She was born on Christmas Day 2000, one of six puppies from Momma Dog’s second litter. When the first litter was born six months earlier, The Husband and I lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so we told his youngest brother (main caretaker of the dogs) that if she had another litter and we were somewhere where we could have a dog, we would take one. By that Christmas, we were renting a house from a friend who let us have pets, so we had to live up to our agreement.
Five weeks after she gave birth to the puppies, Momma Dog (a collie mix) had had enough of nursing. Appalling behavior for humans, but perfectly acceptable for dogs — go figure. It was time for me and The Husband to go pick out our puppy. We drove over on a Saturday afternoon and walked up to the outdoor pen where The Husband’s grandfather, Papa, had built for the pups. I knelt down in front of the little bundles of fur that clamored for my attention, but before I could get to any of them, a fawn-colored bounded over all of them and started licking my hand. Later I would learn that I had picked the alpha female.
She had gray and black marled snout with solid black markings at one eye. “We can name her Domino,” The Husband said, “after one of the X-Men.” Ever the comic geek.
We tried putting her in the brand new carrier we had bought, but after just a few minutes of her loud cries, I reached inside, grabbed her and held her in the towel we had also placed in the carrier. She rode to her forever home in my arms. Five minutes as a dog owner, and I was already spoiling her. Good job…
The first night was her hardest. The Husband’s grandmother had told us to put a couple of our old T-shirts in her carrier along with an old-fashioned alarm clock because she said it sounded similar to a mother’s heartbeat. None of those things did much good the first night. We heard her whimpering and crying about every two hours, but after that first night, she never made a peep, unless she barked.
We kept her sectioned off in the largest part of the kitchen when we weren’t home, and since we worked too far from home to go home for lunch. We paper trained her, and it didn’t take long at all for her to catch on. Of course, it didn’t take long for her to learn anything. I taught her “sit” and “paw” in an hour. “Stay” was a bit harder but still came to her quickly.
What also came quickly? Her growth spurts. In no time her short stubby legs turned long and lanky. Her snout lengthened. Her ears weren’t quite as floppy.
Then one morning she greeted The Husband by draping those long legs over the gate that kept her in the kitchen, and he called out to me to come look at her. “Look at those paws. It’s like she’s walking on snowshoes.” We realized that she would not be the medium-sized dog like her mother.
Yet even as the eventual plus-sized, 75-pound canine she became, she still believed she was a lap dog.
Being the alpha female, she had her willfulness and behavioral issues. She expressed her separation anxiety in her first months by tearing up her pee pee papers, and each day I came home to find she had pottied in her spot, but only after she had shredded her papers and the tiny bits littered the linoleum.
And speaking of linoleum, the sticky tiles in the kitchen were so old that they had started loosening up in spots, and in her chewing phase, she decided to free them from their captivity. You just haven’t lived until you clean up dog poop with visible traces of white linoleum.
In October 2002 we moved into a new house, and while she was weirded out that first night, she eventually picked up on the new layout of her domain. When we retired to the bedroom at night, her chosen spot was on the floor next to my side of the bed.
She also loved going out on the deck to look at what she believed was her kingdom. Who were we to tell her any different?
Then we brought home a feline little brother in November 2006. He got another comic book name, Loki, and everyone told us how the two of them would be best friends. “Oh, they’ll nap together and cuddle together, and she’ll probably have some internal motherly instincts kick in…” On and on they went.
And they were wrong…
There was a tolerance there, and occasionally they would play, but playtime turned nasty in a matter of minutes. Inevitably, we had to intervene.
As with many shepherds and collies, the hips are the first things to go, and Domino’s were no different. Before she reached middle age, she started pulling up her right back leg when she ran or trotted. She became less interested in playing with Loki, but unfortunately, he still wanted to play with her, which resulted in snarls, growls, and lashing out — sometimes at five in the morning.
Yet she still met us at the door barking and smiling every time we came home. She spun around and lifted her feet in her own little joyful dance and wiggled from nose to tail.
