Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Group Writing: Happy Endings


Trigger Warning: This is a “Dead Dog” post.

No doubt you’re wondering how I can possibly title a post about a recently deceased, and much loved, family pet, “Happy Endings.”

It’s simple. There are only three ways out for the dozens of creatures who’ve found their way to Chez She over the better part of four decades:

  1. Those who are really lost are returned, after exhaustive efforts, to their rightful owners,
  2. Those whose owners cannot be found remain with us until it’s time for the sad trip to the veterinarian, or
  3. Those who remain with us live out their good lives and die naturally on the farm.

The first option represents a consummation devoutly to be wished, and sometimes rarely, we’ve actually been able to make it work. The second option is illustrated by “Duke,” a beautiful Pointer mix who showed up on our back porch one fall day in 2001, full of buckshot, and who lived with us for just over three years, until he developed a galloping case of leukemia, and was helped into the next world by our friends with the means to do so. Understanding that that is sometimes the kindest thing to do doesn’t make it any easier, and it doesn’t make us mourn the loss of a beautiful young dog any less. It’s hard.

Option three, living to a good age and dying naturally on the farm, is what we wish for all our pets. And Penny had just that sort of happy ending.

Less than a week after we had Duke put to sleep, on 21 December, 2004, I received a frantic phone call from a co-worker. Kate is, like me, a lost dog magnet, and she’d found one at the intersection of Route 40 and I-70 in Washington, PA. “I’m on my way to my brother’s in Baltimore for Christmas,” she said. “Can you keep the dog, just until I get back?”

“Of course!” I said. “Just for a few days, right?”


I met Kate, and picked up the dog. She was filthy, starving, stinking, and almost dead. I didn’t know what to do with her (it was a work day), so I dropped her off at my friend the veterinarian for a check-up, and asked if they could hang onto her till I was done with work. Later that day, I arrived to find that she’d got various internal and external parasites, a terrible case of seborrheic dermatitis, bloody feet, was malnourished and dehydrated, was missing a few teeth, but otherwise, was negative for the worst sorts of diseases, and seemed relatively in one piece. They thought she was about four years old. I took her home, with an expensive bag of medicines, and got to work.

Of course, Kate never saw her again (a fact of which she was quite glad, having her own work cut out for her, over at Casa Kate).

Mr. She named her “Penny,” because he believed that, under all that dandruff, rash and oozing, was a gorgeous coat the color of a copper penny. And indeed, there was. She grew into a beautiful dog with a glorious shiny coat, and a magnificent tail with “feathers” that rippled in the wind when she ran.

She was a happy, patient, and kind dog. I don’t ever remember her growling at anybody, or anything. She had a good, deep, bark, which she used to get attention, never to intimidate or warn. She loved small children, and would let them do almost anything to her. She acted as an unpaid nanny to the occasional orphan lamb in my living room, never minding when they pestered her, and nosed around her hindquarters, sure that if they could just find the right spot, magic would happen, and milk would appear. She cleaned them up when they got themselves in a mess, and licked them to a shiny state of spit and polishedness (there are limits, even for me, in that regard, and they greatly preferred Penny’s ministrations to being thrust, bum-first, under a stream of warm water from the utility sink faucet).

She had a wonderful life.

And over time, she aged.

She developed a thyroid condition. And arthritis. And she went completely deaf. And her beautiful coat went largely grey, and then white. But her sweet disposition never failed her. (Well, except when she, the deaf dog, would have a bit of a tiff with Houdini, the blind dog, usually as the result of a collision because one didn’t see, or hear, the other one coming. That sometimes resulted in a short scuffle, with no harm done to either combatant).

Eventually, her mind started to go, and she was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or, as we refer to it around here, Doggie Dementia. This manifested itself by her walking round and round in circles, not sure of where she was, and by getting stuck under the dining room table, after she had unerringly and unthinkingly walked between a couple of the chairs that surround it. Discovering herself in what she thought was a cage, her brain would take over, and instead of leading her out through the gap she came in by, she would just as unerringly walk in between the legs of a chair, and get it stuck on her back. She’d then barge noisily and clumsily around the room like an undersize elephant wearing an oversize howdah, until someone rescued her.

