Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Goodbye Nittany

Nittany joined our family in November 1999.  She was a rescue dog from the Philadelphia SPCA.

In the months before, our house suffered a break in.  The thief came in through the deck door, and was staging things when I came home.  He got away, but was eventually caught when he tried to pawn our camera (we keep serial numbers.)

In any case, Wife and I got a security system that very day, and debated getting a shotgun.  Wife was VERY against that, so we compromised on a baseball bat and a Dog.

I grew up with dogs, mostly German Shepherds.  Laddie was a beagle, then Lady, who died in a day, then Sheba, then Sabre.  Sheba and Sabre lived with us around the same time.  Sheba was put to sleep when she was seven due to hip dysplasia.

Sabre died of cancer in August 1983...  days after I purged my female clothes.

That accelerated my spiralling depression, from which I've never really recovered.

My parents never got another pet.

Somewhere in the late 90s, Wife and I adopted a rescue cat named Casey.  The deal was, she gets a cat, then later I get a dog.  Now, after the break in, I was getting a dog.

Wife's youngest brother was in veterinary school at U of Penn at the time.  The students were in charge of spaying and neutering all pets that came through the Philadelphia SPCA system.  We asked him to keep an eye out for a German Shepherd.  A couple months later, one came through.  He adopted her for us.  She was a German Shepherd mutt; mixed with who knows what.

She loved hiding under the bed when she was younger.

And so it was that on a cloudy November day, I first saw Nittany poke her snout through my front door.  Casey saw her too, and promptly ran upstairs.  Youngest brother gave me her short orange nylon leash, and I held her for the first time.  She sniffed me and gave me a quick shlurp to the cheek.

Her name was Julie, and she had been surrendered by an old lady because she "chewed too much."  She was four months old.  I named her Nittany.  She explored the house, then promptly christened the basement in front of the TV.

She also loved the papasan at MIL's house.  Winter 2000.  

I have many stories about Nittany.  About her running faster than the wind- she'd fold her ears back and fly.  One day at Valley Forge Park, she caught and tackled a deer, both at full run.  About her being bad.  About her being Good.  Her chewing the cover off of Dog Training for Dummies.

So many years.  So many stories.

She was a charmer.  She loved (almost) everybody, and (almost) everybody loved her.

Nittany had allergies.  She was allergic to many things, and they made her itch.  One thing she was allergic to was wool.  Yes, my shepherd was allergic to sheep.

It took time, but I eventually trained her to do some tricks, and to sit on command.  Her favorite trick, however, I DIDN'T teach her.  She would go up to people (when on carpet) burrow her snout under her chest and do a somersault using the person's legs as a balance and push-off.  She wanted a tummy rub.  And she made the funniest faces when she got them.

Eventually, she became too old to do that trick anymore, so I would assist her, guiding her hips over, so she could complete the trick, and get her tummy rub.

It became our greeting ritual.  I would get on my knees, and she would jump up and put her front paws on my shoulders.  She would sniff my ears.  I would pretend to sniff her back.  She would then dismount, I would stand, and she would do her somersault and get her tummy rub.  When her hips betrayed her, it was just the somersault.

She kept getting older and slower and greyer.  Daughter was born, and Nittany would sit next to her in her little carrier or when Daughter lay on the floor.  Daughter was afraid of Nittany at first, but grew to love her.

On the day I was thrown out, in August of 2013, the last thing I did before leaving the house was to call Nittany to me.  I had her sit.  She knew I was upset, and folded her ears back.  I hugged her and sobbed.  I thought I'd never see her again.   When I was done hugging her, she reared up to put her paws on my shoulders and lick the tears from my face.

She did that sometimes.

After that, I rarely saw her.  Maybe once or twice a month.  She kept getting slower and more infirm.  We took her to the vets, and they X-rayed her hips.  They said they'd never seen a more advanced case of arthritis.  I asked if she was in pain.  They said she wasn't, but that eventually she may be.  Wife and I discussed it, and decided that we'd cross that bridge when it came.  That was late 2013.

