Today marks six years since Rachel died, and my heart hurts a little bit extra, because it’s been about two weeks since I said goodbye to my little dog.
Although I wrote a social media post that evening, I knew I would eventually come to this space at some point, in order to help process through it all a little bit more. I’ve never found it particularly easy to find words to fully express my feelings – unless it was through the written word. So this feels more natural to me.
As a kid, I devoured library books like it was my job. Mostly books about animals – before I tackled the horse books, I read about cats and dogs. When I was 9 years old I firmly decided I wanted a Corgi. It wasn’t until I was much older that I met one for the first time.
A couple years out of college, I realized my life had, at last, reached a point where I felt like I could add an animal of my own. I researched my heart out, looking at puppies and rescue dogs – always picturing a classic red and white, stub-tailed Corgi.
I never saw a photo of Avery. All I read was an ad that gave the basic details: male, approximately 2-3 years old, sable, Pembroke with a tail. There was no choice for me but to drive three hours to Springfield, Ohio, to meet this dog.
When he trotted out of his crate, happily wagging his fluffy tail, cheerful grin on his face – I knew. He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen, and I was irrevocably in love.
He had been wandering the streets and was picked up by the Humane Society, who sent him to a local Corgi rescue, where he was fully evaluated. When I met him, he was just finishing up heartworm treatment, and then was scheduled to be neutered. I had to wait an entire month before I could bring him home.
On December 18th, 2011, Avery was my Christmas present to myself, and I could no longer imagine how I had gotten this far in life without him. A few days later, Rachel (my boss at the time) gave me the sad news that she needed to sell the farm, cut my hours, promised to help me find extra work, and needed to find homes for all of the horses we had left. On Christmas day that year, she gave me Crumble.
Avery’s first day at the barn was uneventful. I had him on leash for about an hour before I realized he wasn’t going anywhere. Ever. Except to follow me. For the next eight years, I had a little shadow with me 24/7.
My roommates and I always joked that he wasn’t really a dog, but a kid in a Corgi suit. He thought dog parks were eternally boring – but loved going to playgrounds to let kids pet him and to go down the slide repeatedly.
For the longest time, I had a mental list of people I knew who wanted to steal him if I ever took my eyes off of him. (joking! but…also not really…) When we had friends over for dinner, he greeted everyone happily and thanked them all for coming specifically to visit him.
In 2012, when Rachel was diagnosed with cancer, Avery visited her with me every day, curled up in bed with her, and expertly napped, instantly lending a bit of extra stress relief to everyone. When she died, he curled up next to me, his nose tucked safely under the tip of his fox tail. No matter what, he always seemed to know that we would be okay as long as we had each other.
In 2014 and 2015, Avery loaded up into my car and followed me from Kentucky to Wisconsin, then to Florida, and finally to Vermont, where we at last settled into a place we could call home.
He continued to make an impression wherever he went. When my sister visited me one fall, Avery came with us to Boston, where we all played tourist. At Bunker Hill, I could barely make my way up the stairs before being stopped by people wanting to pet him and ask questions about Corgis. Before long, the crowd around my little dog rivaled that of the line waiting to get inside the monument. He smiled and greeted each person individually.
As all Corgi owners know, one of the biggest fears in the breed is a genetic disease called Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) – unfortunately all too common, especially in Pembrokes. Although not painful, it’s a horrible disease to watch progress, as it starts with hind leg weakness, then paralysis, then travels to the front legs as well. Barring other health issues, it eventually renders the dog unable to even lift his head, making breathing and swallowing impossible. It’s a fairly slow process, generally lasting up to three years. Unfortunately, many vets aren’t familiar with the disease – and on top of that, there is no way to officially diagnose it without a necropsy (although you can order a DNA test that will at least tell you if your dog is at risk).
A few years ago, I started noticing some occasional limping and an unwillingness to jump into the car like normal – when I took Avery to the vet, we did some x-rays and he was diagnosed with a torn cruciate ligament and hip displaysia. As longtime blog readers will remember, it turns out that this wasn’t all that was wrong.
After a scary incident last December, I took Avery to a neuro specialist, who was willing to say that given the symptoms, it was likely we were looking at DM. In April, Avery starting using a cart to help him walk.
I knew he needed to be in a warmer, easier climate this winter, and that was just one of many reasons I wanted to come back to Florida this year. In my heart, I also knew it was highly unlikely he would return to Vermont.
At first, he did significantly better in Florida – fewer hills to go up and down with the cart and more time in the barn to make him feel like he was still useful. After a few months, I noticed that he was beginning to tire of his cart more, and eventually he refused to move in it.
By February/March he was incontinent, and after a visit with the vet, I made the decision to stop using the cart. Instead, I pulled him around in a little wagon. He was happy for awhile, but as time went on he became more anxious when I wasn’t around, until he began to bark continuously the second I went out of sight.
If there is one thing I have learned from the last few years, it’s that needless suffering is not something I ever want my loved ones to go through. Everyone always says that when the time comes, you’ll know – you’ll see it in your dog’s eyes. Yet with DM, you might not. They aren’t in pain (unless from secondary issues), so it’s not as obvious.
Avery never gave me a “look”. But he was always an independent, confident little dog, and hearing him bark frantically for me…I knew.
When the day came, I let him sit in his wagon all day in the barn. As the hours went by, he had dozens of visitors. I told everyone that he was allowed to eat anything and everything that he wanted – they all took those instructions very seriously. Between dog treats, marrow bones, fancy canned food, a cheeseburger, bite-sized steak, and a myriad of other things, my sweet. wonderful, eternally optimistic little dog had the most perfect last day.
That day, he didn’t bark for me. He didn’t have an opportunity to be scared, or worried, or upset. He was surrounded by people who, he believed, came to the barn specifically to see him. Just like they always did.
Understandably, a trip to the vet was never his favorite activity. He would remain stoic, his eyes a little wide, until his feet touched the metal table -and then he would get panicky. The most important thing I felt I could do for him was to make sure his last day was not his worst. After all he gave me – selflessly – that was the least I could do.
In the end, I fed him treats and sat with him on a blanket. He couldn’t see the tears, and I didn’t want to let him go.
“To call him a dog hardly seems to do him justice, though inasmuch as he had four legs, a tail, and barked, I admit he was, to all outward appearances. But to those who knew him well, he was a perfect gentleman.” – Hermione Gingold
Little Dog, you could not have been more perfect if you tried. Thank you for eight years of pure, unwavering love. I will always miss you.