Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sissy - Little Dog, Big Heart

About 16 years ago, a tiny black and white furball came bouncing into our life. Sissy was an amazing friend, so I thought it was appropriate to pay tribute to her.

The background to bringing Sissy into our lives is special to the Williams’ family. John’s dad, Lonnie, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s a while before I met John. As the disease began to really take hold, everyone was looking for something to help. Some of the things recommended were items that made them comfortable, possibly something from their youth, something they could help take care of, something to help them feel in control. The two items I remember reading about were dolls and dogs. Aside from the doll who he walked arm in arm with for almost forty years, Lonnie wasn’t much of a doll man, so a dog it was. Betty and Lonnie set off to find a suitable pup. It was decided a Rat Terrier would be the new addition to the family since Lonnie had Sissy the First as a young man and had trained her and they were faithful friends for years. This was no easy feat though, finding a Rat Terrier. Kennels, breeders, pet stores were scoured for what seemed like forever until they found our Sissy. I think it was love at first sight for Lonnie as Sissy came home with him a bit sooner than she actually should have. He couldn’t part with her from the start. And so it began, our love affair with our small furry friend. Small enough to fit in a ballcap, loud enough to make you jump, slightly unruly…that was Sissy in the early years. We knew she was a fighter, having battled cancer and a broken leg within her first year, we just never knew how tough she was until later in her life.

Lonnie and Sissy were inseparable from the start. She was with him constantly, on his lap or at his feet. Both content with each other’s company. I remember when Lonnie had to go to the Manor. Sissy was so depressed. Her friend had left her. In the beginning, Sissy actually had visiting privileges at the Manor. Lonnie’s face would light up when she would trot up to see him. It was magical. We soon lost our privilege when a nurse tried to do something to Lonnie as Sissy was in his lap and naturally she tried to protect him. No injuries were sustained, but that was the last time they saw each other. (Really, if we had just explained how protective she was of him, why would you lean over and try to touch him, seriously, it could have waited) Anywhoo…

So how did Sissy end up with us? Quite by surprise actually. You see, you may find this hard to believe, but I wasn’t always Sissy’s number one fan. In fact there was a long time that I would say we just tolerated each other. She loved John and Lonnie, but I was another story. Anytime I got too close to either of them, she looked a little disgusted. In fact, one time she nipped me in the rear when John and I got a little too close! John talked about Sissy moving in with us and I refused for a long time, that is until she came to “visit” for a few weeks when Betty went to Europe. In those two weeks, I fell for her. She was my dinner companion and reading buddy on those many nights that John worked late. She kept me from being scared when I had to go to bed by myself, plus she kept my feet warm. Believe me, I was as shocked as John was when the words came out, “Let’s keep her.”

I think Sissy enjoyed her life with us. I guess I have to admit she was pretty spoiled. She ate more people food than she probably should have. She probably had more toys than a dog really needs. And yes, we even left the TV on for her during the day so she wouldn’t get bored. (Food Network was her favorite)

There are so many stories I could tell. Like the time I tried to take Sissy for a picture with Santa, how she would always jump into my Mom’s lap as soon as she rolled into the house, how she got into Uncle Johnny’s ashtray once, how she just loved me trying to put a pumpkin costume on her, how she whole heartedly loved to play hard in her younger days…they go on and on.

One of my favorites is that Sissy was the one who really started John’s interest in building things. One night Sissy was jumping into bed and didn’t quite make it. (Yes, she slept with us) She fell and dislocated her leg. I had never in my life heard such a terrible cry. We bolted out of bed, John is trying to calm her, I am crying hysterically, not able to see the phone book to find a dog emergency room. I finally call my neighbors, avid dog lovers, waking them up. They run over to help, but by the time we open the door, Sissy’s leg had popped back somehow and she greeted our neighbors with a nice bark and a kiss. Peter and Sherryl must have thought we were crazy. I think John was a little scared by my lack of composure. The next day John was late coming home from work as he had run by Home Depot to get everything he needed to make a dog ramp for Sissy so she could walk up into the bed with us. Sissy never took to the ramp, but we did finally find a good use for our ottoman. So thanks Sissy, John has turned out to be pretty crafty all because of you!

So life moves on and so do we back to Bryan. Once again Sissy takes it in stride, moving back in with Betty as we prepare to welcome our little one, finally losing her spot in our comfy bed. I think Lindsey’s arrival worried many people. Afterall, Sissy had been an only dog for what, almost 13 years now? Sissy did so well with Lindsey, it was amazing. I read up on what to do with introducing them. We took a baby blanket Lindsey was wrapped in overnight and let Sissy have it so she could smell her and get used to it. We never went so far as buying the CD with the crying baby so she could get used to the noise. Their first meeting went well with Sissy smelling her like crazy and trying to lick her. Sissy never really showed too much enthusiasm for Lindsey, but she was kind and gentle and let Lindsey pet her and play with her even when I am sure Sissy didn’t feel like it.

The last three years were challenging for all of us. Sissy had heart trouble, lung trouble, she coughed like she had been a smoker for 50 years, she was deaf, she had benign tumors all over her and I am pretty sure she was starting to have trouble seeing. Thankfully, there is a tremendous team at Van Stavern Small Animal Hospital. These have to be the most caring, compassionate team of animal specialists out there. Dr. Dennis is not only super smart and helped diagnose several situations, including the dreaded reverse sneeze case, but she has a heart as big as gold and the most amazing bedside manner. Lori and Pam kept us going with our, what seemed to be weekly visits for medication, always with a smile. I know there were others who cared for Sissy over the years, so thank you to everyone. You made Sissy’s final years easier and more comfortable for all of us. You helped us let Sissy go with dignity and let us be with her in her final moments. Bottom line, you cared and it showed.

I worked for a vet throughout high school and part of college. Countless times I watched as families brought their faithful companions in one last time. I watched as they said one last good-bye, feeling sorry for them, but never really understanding how their hearts must have been breaking. My heart was breaking as Sissy slipped off the sleep, but the amazing peace that came over her body made it worth it. And although it was a hard decision, I am thankful that we can release our little furry friends from a painful, irreversible situation.

So here we are now, going on two weeks. I get through most days without crying. The silence in our house is overwhelming. I still slice a couple extra cucumbers for her. John saved a bite of chicken for her the other day. Probably the hardest part has been explaining this to Lindsey. We told her Sissy went to Heaven to be with Jesus. Sometimes I think she understands and then she will shock me and tell me she thinks that Daddy might bring her home today. She has only cried once as she told me she wanted Sissy to come home and be done at Jesus’ house because she really missed her. So that day we just cried together. Yesterday, we donated Sissy’s food and treats to the animal shelter. As we were leaving Lindsey said, “You know Mom, I am pretty sure Sissy is going to be mad you gave away her food. She liked those things!”

So I just wanted to say thank you my loyal friend for everything. For taking care of Lonnie, for keeping my feet warm, for helping me “clean” my kitchen floor, for loving Lindsey and never hurting her, for always knowing somehow when I needed someone to just sit by me and make me feel better. I am sure there is a special place for dogs in heaven. Rest in peace my friend.