March 24, 2013


And some things are over.
Some things go on.
And part of me you carry,
part of me is gone.
But you've got a heart so big it could crush this town.
And I can't hold out forever,
even walls fall down.

~ Tom Petty

Today I have to say goodbye to a very dear friend. The best, really.

Sierra has had a tough road these past few years. Already slowing down, showing her age and the strain of two bad knees, she seemed to age rather rapidly after our move to San Diego. In fact, she had her first episode on the road south, falling over that first night in Newport. It frightened me and made me question what the hell I had done.

She was diagnosed with diabetes not long after our arrival, and once she began treatment, she bounced back. Though adjustment is never easy, I am sure she enjoyed the sunshine over the rain of Seattle, like a retiree headed to Arizona in the twilight years.

But in the past three years, there were moments of pain, days of struggle, and then the episode where I didn't think I would get her back. But then she returned, not quite the same, but she was back. She had more time. I had more time.

We moved back in November, and somehow it seemed to accelerate the aging process once again. She seemed to adjust to the surroundings pretty quickly, but soon there were more dips that she never quite came all the way back from. Trips to the vet, pills and shots, a closer eye on every move and moment.

This week, there was a noticeable change. Her eyesight has all but disappeared, and she is bumping into walls she used to have memorized. She is unstable on her feet, and now she seems afraid to walk across the wood floors. Stairs have been a problem for a while, but now I have to carry her up a single step half the time. She can’t see or hear me coming, so she lurches awake in a panic when I just place my hand on her.

I was with a friend when he had to put his dog down. He had asked me over to help him with some part of it, but then left to the vet on his own. He forgot his credit card, so I ended up being there in the end. He had tortured himself with the decision, not wanting it to come from a place of inconvenience. His dog had been ill for a long time, and it was clear that it was time. It didn't make it any easier for him, and now I am torturing myself in the same way.

Sierra has taken a great deal of care these past few years, care that I was willing to give, but care I depended on others to help me provide. Matt, Holly, Kristy and now my parents have kept watch on her, administering shots when I couldn't be there, taking her outside because she couldn't do it on her own. I am forever in their debt for helping me, helping her, giving us more time.

People have asked when I would know it was time, and I have always answered that it would be when I saw that she was no longer happy. Like my friend before, I didn't want there to be any question in my mind that it was just too difficult. That is not what love is.

In the end, it was not the lack of happiness, but the presence of fear. She was still happy when I came down to see her in the morning, even if she couldn't see or hear me coming. Her tail would wag and she gave as much bounce as her body would allow. When I came home after too long an absence, I could sense the relief, even though she had been in the house with caring people and another friendly dog.

She is my dog, and without stretching the truth much, I am her world. But outside of those brief bits of morning and evening recognition, there wasn't much for her. And it is just so hard to see the fear and confusion in her cloudy eyes. As much as I am struggling with this, it would be selfish at this point to move her again and make her learn a whole new house. To be alone all day while I am at work, just to have those brief moments of joy for each of us.

So it is time. As much as I have been her world, she has been mine. My divorce shattered me into a million little pieces. Doubt and self-loathing, pain and confusion, the need for comfort and the inability to reach out for it. In that time, there was one constant. One place I could go without fear, without shame. One soul I could pour mine out to. As I wrote elsewhere, she was not only there to give me love, but to receive it when I so desperately wanted to give it. She was the furry zen in the sea of chaos.

She was the rock that I lashed my tether to, the anchor when I was drifting and flailing. I couldn't fall completely apart. I couldn't get too self-destructive. She was counting on me. As I sat on the floor as my friend said goodbye to his dog, we were both comforted by the vet who was there to ease the passing. She said that the dogs don't know what is coming, that it is only the humans that are anguished over what is about to happen. They are at peace as they so often are, about to go to sleep for the last time.

Another friend when she was about to lose her dog to a relentless tumor, took her dog on a tour of her favorite places. A trip to the dog park, a trip to the beach, windows rolled down and her fur blowing in the wind. Sierra and I are not making the trip. She doesn't have the strength to walk across the road, much less dip her toes in the surf.

She has always been more of a homebody anyway, preferring the company of people over other dogs. Our place was always the backyard. Where she couldn't care less about chasing a ball or other dogs at the dog park, she loved motoring after the hurl-a-squirrel frisbee in the privacy of our backyard. I would come home and we would step out back together. I could wind down as she wound up, and we would both walk away with our minds clear and a smile on our faces.

Those are the moments I will remember. Her tearing off across the lawn until I made her stop. Her sitting in that chair by the window waiting for one of us to come home. Her tail not just wagging in greeting, but arcing in great circles to express her joy. The bouncing dance she had at mealtime where all four feet would leave the floor. How she would bow her head and sigh contentedly when I rubbed her ears. Her patiently letting me unquestioningly bare my soul. The certainty that there was no place she would rather be.

And I will remember these past few years when the dynamic changed. When she needed me more than she had before. All the shots, all the sleepless nights, and each and every time I picked her up when she was too tired to move. Because that is what she has done for me. My sweet puppy.

I spent the last five days sleeping on the couch so she would have me nearby. Neither of us slept very well this week. There are so few moments where we sit still and be present for any length of time, so I just watched her as the hours clicked by. That first night I saw that much more clearly how disoriented she was. But as the nights went by, she seemed to be more comfortable. Though she couldn't always see me, I think she knew I was there.

Someone is coming over to the house on Sunday to ease her into the next world. I couldn't bring myself to take her anywhere clinical. Even in better times, she always panicked at the vet, and I just didn't want there to be any fear or slippery tile floors on her last day. I want her to be comfortable, to be at home, to be at peace.

I will want to turn the ship around a thousand times on Sunday, but in my heart I know that this is the right thing to do. During those nights of staring at each other, I wished she would give me a knowing nod to let me know I had made the right decision. But all I saw was unwavering trust that I would do the right thing, that I would take care of her.

She has been much more than a dog for me, as if that wasn't enough. She has been my home for the last four years. There is going to be a tremendous void where that loving heart used to be. Time and distance will do their thing, but there will never be another one like her.

I have been blessed by this light, this pure love, this simple but beautiful creature. My companion of ten years. My fuzzy buddy. My sweet puppy. My Sierra.

Adoption day - January 2003

The first Christmas together

The chair where she would wait for us to come home

peeking through another window

caramel ears


surveying her backyard

Best gift ever

road tripping to California

at Dog beach

"suffering" through California winter with the Beeze

weekends with Nike

waiting for me to come home

chillin' with Annie

 a little off kilter after her episode, but still smiling

riding shotgun on the way back to Seattle

are we there yet?

sleeping peacefully a couple of days ago

Dinner time in younger days.

Romping around in the snow, January 2009

At the beach in her retirement years

Oh, I will miss you so.


Holly Linden said...

I pray comfort for your heart Sean. Rest in peace Sierra. xo

matt said...

Oh man, I am so sorry Sean. Hang in there.

Me said...

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful friend. Love to you.