When my gallbladder flared, she slept pressed against my back. She seemed to know that the gentle warmth provided healing and comfort that I needed.
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. —Josh Billings
Perfect American Eskimo Zoe
Was she perfect? No, of course not. She expressed herself with moments of barking when she was not comfortable with someone near. She never completely trusted most people and I was always guarded when others were around. While Zoe had never bitten anyone that I knew of, certainly not when with us, but I didn’t want a first time.
The fear that had been instilled in her as a pup never completely left her. She did learn to ignore hats, though she never totally relaxed around them. Like an abused child, she learned to adapt over the years, but she never completely forgot.
But Zoe was perfect for me. We connected, a team that clicked perfectly.
Her most important skill, beyond that of my friend, was that of our pack alpha. Our pack at that time consisted of poodles, my adult daughter’s maltese, an old whippet, and my adult son’s bassets; hardly a formidable task, but one that was essential to keep everyone balanced and happy. Not everyone understands the role of a true alpha dog; Zoe had developed the confidence to keep harmony by just a look or a slight growl. Her body language and Border Collie like stare was enough to keep everyone peaceful and in line. Not only was she in control, but she also brought a peaceful comfort to the household dogs.
American Eskimo as a food guard
A favorite story of mine took place when she was about 4. One of my sons and I were planting in the field and she was at my side, as always. We had brought pizza slices out for a quick lunch as storms were threatening to halt our progress and then we both decided we needed to get supplies. He set his slice on a table and ran to the house.
Upon returning, we saw Zoe sitting under the table growling ever so slightly. A couple of the other dogs were watching her from a distance, looking quite intently toward the table. That was typical of Zoe; she would guard my food without touching it. We could leave dinner on the table to tend to a farm issue and it was always there, untouched, when we returned, as long as Zoe was in the house. She knew her position as alpha dog and was quite content to be sub-alpha to me. In fact, I think it was her preferred position.
He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. —Unknown
Respect the cat
She had a healthy respect for our family cat. Princess would swat dogs, mercilessly. Zoe stayed out of her reach, but was quick to alert the other dogs of her presence. Again, alpha. Protecting her pack. Guiding the household. Keeping it running smoothly. I relied on her without hesitation and she never let me down.
To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace. —Milan Kundera
When my daughter and son brought a new dog into the household, she jumped to the task of training. Housetraining? Not a problem. Zoe was there to help. Teach them house manners? Of course, already begun. Teach them the perimeter and where they are allowed? Done!
Reality sometimes hurts
She was 9 years old when the tumor first appeared. It was small, about the size of a dime, but it had already attached and she was showing mild signs of health problems from it. Within a couple of months, it was larger than a quarter and she was slowing down a bit. By vet accounts, she had about 6 months, maybe less. But Zoe never trusted vets.
I switched her foods, added natural supplements, and boosted her immune system in every natural way possible. The stress of surgery was not an option for several reasons, but I was determined to try to help her beat this. At the very least, I hoped to keep her happy and comfortable. Zoe’s life became filled with many ups and downs. She would seem a little weaker, I’d switch supplements and foods around, hoping for improvement. More due to time, I think, she would get a little better, then a little worse.
At the one year mark, I felt that we had accomplished a major feat. Not only had she passed the one year, but she was still very happy and mostly pain-free. She was not as strong as she had been prior to cancer, and we still had not defeated it, but she was still in the game.
Angel becomes a buddy
As sometimes happens, my son’s dog, an older golden retriever aptly named Angel, had developed cancer that quickly spread throughout her body. I followed a similar protocol with her, and her “at most 3 months” stretched for a full year. Zoe and Angel had never been buddies before, though I wouldn’t call them foes. They just seemed to accept each other’s presence.
Zoe grieved with us
The day that Angel died, I sat near her, comforting her, knowing it was time. Zoe chose to snuggle next to Angel, as if to comfort her the way she had always consoled me. As Angel passed, Zoe stayed by her, refusing to leave until we finally moved Angel for burial. Most things that dogs do don’t surprise me; I’m very attuned to them. That final act of love left me in more tears.
Almost 8 months after Angel’s death, Zoe’s tumor grew suddenly and her appetite, which had not been tremendous for several months, decreased sharply. I knew that cancer had spread further into her organs and we were losing the battle, but I wasn’t giving up until Zoe decided to. She kept trying. So did I.
Keep trying, something has to work
August came and I found myself buying all kinds of specialty meats in an attempt to get her to eat. She liked salmon (wild caught seemed like the most nutritious approach) and chicken (organic, to avoid any further stresses on her system) She had always loved steamed veggies, especially broccoli, and I continued to feed her those, though she ate little. Weight loss was a concern, but it was keeping her hydrated that proved the biggest challenge.
The week of August 10th, found Zoe much weaker and I made the decision to stay with her at all times. She was still able to go outside for a minute at a time, but needed help getting back and forth. I steadied her for a while, then went to carrying her when needed. She was accepting of my help and I tried not to make her feel less capable. I took her to bed on Saturday, placing her carefully on the bedding I had prepared for her beside my bed. She always slept in my bed with me, but the last couple of weeks she had decided to stay on the floor on pillows, unable to easily get on and off the bed, even with the aid of the steps I had prepared weeks earlier. I prayed that she would see the morning sun with me. She did.
Tribute to Zoe: Our final moments
I’m an early riser and Sunday was even earlier. I wanted to have every moment with Zoe that I could. She raised her head and tried to get up, but was obviously too weak to walk outside. I carried her outside for a few minutes in the grass, then carried her back to the living room where she snuggled next to me on the sofa. Her eyes told me that she knew our time was short. Can dogs cry tears? Zoe did.
I petted her, comforted her, offered her water…we just spent time together. Family members refreshed my coffee and enabled me to stay with her. It was just after 3pm when she went to sleep, very peacefully, her head resting on my lap. My incredible sadness was tempered slightly by the flood of memories we shared. Each day, I’m acutely aware of her absence, yet comforted by the memories.
Until we meet again, rest easy Zoe; you’ve earned it!
Rainbow Bridge Poem (see below)
While I don’t see the Rainbow Bridge as a literal place, the poem serves to remind us that our furkids are waiting for us; I believe with God.
Our home feels quite different now without my Zoe, but recently I decided to add another Eskie to our family. Marshmallow (named for her sweet nature) was also in need of a family to love and she has found a forever home with us! Watch for pictures and updates on Marshmallow!
It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.