I’m Her Girl

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I’m Her Girl
“The biggest problem with dogs is that they don’t live long enough. They always seem to leave us when we’re most vulnerable, most in need of their biased, affirming presence. Dogs make us believe we can actually be as they see us, and it’s often only when they’re gone that we realize their role in what we’ve become.”  –  The Monks of New Skete

The week before last, I went running with my son, Mac. This rarely happens. I tend to run/walk in the morning after my writing is done and before I start the rest of my day. Mac runs in the afternoon with a friend. This day; however, my writing went long and with the afternoon threatening to fade, I had not gone out for my daily trot. Mac’s friend canceled. He asked me if I wanted to tag along with him. Not that I can keep up, but I’m always happy to accept an invitation from one of my children.


We decided to go to a local park where he could go and do his own thing and I could meander through the fields until he returned. He wanted to take an ice bath and made me promise that I would drag myself into the Chattahoochee with him to sit waist deep in the frigid waters. We also decided to take our dog, Toni. She loves to ride and anytime weather permits (i.e. it’s cool enough to leave her in the van while I run quick errands) she goes with me. The words, “do you want to go for a ride” turn her into a quivering mass of sheer joy. It was no different this day as she happily trotted to the van and with much effort heaved her twelve-year-old self through the doorway and slowly climbed into her seat. Too old to run much more than a mile she could hang out with me in the field. I could always tie her to a tree if she got too tired.

Since the park was empty, I let her off leash and we followed each other from tree to tree. The golfers on the adjoining course caught her eye. As she headed towards them, I cut her off. Mac rejoined us and he and I laughed at her persistence, as we took turns continuously herding away from the course and back into the open field.

Tail wagging, she happily followed Mac down the steep boat ramp and into the icy waters of the Hooch. Normally, Mac insists that Toni wear her collar to which he ties a 50 foot length of rope. He worries that she will swim off or get caught up in the current. It makes him feel better to know he can pull her back if the need arises. But on this day, I watched in shock as he nonchalantly slipped off her collar and waded into the Hooch with her. I was glad. She’s a good girl. She loves us too much to swim away.


As Mac and I settled into the painfully cold water (I managed to go in up to my hip bones…waist deep was just too much), Toni excitedly swam circles arcing first this way then that. She spoted something on the bank but decided it was too steep for her to traverse. Instead she stumbled among the rocks intently watching for movement in the thick brush. Long after my feet and legs had become too numb to feel, Mac pronounced our ice bath finished. We gathered up our stuff and Toni, giving one last shake, followed us back up the hill for the happy ride home.

Toni and Denise

Today, barely a week later, I sit on Toni’s favorite couch, the one she ruined by continuously sneaking onto it despite my constant pleas that she “get off the couch.” She is lying next to me head resting in my lap. Mac and I have spent the past seventy-two hours rotating positions with her. We have to flip her every four hours so she doesn’t get bed sores. A nasty and aggressive form of cancer has rendered her hindquarters useless.

The vet did not recommend treatment. He offered to keep her, if it would be easier for us. He’s very kind, but we brought her home. Leaving her was never an option. She’s my dog that hates going to the vet no matter how wonderfully they treat her. She’s my girl that’s only happy when surrounded by the family she loves.

Internet research confirmed the vet’s prognosis. With aggressive and invasive treatment requiring lots of visits to and overnight stays at the animal hospital we might (if we’re extremely lucky) be able to add another three to six months to her life, maybe. Without treatment we have weeks at best. Death for her will most likely come from a ruptured tumor that will cause her to bleed to death.

We have a very difficult decision to make. Do we choose the end or do we let nature take it’s course?

Mac and Toni

She is Mac’s dog but I’m her girl. I feel the weight heavy on me to do what’s best for the dog who for the past twelve years has slept at the foot of my bed, barked at every person who steps onto our property, and who practically comes unglued with glee every time I walk through the door. She has been a constant footstool as she positions herself at the base of wherever I happen to be sitting, and annoys me to no end with her insistence at being under foot as I move through the house. She has had no issue forcefully pushing her giant head  into my hands insisting that I stop what I’m doing to pet her right then and right there. She has been as loving and devoted to my children and husband as I have. She has brought our family untold hours of laughter and pure joy. Up until last week, I can say without doubt that I have not cried a single tear in all these years that didn’t result in her finding me and doing everything she could to get all eighty-eight pounds of herself into my lap to comfort me.

Now the tears fall fast and she is too tired, too sick, too worn out to respond as my heart is breaking over her.

At first, she just seemed really confused as to why her back legs were no longer following her lead. But now, three days later as the medicine that would hopefully give her some use of the lifeless limbs proves useless, she seems resigned. While I feel blessed for every single minute that I sit petting her, that I wrap the towel under her stomach to help her walk, that I lift her off and on the couch she loves, I know this is not how she wants to live.

