Zoe, 1997-2011.

I am raw.  There’s a hole inside of me roughly the size, shape, and weight of an elderly American Staffordshire Terrier we called Zoe, and not much will make me feel better right now except maybe writing this and remembering all the happy times I had with her.

First, I should establish that I had her put down today slightly before 5pm.  The vet was professional, and the procedure (a massive overdose of barbiturates, like Marilyn Monroe but without the conspiracy theories) was peaceful and painless for Zoe.  She simply slid off to sleep.  It was actually a relief to hear her struggle end in peace.  No more labored breathing, no more groaning.  Zoe was a tough, tough dog who didn’t show pain easily.  That she was groaning as she labored to breathe or moved around says a lot about what she was going through.

She had a growth next to her kidneys or spleen (the vet wasn’t really very sure on which), but the consequences of the operation given her age and condition were likely to make her full recovery unlikely.  We elected not to put her through the whole ordeal, and instead focused on making her as comfortable as we could.  In the last week she’d really started to go downhill, and had begun to have trouble sleeping.  Today, after conferring with the family, I elected to end her suffering and say goodbye.  It should go without saying that this was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do.

So, that’s got me torn up 10 ways from Sunday, and second guessing everything, for all the good that will do now.

We got Zoe out of the paper, in 1997.  This was back when things called newspapers (bits of dead tree with black stuff on it called ink) were still published on a regular basis, and when they ran something called Classified Ads.  They were in their own special section, and ran into many many large pages, all in small type.  The ads had a section for dogs, and there was a simple listing:  “Am. Staff, brindle” and a phone number.  I was newly graduated, and decided that I had the time and wherewithal to find a companion for myself and my two housemates (sister Joanne and friend Jeff.)

I had grown up with Staffordshire Bull Terriers in England, and had fond memories of all of them.  They belonged to my Aunt Gillie, and I knew that they were the kind of dog I wanted to own.  So I called on this number, and got no response.  I kept calling and explaining that I was serious and that I knew all about these dogs and that I really wanted to meet this Am. Staff, brindle.

It took about two weeks, and finally we made an arrangement to meet at a Petco out near Rogers, on I-94.  I arrived first, and met this little bundle of energy they had named “Turbo.”  She wanted to do nothing but play tug with her leash, growling fiercely but playfully.  She had a bit of mange, smelled horrible, and looked a bit on the underfed side.  She had been picked up by the city pound in Elk River because she’d been coming into a schoolyard and playing with the children.  A lucky transfer to a no-kill shelter in Monticello, a few weeks in the St. Paul paper classifieds, and she found her forever home with us. (Homeward Bound)

We brought her home, and she trotted around the house with her head up, tail wagging, as if realizing that she already owned the place.  We named her Zoe, because her personality reminded us of a person we knew, and she quickly became part of our life.  First order of business was a bath, which she took great offense to.  She stuck her head in the corner farthest from the showerhead and made a plaintive yowl I will never forget.  But we got her clean and smelling better.  She filled out quickly, we got the mange taken care of, and her coat rapidly turned into a beautiful shiny brindle.

The first night, I was resolved that she would sleep in her crate, next to my bed.  She was resolved that she would sleep in the bed.  Under the covers.  In the middle.  She turned out to be more stubborn and persuasive than any other being of any species I’ve ever met, so the spot in the middle, under the covers (if it was cold) was what she got.  This would prove to be interesting when I had company, but we worked it out.

She chewed a lot, but a liberal supply of toys meant that not too much got damaged.  When she was little, her favorite target was the trash can.  She hated the crate, but we used it to minimize the number of messes while we were out.

She was a good dog.  We had some trouble with training.  It took her a while to train us to do whatever she wanted.  This task was made easier by her mind control radar-dish ears, which she used so expressively you didn’t even need to be in the same room to get what was on her mind:

Throw the frisbee NOW, dammit!

Her favorite pasttimes were snuggling, frisbee, and tug of war.  She was fierce and committed to all three, and excelled at them.