At two or three in the morning, this could be quite annoying, especially when it was repeated several times in the space of the same night.

Through it all, she maintained her sweet disposition, her love of a pat on the head, and a rub on the back, and her affection for all small things. And her food. She always loved her food.

But she particularly loved our granddaughter. I’ll never forget going to investigate a little sound I heard as I was making coffee one morning a few years ago. I couldn’t quite place it, and since I thought I was the only one up, I went to investigate. I discovered our granddaughter, who was not quite three at the time, lying in Penny’s bed with her, her head buried in Penny’s lovely blanket of long fur, sobbing her eyes out. Penny was lying perfectly still, her eyes fixed on our granddaughter, and her head snuggled against her.

I got down on the floor and asked what was wrong. “I don’t know where my mom is!” she sobbed. Turns out that her mother had woken up, thought her daughter was fast asleep in bed next to her, and had escaped to the bathroom for the rare luxury of a shower all to herself. The frightened little girl had sought solace in the warm embrace of the dog. And Penny, as always, did her part.

Several weeks ago, I began to contemplate the inevitable, and think that, perhaps, it was “time.” Even though she was still pretty game, and appeared happy, and pain-free, Penny was clearly starting to fail in other ways, and was becoming quite blind. But I kept putting off the evil hour–I’d tell myself she was fine, our granddaughter was coming for the weekend, let’s wait till after that, then–well, the temperature’s been below freezing for a week, the ground will be frozen, it will be hard to dig a hole (stop kidding yourself, it’s so cold you can wrap her up securely and put her in the shed for a few days till it warms up a bit–no, really, she’s OK, no need to overreact, and on and on.

And then one day, Penny took matters into her own hands. She had what Dr. She diagnosed as a little stroke. It was a Sunday afternoon (of course). The closest 24 hour emergency veterinarian is over an hour away, and I really didn’t want to put her in a car. She always had a terrible fear of cars (perhaps it had something to do with the circumstances in which she was found), and I didn’t want to add to her stress with a long trip to a strange place, especially since she was quiet. I called my local veterinarian, left a message saying I’d be there at 8AM on Monday, wrapped Penny up the way you wrap an infant in a ‘baby burrito,’ and put her head on a pillow. She slept. She woke up once at 3AM. I sorted her out, wrapped her up again, and she went back to sleep.

By 6AM, she was gone. At the age of 16+. Comfortably, it looked like. Happily. In her own home. With her boots on. I suspect her heart just stopped.

She’d had the forethought and consideration to die on a warm Spring-ish day. I dug a hole and buried her with a bunch of crocuses from the farm.

I’m sure many would have thought her to be a useless dog. No good as a watch dog. No good as a guard dog. No good as a hunting dog. She approached all the creatures she ever met as if they were her friends, and they responded in kind. She was the sweetest and most comforting dog I ever knew. If Milton was right, and it is as true for dogs as it is for humans that “they also serve who only stand and wait,” Penny earned her service badge right at the start. And we’re sorry that she’s gone.

But somewhere, my strong but occasionally rather haphazard faith tells me, my clear eyed, sharp-eared, copper-haired Penny is running with the many denizens of Chez She that have gone before, her beautiful tail feathers rippling in the wind.

Happy Trails, sweet dog. We miss you.

There are 35 comments.

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  1. Crazy Horse Inactive

    …you’ll have to excuse me — I suddenly have dust in both my eyes and nose.

    • #1
    • March 12, 2017, at 3:56 PM PDT
  2. Boss Mongo Member

    She, thanks. As a dog-lover who recently put down my own Duke (a straight up thug, handler-hard German Shepherd Dog that I trusted implicitly) I got a little verklempt, here. Too, my 205-lbs Great Dane turns 9 this month, so I dread that the countdown timer has already started with him; he’s already way past the right edge of the envelope, for Danes.

    Thank you, from all us dog people.

    • #2
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:10 PM PDT
  3. Boss Mongo Member

    JLock (View Comment):
    …you’ll have to excuse me — I suddenly have dust in both my eyes and nose.