So, my devotion, my son’s grieving heart, my husband’s persistent efforts, my daughter’s willingness to serve, and my oldest’s pitching in will have to be set aside as decisions are made. She has given us only the best of herself for the entirely of her life and we in turn owe her only the best as her time here with us fades.

 On October 13, 2012, Toni, left us. She was at home, lying in her favorite spot, surrounded by the family she loves thanks to the kindness of Dr. Karen Jordan. We all feel beyond blessed to have had her in our lives these past twelve years and will each carry her in our hearts. She was a great dog, an amazing spirit, and beloved by us all. 


  1. I have tears running down my face as I read this, Denise. As you know, I am not a dog person but over the past ten years I have become my dog’s person and dread the day you have reached with all my heart. You are doing everything you can for your sweet pet. Toni loves you. You love Toni. In the end, that’s all that matters.

  2. 🙁 .. Words fail me. A passionate companion, as our pups always are. Hugs to all of you as you deal with Toni’s health tragedy. Will pray.

  3. Denise, my heart goes out to you. Beloved pets become part of our life’s experience, our memories, and our hearts. All I can think of to offer is the Tennyson quote: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” Small consolation, I know, but as Pam so eloquently stated above, the love between you is what matters.

  4. Awwww. I know how you feel. To make the decision to ease your pet’s pain is a difficult one. For us, we struggled with “is it because it would be easier for us?” or “would this ease her pain and discomfort?”
    In the end, neither of us could do it {my mom was weeks away from death herself, and I was an emotional mess}, so Dale’s brother took her. His other brother came by before she left to give her a bone. Everyone showered her with love.
    There’s nothing quite like a dog. Loyal, faithful, devoted, and loving. A true member of the family. My heart is breaking for you and your family. As Toni goes over the Rainbow Bridge, I’m sure that Abby {the Labbie} and Gretta {our Weimaraner} will be there to greet her with a big, wet, sloppy kiss.

    • I never met Gretta but I remember Abby the Labbie well (she ate the seat in your car…still makes me smile). Yes, please ask them to wait for Toni.

  5. Pam took every word right out of my head! I’m so sorry you are having to go through this!

  6. If you are a dog lover, this same scene will play out many times in your life. It never gets easier, but I guess that means that we have been able to love completely and nakedly (for the lack of a better word). My mom gave me a plaque that hangs in my house that reads, “Heaven is the place where every dog you have ever loved runs to greet you.”

    I grieve for you in this time and for the friendship that will just have to be postponed a bit. Sending hugs of comfort and understanding. <3

    • Yep. Yep. Yep. So very true…reminds me of a quote I love “Love, to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.” – Mother Theresa. The alternative is not an option and you are so right, this is not the last time for me because I’m just going to keep on loving hard.

  7. Oh, Denise. I am so sad for all of you. Your story made me cry, and I’m so sorry you are facing this terribly difficult decision. Sending love and hugs to all of you…

  8. This is all still so fresh for me. July 6th 2012 and I still tear up thinking of my boy Toby. It so hard to know when it’s finally time, but in your heart you will know. Most importantly, Toni knows how much you love her and trusts you completely to make the best decision on her behalf from that place of love.

    • Linda, I remember when you were posting about Toby. My heart was breaking for you as you and Toby were preparing the way for me and Toni. It’s only through witnessing the strength and love of people like you that I know I have to do nothing less than the best for Toni. I’ll be unashamedly shedding tears over this dog for years, so you go ahead and cry if you need to. Thank you.

  9. You write so beautifully. I have faced this decision with two of my cats and it is absolutely heartbreaking. However, you and she (Toni) will know when the time is appropriate. The connection between you two is such that you will know when it is time to say goodbye. You honor Toni with this beautiful essay.

    • Toni has honored me with her love and devotion. I’m the one who has been blessed. Thanks for everything.

  10. Denise, all this brought back the memories of my Belgian Shepherd, Inca, who died of cancer at 14. She had a wonderful life. She weighed in at about 50 lbs and during those last months, I carried her up and down the front steps because she was too weak to make it herself. One night I slept on the floor wrapped around her because I knew it was going to be her last night with me. You will know when it’s time, too.
    Dogs can teach us so many great things about life. Inca taught me that I didn’t need to run away from death as I had always done in the past. As much as it hurt, I stayed right next to her through the end. I know she was glad that I was there. I am grateful for that opportunity. I realized that love can conquer fear.

    • And that’s the lesson, “love can conquer fear.” We just have to love fearlessly.

  11. I am so warmed by this post yet saddened at the same time. My little dog (who died of cancer shortly after I left home) was such a comfort to me growing up in a rather stormy household. I have so many fond memories of her as a puppy and throughout her life. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  12. Denise,
    Its been 24 hours since we lost our Georgia girl.
    My heart is broken, the house is too quiet and everyone is grieving.

    Your essay is beautiful…Toni was very lucky to have a family like you….

    thanks again for your kind words….

    chris bernasconi

  13. I’m so sorry, Denise. I feel the ache through your words. Sending love.


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