Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Death of a Pet

Today our sweet-natured 20-year-old dog, Sierra died. Yes, you read that correctly, 20-years-old. When we brought her into the vet this afternoon, I asked him how many 20-year-old dogs he had in his care, and he said "none."

We brought Sierra home 15 years ago as a rescue dog. The people at PAWS could tell that she already had at least one litter of puppies, and had been probably abused, as she was very skittish around men. But she was welcomed into our family of three kids, a cat and another little rescue puppy named Edgar.

Sierra was the easiest of our pets. She was a gentle soul, whose only annoying habit was that she would often snap at invisible flies in the air.  As she aged, she lost her fear of men and would just come up to you and place her head on your lap. There was something about her that drew people in, and never more so than in the last few years of her life. In fact, a friend of mine thinks that she lived so long because she had to make sure that our family was going to be all right after Matthew died. I guess she finally realized we were going to be okay, and she made her transition.

So many people have written about dogs and their remarkable ability for unconditional love, that I really don't think I can add much to it. We are all just so grateful that we had such a long time with Sierra.  As I drove home this afternoon from the vet's office, raindrops were splattering down all around me, while at the same time the sun was sending giant rays through these big, white puffy clouds. All I could think about was how life is full of paradoxes, and they keep showing up at my doorstep. Sun and Rain. Grief and Gratitude. Life and Death. I've got to keep paying attention.

In honor of Sierra, here's one of Mary Oliver's "Percy" poems.

Little Dogs Rhapsody in the Night

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I'm awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

Tell me you love me, he says.

Tell me again.

Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over
he gets to ask it.
I get to tell.


  1. oh the darling sierra! She lived a long, good life with the Gaphni clan. I'm sorry for this loss. Love the Oliver poem. xoxo

  2. Thank you, Mary. And by the way, Edgar is still going strong! He will turn 16 in July, and I know you remember him as a puppy since you were instrumental in helping pick out his name.

  3. um.....i think i also sort of kind of forced you to take him.......

  4. so sorry about Sierra. Edgar will be missing her too.....

    so well said about life's pardoxes.

  5. What a beautiful post, Robin. Every time my little Eli comes running, I know I am unconditionally loved. Big Hug--XO

  6. I'm crying into my morning coffee here in Illinois. I think you know how I feel about dogs from some of my posts about Keenan. Oh Robin, what a sweet gentle soul. And 20???? I've never heard of such a thing. I tend to agree with your friend. Sierra most likely had to make sure you were going to be OK. Animals understand things in a way that is so instinctive and comforting. I'm so glad you can see the sun beyond the raindrops. Beautiful poem too. Love Mary Oliver.

    I have to go hug my dog now.

  7. Robin, I'm so sorry about Sierra's passing. She sounds like a beautiful soul, and a gift in your lives, as you were a gift (a saving gift!) in hers. I like to think that perhaps she is with Matthew now. God bless you and your family, and comfort your hearts.

  8. Robin,
    Hi. I'm just reading this post sitting in the ferry parking lot, as we just flew in from Maui. I'm so sorry to hear about Sierra and I know you will feel her loss profoundly. Sierra lived an incredibly long and happy life because of you. She was a gift in your life and clearly you were a gift in hers. When Gabby died I felt both sad and yet so glad for the life she had. When he was a little boy, Jacob used to tell us he felt happy/sad. He was so tuned in to realize that you could feel both of those at the same time. It's how I felt about Gabby and I hope how you are feeling about Sierra. Missing her but celebrating her incredibly long and happy life. Lots of love from me to you.