She kept getting slower and sleeping more.  One week in 2014, I was watching MILs house, and I bought Nittany a bone.  You see MIL didn't like her having bones as they were messy.  I liked seeing my dog happy.  It would be the last bone she ever got.  I recorded her chewing on it, briefly.

In 2015, we learned that she had issues feeling her paws, and it was making her walk a little gingerly.  Was she in pain?  No.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016.  I was working a closing shift.  Early in my shift, I was called into the office and got a talking to about my "attitude."  I deserved it, true, but it put me in a VERY sour mood.  Just before 6 PM, Wife called the store.  A manager came to tell me she was on the phone, and he took over for me on register.  Wife told me that I needed to come to the veterinarian's office where she brought Nittany, as the dog had collapsed and was unable to walk.

I received permission to leave, and drove as fast as I could to the office.  On the way, I called Wife and asked her if it was bad.  She said "yes." I asked her if it was time to have "THAT discussion."
She said "yes."  A couple of minutes later, I arrived at the vet.

I was shown into an examination room.  Wife and Daughter were there, tears in their eyes.  Nittany was lying on a blanket next to a wall.

The Last Night.

I hugged Daughter, then Wife, then kneeled and petted Nittany.  She looked up at me, panting.  Her eyes looked so sad.

Wife told me that she found Nittany on the floor, unable to stand.  They brought her food and water, and tried to help her stand.  She couldn't do it.  So they brought her to the Vet.

I was petting Nittany when the Vet walked in.  I stood, and greeted him.  I summarized what I'd been told.  He concurred and told me that she had lost all feeling in her hind quarters.  She couldn't feel them anymore.  They were no longer functioning.  I asked him if she was in pain.  He said "Probably not, but she is going to be very frustrated, as she'll never be able to stand.  So that will cause her pain."

I nodded.  Then I looked over at Wife, a question in my eyes.  My Wife of 23 years read my expression, and quietly nodded.  I quietly asked the vet "how long will it take?"

He said he would inject her with a sedative, then ten minutes later, he would inject her with the drug which would slow her heartbeat and respiration, and then stop it.

I looked at Wife, then back to the doctor.  I said to him "We're going to need a minute or two."  He nodded and left the room.

Then, I sat on a stool, and explained to Daughter what was happening, and asked her to help her mother and I make a decision, as we are a family.  I told her that we were thinking that Nittany would "never come home again."  Daughter asked if she could come visit the dog.  I was crying then.

"No [daughter], you can't, as she'll have gone to heaven.  She will be dead."

She started crying.

Can I drive?

I asked her if we could do this, to help Nittany out of pain, to help end her suffering... to show her that we love her.  She agreed.  I turned to look at the dog.  She was looking up at me, her ears back, panting.

She came into my life almost 17 years before.  I told Wife many times, that if this time were ever to come, I wanted her to pass with my arms around her.  I wanted her to know how much she was loved.
Nittany looked up at me. She knew we were sad.  And there was nothing she could do.  I started to cry harder.

I turned to Daughter, and told her I needed her to be brave.  I needed her to be strong.  I needed her strength, and so did her mother.  And so did Nittany.

The doctor came back with a needle.  He then handed me a paper to sign, which I did.  It was giving my permission to kill a member of my family, then cremate her.  He then knelt and looked at me.  I nodded.  And he gave the injection.

I then turned Nittany on her back and gave her a vigorous tummy rub, and she smiled.  Then, rolling her back, I massaged her ears.  She loved that, and gave a low appreciative growl.  Then a second.  She would never make another sound.

I made a quick video of her.  Later, Wife would accidently make a much shorter one while taking a last picture.

I looked at Daughter, and said "It's time to say goodbye to her, [daughter.]  And she did, crying.  Then it was Wife's turn.  Each took a few minutes.  We took a few last pictures.  Wife also inadvertently took a short video.  Then Wife said she would meet me outside.  She and Daughter left me in the room alone with my Dog.