    You are just such a wuss, J-Lo.

    • #3
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:11 PM PDT
  4. Crazy Horse Inactive

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    JLock (View Comment):
    …you’ll have to excuse me — I suddenly have dust in both my eyes and nose.

    You are just such a wuss, J-Lo.

    It took you this long to figure that out?

    • #4
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:14 PM PDT
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    . . . and after your beautiful post, I miss her too. I’d love to give her a great big hug. Since I can’t I’m sending you a virtual hug instead. What a lovely creature she clearly was.

    • #5
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:15 PM PDT
  6. Mark Camp Member


    • #6
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:27 PM PDT
  7. Johnnie Alum 13 Coolidge

    Dogs are wonderful companions.

    • #7
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:37 PM PDT
  8. Jules PA Member

    Sweet memories of a great life.

    • #8
    • March 12, 2017, at 4:43 PM PDT
  9. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    I so know how you feel. This is Suzi, my sweet 12-year old Golden Retriever who wakes me up every single morning with a smile. Recently the vet told me she has a heart murmur–a three on a scale of six. It needs watching but is not to the severe stage yet. She can have heart surgery, but I don’t want her to have to go through that, so I watch her diet, give her pills every morning and pray we get at least two or three more years. She’s my best friend.

    • #9
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:02 PM PDT
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You’ll find all the dogs you ever loved, under a tree, wagging their tails, next to a pile of sticks.

    • #10
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:03 PM PDT
  11. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Truly a Penny for our thoughts – and prayers for all at Much-Comfort – Panda Hugs

    • #11
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:20 PM PDT
  12. KiminWI Inactive

    I’m going to go hug my Clancy now.

    Thank you She.

    • #12
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:31 PM PDT
  13. MarciN Member

    What a beautiful story.

    I love dogs.

    I don’t understand them, why they love us. It’s as if the good Lord wanted to give us a real-life, snuggly lesson in unconditional love. That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

    Thank you for rescuing so many dogs.

    • #13
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:34 PM PDT
  14. Boss Mongo Member

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I don’t understand them, why they love us. It’s as if the good Lord wanted to give us a real-life, snuggly lesson in unconditional love.

    That is gold, there. Thanks, Marci.

    • #14
    • March 12, 2017, at 5:55 PM PDT
  15. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you all for the lovely comments. There are so many dog lovers on Ricochet, and like the dogs themselves, they come in all types, shapes and sizes. @bossmongo, enjoy your Great Dane, they’re wonderful dogs I’ve only gotten to know recently, since a friend now has one. @goldwaterwoman, Suzi is beautiful, she reminds me a lot of Penny. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Yes, @KiminWI, hug Clancy every chance you get.

    And @marcin, you nailed it. I don’t know what we did to deserve them either.

    • #15
    • March 12, 2017, at 6:04 PM PDT
  16. MarciN Member

    My daughter is a new veterinarian. I think it’s all the animals we (she) rescued when she was a kid. She’s still doing it–she has her second golden retriever.

    This kitty lived with us for fourteen years. I miss him still. He lived in my son’s bedroom because for some reason, he was attacking his mom, and we had to keep them separate. She was a stray cat pregnant with four kittens, three of whom we found homes for, and the one below we kept. He threw up three times a week on my son in his bed, but my son never complained once. Anyone else would have had him put to sleep. I miss him still. Sweetest kitty I’ve ever known. My kids were so easy to bring up. I never had to teach them about love or responsibility or any of those other things so hard to explain. They just understood it, I think because of all of our pets.

    • #16
    • March 12, 2017, at 6:15 PM PDT
  17. PHCheese Member

    Penny can meet my previous animals on the Rainbow Bridge. That’s the bridge that our animals wait for us to follow us in to heaven. Sorry She.

    • #17
    • March 12, 2017, at 6:29 PM PDT
  18. Trink Coolidge
    Trink Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I “liked” your post dear She.

    And I love you for the the trigger warning.

    The picture, alone, was pretty much all I could comfortably manage at this time of life. Maybe with lots of family and friends around in the heart of a carefree summer day I’ll be able to smile and reminisce along with your doubtlessly beautiful essay.

