I am feeling a bit melancholy today. Not only has Christmas ended and the kids returned home, but the dog has died, making the nest feel even emptier than usual.
We only found out about Cosmo’s heart condition a few weeks ago. It was still in the early stages; so much so that we hadn’t even started medication for it. Then on a Saturday she started acting a bit off. Instead of bustling about on her usual rounds she settled down in her bed and stayed there. Not only was she acting lethargic but her breathing seemed to be more labored than usual. I phoned the vet and made an appointment for Monday. Cosmo had wolfed down her breakfast with her normal enthusiasm, so although we were concerned, it didn’t seem like an emergency. We just thought she might have to start the heart medicine earlier than anticipated.
On Sunday morning she was worse. She barely sniffed her breakfast, only lapped up a bit of water and then returned to her bed. Since the office was closed I phoned the emergency vet and arranged to meet her at the clinic. I put Cosmo inside her travel kennel and we headed to town. Twenty minutes later, when we arrived at the clinic, Cosmo was dead. And so begins the cycle of grief and guilt. I will always feel badly that I didn’t recognize how serious her condition was soon enough.
Cosmo was thirteen years old. The lifespan of Shih Tzus is between 10 and 16 years so she did well, I suppose. And I think she had a good life, though sometimes it was hard to tell. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but there’s no getting around it ... Cosmo was not the brightest biscuit in the box.
When she was a puppy I built a small pond in the garden. As we stood around admiring it Cosmo came trotting along and without so much as pausing for a sniff, she walked right into the water and promptly sunk like a stone. We fished her out only to have her repeat the performance five minutes later. We got rid of the pond.
By the time she was one it was apparent that Cosmo’s homing instinct was as nonexistent as her swimming skills. If you took her outside she would wander off and then simply sit down until someone found her. After searching for her for two days, only to find her sitting in the hayfield 200 metres from our front door, her prowling privileges were revoked. After that she was only allowed outside for daily walks on a leash. Every once in awhile she would manage to escape either by wriggling out of her collar or by dashing out an open door or when someone accidentally left the gate to her pen off the deck ajar. We always managed to track her down, though sometimes it took several days and the help of kind hearted neighbours. I am sure Caesar Milan would have had a solution, but our own dog whispering skills were sadly lacking.
Pets – even the not-so-bright ones - have a way of threading themselves through the very fabric of your day in ways you don’t even realize until they’re gone. When I take a package of cheese out of the fridge it feels strange not to hear Cosmo firing herself off the couch like she just departed from a cannon. When I sit down in the evening my lap feels empty...and cold. When I get up in the morning there is no bundle of fur bouncing about my ankles waiting for breakfast. Yesterday I set up the ironing board and unexpectedly burst into tears. Not because I hate ironing – which I do – but because Cosmo hated it even more. There was something about the grating sound of metal when the ironing board opened up that drove her crazy. She would come catapulting from wherever she was in the house and launch herself at the metal legs; a snarling, yipping, ball of fury. It was the only thing that made her act that way. Even a moose walking past her pen failed to catch her attention the way the ironing board could.
I even miss the snoring. Spoiled beyond comprehension, Cosmo had not one, but three dog beds strewn about the house. Come nightfall she usually shunned them all in favour of the couch; the couch that rests against the thin wall of our bedroom. I would hear her jump onto the couch, turn three times and settle down with a contented sigh. Then I would desperately try to get to sleep before the snoring started. Some nights both Darcy and Cosmo would snore in concerto while I stared at the ceiling.
It’s the little things I miss. But most of all, it’s the little dog who lived here.
Shannon McKinnon is a weekly humour columnist from Northern BC. You can read past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com