I knelt next to her and petted her.  I sniffed at her head, and she sniffed my ear, then gave me the lightest shlurp, barely touching me.  I kept petting her.  Far too soon, the doctor re-entered the room with an assistant.  They had a pan, which held a large needle filled with pink fluid.  He also had clippers.  He looked at me again.  And again, I nodded, through my tears.

He shaved a little of her left hind leg, then prepped the needle.  I held Nittany close, my arms around her head, my hand by her nose, so I could feel her breathing.

It was 7:45 PM.

Nittany had been deaf for years, so she probably couldn't hear me speaking to her, telling her how much I loved her.  How sorry I was.  How much she meant to me, and how I would miss her.

I told her that we would meet again someday.  And that it was time for her to be free again- to run swift as the wind as she used to, through green fields under a blue sky.

I told her again that I loved her, and she stopped breathing.  I felt her last breath on the palm of my left hand.  I looked at the doctor, and reached my right arm across her to scratch her back.  I sobbed, saying "she's gone."  Then I buried my face in her neck and cried.

The doctor, after an eternity of seconds (I'm guessing after checking a pulse) quietly said "She's gone."

I then heard him and the assistant leave the room.  I lay on the floor holding the lifeless body of my Nittany, crying loudly.  I didn't care who heard.

My Nittany was gone.

The Last Picture.  My Fakest Smile, trying to be Brave.

I clutched at her fur, bawling.  I knew she was free, but I hurt so much.

Nittany was 17 years and two months old.  According to a dog age calculator, based on her breed, her life expectancy would be 9-13 years.  In human years, she was 98.1.

Eventually, I let her go.

I looked at her face.  Her eyes were partially open.  I closed them.  After a second or two they popped back open slightly.  I looked into them.  They were already fogging over.  I picked up the shaved fur as well as gathering a little more.

The vet came back in, and I stood, straightening my skirt.  I thanked him for his help.  His assistant came in to take a paw print in clay.  He also had a small baggie, into which I put the fur.  He told me that he should have the ashes back from the crematorium on August 8th, and that we could settle the bill then.  I nodded.  I then turned, knelt, and removed her collar.

Nittany hated having her collar removed, because it usually meant "bath time."  And she hated water.

I held her collar a moment, then put it in my purse.  I then looked at my Nittany for the last time on this Earth.  I then turned and walked out the room, and then the building.

Wife and Daughter were outside by Wife's car.  Both were speaking to a man.  He was one of the other dog owners who had been in the waiting room.  He deduced what had happened, and came outside.  When I arrived, he walked away.  I then hugged my daughter, and she began to cry.  So did I.

I looked down at her and said Nittany has gone to heaven. I told her that she was young and free and running again.  And that she would watch over us.

After more hugs, Wife and Daughter got into the car and drove away.  I walked to my car, and cried more.

I then drove home, parking in the back parking lot.  The sun was setting beautifully, and the high clouds were rimmed with fire.  I got out of the car and looked up to the western sky.  I quietly asked my dearest friend Lisa to watch over Nittany until the day came that I would be reunited with them both.

That night, Nittany came to me in a dream, something that had never happened before.  She was young. Her fur was black as night.  Her tail was wagging joyfully as she panted, looking at me, ears straight up. She then folded her ears back, and ran- ran like the wind.

She was Happy.

I woke crying.

I love you, my Puppy.  Until we meet again,

Goodbye Nittany.


  1. This is a wonderful story, beautifully written. Even after hearing this from you, I still had tears rolling down my face. Hugs

  2. Sorry for your loss. Pets are part of my family too.

  3. I woke in the middle of the night thirsty. I decided to quickly check the blogs. I now sit here in bed sobbing, barely able to read or type through the tears. Sophie, thank you for sharing your story of your treasured Nittany. We, too, cherish our pets as full members of the family and understand the pain you feel from the loss.


  4. A beautiful story of love and affection. It made me choke up.

  5. Sending so much love your way. I'm just a blog reader who had a trans student and wanted to be a better support. I found your blog more than a year ago and adore you so much through your words. I've lost a four footed family member too, I know that awful emptiness that threatens to cave in on you. Please be gentle with yourself. ๐Ÿ’œ