    That picture is our precious “Chowder”. How I miss her. How I miss all the funny, mischievous, cuddly fur-kids that we gave our hearts to over the years.

    • #18
    • March 12, 2017, at 6:53 PM PDT
  19. Grosseteste Member

    Thanks for this moving tribute! She sounds like a wonderful friend.

    This conversation is part of a Group Writing series with the theme “Endings”, planned for the whole month of March. If you follow this link, there’s more information about Group Writing. The schedule is updated to include links to the other conversations for the month as they are posted. Please sign up for an open date!

    • #19
    • March 12, 2017, at 8:22 PM PDT
  20. Johnnie Alum 13 Coolidge

    Seems appropriate to add here.

    • #20
    • March 12, 2017, at 8:44 PM PDT
  21. MarciN Member

    Johnnie Alum 13 (View Comment):

    Seems appropriate to add here.

    Darn you. I was doing so well. No tears through this entire post and comments.

    Oh my gosh.

    • #21
    • March 12, 2017, at 8:46 PM PDT
  22. mollysmom Inactive

    We lost our 17 year old Maggie Dec 31; we’d got her from pet rescue 14 years ago. She was a 14 lb crossbreed, goofy as the day is long, crotchety, and deaf…hmm sounds like me as I age. We loved her like a child

    • #22
    • March 12, 2017, at 9:18 PM PDT
  23. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My favorite tribute to man’s best friend is from a weirdly insightful web comic: My Dog: The Paradox.

    (Lots of swear words, yet it nails the special connection we have to our doggies.)

    • #23
    • March 13, 2017, at 12:09 AM PDT
  24. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    You’re right about happy endings. Our first dog, a sweet sheltie named Bonnie, died unexpectedly at age eight; we never found out why, though it was probably some undiagnosed congenital condition. It was sudden, and too soon, and it took us quite a while to get over it.

    Our second dog was an Australian shepherd named Alfa, and she lived to be seventeen years old (relatively ancient for an Aussie). Toward the end she was arthritic and hard of hearing, and multiple small strokes had left her unsteady on her feet (of which she had only three, by that point, because of a recurring tumor on her right front leg). But she wasn’t in pain.

    One day, though, it occurred to me to ask myself: do I really want to wait until she is in pain? Eventually it became clear that she wasn’t getting much out of life anymore; she had become incontinent, which was an insult to her inherent sense of dignity. Eventually we accepted that it was time to let her go.

    It was of course sad. But it wasn’t shocking, nor did we grieve for long: she had had a long, happy life, and I can’t imagine she would have complained about any of it. When a life has had so much goodness in it, it’s hard to see too much sadness in the fact that it eventually ended.

    • #24
    • March 13, 2017, at 7:43 AM PDT
  25. kelsurprise, drama queen Member
    kelsurprise, drama queen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I adore dogs. Always have, especially big ones, but with my tiny apartment and erratic schedule, I can’t have one here.

    So I always looked forward to visiting my sister and her giant roommate, “Mr. Bay-buh” — a Golden Lab/Malamute mix who was just the coolest, kindest, most laid-back and fun dog I ever met. Since I only saw him now and then I asked my sister once, “do you think Mr. B. actually even knows who I am?” She said yeah, we’d spent enough quality time together that surely, he must.

    Next time I visited, it was as if he’d overheard and understood that exchange and wanted to reassure me. The second I got out of the car, he bounded down the steps to greet me, pinned me against the car door, then threw his massive head back and started howling. “Wow,” said my sister, “that ‘body-slam’ thing he just did? That’s how he ‘hugs’ people. But I’ve never seen him like this. Oh, he loooooooves you!” I actually teared up. There is nothing like a joyful greeting from a giant, happy dog.

    I was on the phone with my sister when she finally had to let him go after 17 great years. I felt like I’d lost a little brother. First order of business someday, when I’ve got more time on my hands: find me a buddy like Bay-buh . . . or Penny. Thanks for the great story, She.