Just after her 11th birthday in December 2011, the vet diagnosed her with diabetes. Our daily routine did a 180 to accommodate her eating schedule and her twice-daily shots of insulin. That willful, stubborn behavior reared its ugly head, but in three months or so, she came to expect the routine (and the treat!) that came along with her shots.
During the past year we noticed her hearing had left her, and she started laying right at the front door so she would know we came home. Being such a smart girl, she recognized our hand motions for wanting her to get up, so when it came time to eat, we would lift our hands as if we were flipping something over. She would raise up on her front legs, and then ease her back legs underneath her.
Early this year she started losing her appetite. We thought she was getting finicky in her old age, so in an effort to keep her eating, we tried all sorts of solutions and new foods — dry food with unsalted chicken broth, dry food with broth and boiled chicken, a new dry food, dry food with premium wet food. Almost two weeks ago, she refused to eat over an entire weekend. We tried everything we could but boiled chicken. The other problem was she was having trouble getting up, and we had to help her stand that weekend. After a few minutes of walking around her legs literally gave out and she dropped to the floor.
Terrified, we called a vet who made house calls. He came that Sunday evening and checked her out. He thought she might have pancreatitis, so he gave her an antibiotic injection and left some antibiotics and some anti-nausea meds. The next morning she was no better, so we took her to our regular vet. He’s been around a long time, and he’s a straight shooter. He told us that he was going to run bloodwork, but in no uncertain terms, he made it clear that she was old.
“She’s lived a long time for a dog of her breed and size, and she’s lived a long time considering her diabetes,” he said, preparing us for the worst case scenario. So we waited for what had to have been an agonizing half-hour, probably longer. He came back in the room and said he wanted to see her walk. (We had her carried in because she couldn’t stand very long.)
We got her down from the table, steadied her, and put a leash on her. While she wasn’t fast, she made a beeline down the hall and went straight to the exit door. Baby girl wanted to go home. The vet told us to go on outside with her, so she led us down the length of the building to the side parking lot. The whole time she sniffed around and tugged at the leash to go where she wanted to go.
Once we arrived at the side parking lot, the vet stopped us and said that was what he needed to see. Basically, her spirit was willing so there was no way he could recommend putting her to sleep that day. However, she was dealing with liver and kidney disease. The vet couldn’t say exactly how long she had, but he referred to her as a “short-timer.” A minute later, Domino plopped down on the asphalt and peed. “But that’s what you’re going to be dealing with,” the vet said.
We were beyond thrilled and relieved to take her home, but we knew we had our work cut out for us. First off, we had to get her eating. She was still turning her nose up at every commercial dog food we put in front of her, so we returned to our ever faithful boiled chicken. She scarfed it down without coming up for air, so that was a no brainer.
The next was the potty issue. I took a beach towel, bunched it up lengthwise, and we stretched it underneath her hind quarters to keep her from tiring out. In doing that, we could guide her over to the papers and all but two times she managed to pee pee on the papers. If she got up during the night, we got up with her, prepared to do whatever we could to help her.
That was last Monday and Tuesday. On that Wednesday morning, The Husband knelt down on the floor to wake Domino up for her breakfast. He started with the baby voice that we used so often with her, but she didn’t rouse up. He called her name again and again, but she didn’t move. He tapped the floor while calling for her. Still no response. Finally, he tugged her collar and slid her head out from under the bed. Her eyes were open, and she was breathing, but she made no move to get up. I reached over and stroked her side, and she pulled up her paw — her signal that she wanted a belly rub. Stinker…
Later that night, The Husband texted me while I was at work and said she had gotten up by herself on the linoleum floor (no easy feat) and gone over to use the papers by herself. Never had I been so bummed to miss seeing my dog urinate.
She kept it up the rest of the week, but we were concerned that she had not pooped since before her bad weekend. We spoke to the doc on Saturday, and he gave the go-ahead to add a couple of spoonfuls of pumpkin purée to her food. We did that Saturday night, and Sunday morning she pooped.