She nearly caught this snowmobile

She lived with me in Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  She moved with me 7 times, including one epic trip driving back from California where we got stuck in a blizzard in Wyoming.  I spent the night in the car with her to keep her warm, as I couldn’t bring her into the motel.
She traveled across too many states to mention, including one memorable road trip to South Carolina to see a friend graduate from basic training.  She didn’t think much of that particular trip, particularly when the alternator on the Subaru went out and stranded us in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky.
She joined me trail running, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and camping.  She once singlehandedly invented the sport of canine base jumping, and lived to tell about it.  She carried her own gear while backpacking.  She was fierce in the ocean, and would happily dive into killer surf as long as there was something thrown in to retrieve.  In her prime, she could cover 10 miles in an hour on one of my favorite mountain biking trails.
Zoe had good people instincts.  She once saved Megan from a guy who was stalking her, and who raped somebody that night.  He knocked on the door late one night and Zoe would not stop growling.  Megan didn’t like the way she was growling, and didn’t go to see who was at the door based on the sound alone.   I was out of town and was incredibly grateful.  There was never a cross word with any of our friends… she seemed to know already who belonged to the pack.  She loved nothing more than a houseful of people.  Thanskgiving was her favorite holiday.
She was an ambassador for the breed.  When we moved to Stillwater, curtains twitched and the neighbors told their kids to stay away from her, as they thought she was dangerous.  Well, one of the kids didn’t get the memo and ended up meeting her (under supervision, of course), then  playing frisbee with her in the side yard one afternoon.  By the end of that week, the entire neighborhood of kids swarmed her as we let her out in the evening, to the point where we had to institute the “no frisbee before Zoe pees” rule because she was getting too distracted to do her business.
She was endlessly patient with the children, and loved them both dearly.  She took the role of “dog mom” seriously.
Zoe, I will miss you more than I can ever begin to express.  The last 14 years you have shared with me were amazing… we did so much together, and the whole time you were there for me no matter how much crazy stuff had happened.  Rest in peace, my old love.  Good girl.  Good girl.

6 thoughts on “Zoe, 1997-2011.”

  1. James: I’m sobbing my eyes out now. How very sad. Your tribute to Zoe is amazing. She was not just a pet…. She was your dear friend… I am so very sorry. Cindy and Matt

  2. These words and these pictures reflect a life well-lived and enjoyed! A meaningful tribute to an extraordinary pooch who was so loved.

  3. Miss her, she taught you a lot, Love her, she will never die, you did the kindest thing you could for her in the end. That is the kindest, most loving thing we can do for our best friends, she will rest now gratefully. AG

  4. Thank you so much for sharing Zoe stories — your story with Zoe. It is beautiful, full of love, a lasting connection / bond that forever will be with you. Thanks James, Zoe.

    Aimee

  5. Zoe was awkward, manipulative, stubborn, and one of the finest people I’ve ever met. As she matured she developed some fairly strongly held opinions about the world and her place in it. Notably, the front seat with the seat heater? Hers. Never mind that Megan might like to ride up there, that’s Zoe’s spot. Always was, always will be. Bedtime? Bedtime is when Zoe is sleepy, no earlier and no later. Zoe’s displeasure can be measured by the loudness of the huff’s. She was the only dog I ever met who could beg with her back turned, looking the other way. You could just feel the waves of cheese-lust coming off her! She also mastered the art of looking like she was a on a down-stay, but was actually fully tensed and hovering in a down-stay position. She was just trying to make us happy, I’m sure! She had a kind heart, if a fierce one, and if she thought she hurt you the sulking was genuine and heartbreaking. I’ll never forget Jeff, with one Zoe-induced black eye, cuddling her on the couch to make her feel better… such was her shame and sadness. Zoe wasn’t just a good girl, she was the best girl.

  6. I just came across a video I shot on the same day I had Zoe put down… she wasn’t even in it, though that makes me somewhat glad, as she was in no state to be pestered with a camera. The image that graces the top of this post was probably the last time I saw her reasonably content.

    Suffice to say that I still miss her terribly. Stanley is still quite sad- he’s taken to sleeping with Owen, which Owen quite likes. Apparently he was only staying up in the “grown up bedroom” to keep an eye on Zoe. Makes you wonder what he knew, on an instinctual level, that we didn’t, and for how long. Sometimes I think we humans can be so dense compared to the company we choose to keep.

    I have her ashes on a shelf in my office. Seems macabre, but I can’t think of anything else to do now that is explainable to Owen. We told him she went away to avoid explaining the process of cremation (imagine the nightmares!) but I really want to plant a tree in her honor and bury her ashes there.

    Her absence hits us at odd times. It hit Megan when we went over to my parents recently. It’s spring, the grass was green, and it reminded Mug of the last really good times we had with Zoe, when she could amble around the lawn and studiously ignore our pleas for her return. She’d wander off and eat grass (with predictable results.) She had a grand old time. Now we have even more space, but she’s not here to enjoy it with us. :(

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