarnished, heart-shaped locket in my childhood bedroom. The chain broke, so it was just a pendant. It was from fourth grade, and I was so amused. I thought inside there would be some embarrassing remnant of an old crush. Lord knows what fourth grade me could’ve put in there. Would it be Jesse McCartney or the name of a kid in my class? I pried it open to find a picture of Darby in there. My heart’s desire in fourth grade was my dog. I attached the pendant to my bracelet and I’ve worn it every day since.
Darby spent her last day like a queen, with plenty of bacon and belly rubs. I lost an incomparable love from my life today, but god, I am so thankful.