The Husband had me jumping out of my skin when it happened. I was mid-hair wash in the shower when he stuck his head in the bathroom and yelled, “SHE POOPED!” I almost did too.
My mother-in-law and brothers-in-law came over Sunday evening, and she ate up all the attention she could from them. She scarfed down her dinner once again, and come 11:00 pm, we all settled down in the bedroom for sleep.
At 3:00 am Monday morning, she got up. We followed her into the kitchen and watched her pace around. She walked over to her papers and walked back off of them. She walked over to the stove and back to her papers and underneath the table to the corner of the kitchen and back around to the stove. This pacing went on for a few minutes until she finally plopped down in front of the dishwasher.
We figured she had to poop but was afraid to because her back legs were so weak. Since she had laid back down, we put the gate up at the kitchen door way so she wouldn’t get on the carpet and end up pooping because she couldn’t make it back to the kitchen.
We went back to bed, but we heard her paws on the linoleum a little before 5:30 am. Thinking she was trying to get up, we walked into the kitchen and found her in the midst of a seizure. We rushed to her side, and I grabbed my phone and started searching for info on dog seizures to make sure there wasn’t anything we needed to do for her safety. I found a paragraph that listed what the seizure could be a symptom of: brain tumor, stroke, low blood sugar, liver or kidney failure, among others.
As The Husband and I discussed what was the possibility, she went into another seizure. Realizing that what was happening was going to be a long drawn out experience that no animal or human should have to experience, we made the decision to text the vet who had made the house call the previous week and end her suffering.
I tried typing the text, but every time I had the phone in front of me I broke down in sobs. The Husband took the phone from me and sent the initial text, and I followed up with what had been going on for the past 15 minutes. He said he would be right over; however, we needed to decide whether we wanted to bury her or cremate her.
Sobs came again as I relayed the information to The Husband. We agreed that since she was such a big girl (around 70 pounds), cremation would be best. Before the vet could arrive, Domino had a third seizure, the worst of the three, but after each one, she looked at us and knew we were there. If one of us got up, she raised her head to see where we went and laid her head back down only when we returned.
Drool covered the floor. I took the beach towel that had supported her earlier in the week and tried to get her head and front legs on it. The vet showed up and after taking one look at her confirmed what we already knew. The time had come to say good-bye.
He readied a sedative that also had a drug to prevent any other seizures. As he took her leg in his hand, for a split second she wanted to pull away — her knee-jerk reaction to thinking someone was going to mess with her paws — but once she realized he wasn’t trying to trim her nails, she relaxed again. The injection went in and she melded with the floor and watched us as we stroked her head and talked to her in voices she could no longer hear. Then he gave her the final shot, and a little after 6:00 am on Monday, July 28, 2014, our Domino, the sweetest girl in the whole world, left us.
You can imagine how heartbroken we have been over the past few days. When I went to bed Monday night, my eyelids burned from all the salt in my tears. You can cut through the silence of the house with a chainsaw. One of us sees the empty floor in the corner of the kitchen and has a split second panic that a paper isn’t down for Domino to potty.
We walk in the door and still wait to see her bounding out of the kitchen to greet us with barks and smiles.
I sit on the couch and expect to hear the jingle of her collar as she peeks into the living room to see what I’m doing.
I walk around to my side of the bed at night and expect to see her lying on her side, head under the bed, ready for us to turn off the light.
We show up early for work because we get ready on our old schedule which allotted time to feed her and give her an insulin shot.
We see her in the photographs on the bookshelf and entertainment center, in her toys still piled in the dining room, in the scratches on the foyer’s hardwood floor from her nails, in the pizza crusts she used to get bites of, and in the tufts of fur missed by the vacuum cleaner.
She is nowhere and everywhere all at once, but most importantly, she is in our hearts, where she will be for the rest of our lives.