    • #25
    • March 13, 2017, at 10:16 AM PDT
  26. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Oh, wow. That was superb!! We’ve had to do this twice with beloved dogs. It’s just soooo sad, too. The only solace is that I, too, am convinced that there are animals in heaven! Our beloved pets will be there waiting for us! (However, I do know of a couple of Jersey cows that definitely aren’t going to heaven.)

    • #26
    • March 13, 2017, at 11:39 AM PDT
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor

    kelsurprise (View Comment):
    Next time I visited, it was as if he’d overheard and understood that exchange and wanted to reassure me. The second I got out of the car, he bounded down the steps to greet me, pinned me against the car door, then threw his massive head back and started howling. “Wow,” said my sister, “that ‘body-slam’ thing he just did? That’s how he ‘hugs’ people. But I’ve never seen him like this. Oh, he loooooooves you!” I actually teared up. There is nothing like a joyful greeting from a giant, happy dog.

    I dog-sit a neighbor’s dog, Amber. But she’s a toy poodle. I just love her, but I’ll never get a slam like that one! Love it, kel!

    • #27
    • March 13, 2017, at 12:24 PM PDT
  28. barbara lydick Coolidge

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    Penny can meet my previous animals on the Rainbow Bridge. That’s the bridge that our animals wait for us to follow us in to heaven.

    After that fateful day arrived and I took him to the vet (at almost 14 yrs old) several neighbors sent sympathy cards, one of which was about the Rainbow Bridge.

    Because I had walked him 3 mi every day, people I barely recognized would stop me to ask where he was. A standard poodle – tho not clipped like one – he was the charmer of the neighborhood. I would also take him with me on errands. The managers of several stores (Rite Aid, Office Depot, Home Depot, etc.) would be disappointed if I didn’t have him along.

    There he is, to the left of this comment, ears aflyin’, full of pep. His name was Napoleon, but never really liking that name, I simply called him ‘Pup.’ There was not a day that went by that he didn’t make me chuckle – or outright laugh.

    His vet wrote on the card that her office sent that he was “a handsome and noble gentleman.”

    The kids loved him and he them. While he never went after a smaller dog that was pestering him, he didn’t back down from one his size or larger like two pit bulls and an Akita, coming out of those altercations with some blood on him – theirs.

    Funny, funny dog, and damn smart. I miss him so much.

    • #28
    • March 13, 2017, at 2:32 PM PDT
  29. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for all the great dog stories (and the kitty story, @marcin!)

    I loved reading about Chowder, @trink, and Maggie @mollys-mom.

    Thanks for telling us about the good lives of Bonnie and Alfa, @bartholomewxerxesogilviejr. And, @kelsurprise, I loved the story about Mr B. Levi, one of my Great Pyrenees, could probably give him a run for his money in the “body-slam” department.

    @cowgirl, I’ve never dealt with cows, but I am fairly certain that a couple of goats of my acquaintance have gone on to what my favorite nun calls “the inferior regions” after they’ve passed away . . .

    You’re doing a good thing dogsitting Amber, @susanquinn. Next best thing to having a dog is borrowing someone else’s now and then. I still have four, if anyone’s interested . . . (two of them are very large).

    And @barbaralydick, an unclipped standard poodle is a beautiful dog, and one that you rarely see. When I was a child, our dear friends had Cassie, one of the smartest and nicest dogs I’ve ever known. I am sure your “Pup” was the same.

    I saw this, this morning, and thought of this post and of Penny. It’s just the sort of thing she would have done:

    • #29
    • March 13, 2017, at 6:46 PM PDT
  30. barbara lydick Coolidge

    As an aside, the thought generally held by most that standard poodles are foo-foo dogs was put to rest by a gentleman who raced a team of them in the Iditarod several years, once beating out 12 other teams of huskies. That and the fact that in addition to being water fowl dogs (hence the cut intended to keep their joints and chest warm in cold water, now very stylized), were used in Germany a few centuries back to hunt wild boar. Their speed and incredible agility made them very good for this purpose. They were – and are – used by the military, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Damn fine dogs!!, “Pup” being one of the best.

    And She, I loved the Australian Shepherd clip. From your description of Penny, one can imagine her doing just that.

    • #30
    • March 13, 2017, at 7:36 PM PDT

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