Poppy has left the building. At 14 years old, our black labrador retriever filled our daily lives in a multitude of ways and now she is gone. She came into my life by accident. It was 2002 and I was dating Allan. He rarely talked about Poppy or Sam (the tabby cat) and it wasn’t until a few months into the relationship that I discovered this important part of his life. Poppy came into his and his family’s life as a happy coincidence as well but I think one could say that about most animal companions. Poppy was engineered to be a seeing-eye dog through an organization called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. By the time she had settled into my life, it was more like Guiding Eyes for the Blonde.
Allan and Nancy, his wife at the time, prepped the kids for Poppy’s arrival by having shirts made with her image on them and then they travelled to NY state to “retrieve” her. It had been determined that Poppy was one of the few of her litter who simply didn’t have the skills to meet the stringent requirements of being an aid to those who couldn’t take care of their activities of daily living. She was unfocused with a severe case of ADHD. Lucky for them and for me that she lacked these attributes. Fortunately, the organization recognized that a higher calling existed for her and she came home to Maine.
Her original name was Petunia because she had been born into the litter “P” and all the dogs’ names began with that letter. Obviously, that name wasn’t going to work and so Petunia morphed into Poppy – still a P and still a flower. Over the course of her life, we called her variations of her name, Popster, Pops, Poppy-chongo, Luchador. Since she resided within the boundaries of the Red Sox Nation, it was a widely-held assumption that her name was Papi as in “Big Papi” the nickname of the Dominican designated hitter, David Ortiz. And also because she was black. No, we’d tell inquisitive minds, and then we’d launch into her biography.
In 2003, she came to permanently reside in our house as his wife had acquired a younger, more hyper dog and probably didn’t want the vestiges of her old life around as a constant reminder. It was a package deal – Sam and Poppy. I wasn’t prepared and I was a little hesitant. Poppy was not well behaved – she barked a lot at seemingly trivial matters -walkers, bikers, runners, squirrels, other dogs, leaves, dust molecules. It didn’t take much – and the furniture close to the windows took a significant beating. Windows were always smeared with remnants of her drool. On walks, she’d tug and strain, eagerly sniffing whatever trace scents of other passing canines – telephone poles, piles of you-know-what…It was always as if she had never smelled such a glorious, enticing scent. She approached other dogs with extreme enthusiasm and it was an ordeal to calm her down. I dreaded the trips to the vet for her annual exam because a new potpourri of scents awaited as well as new dogs and cats – all in various states of stress due to illness or injury. I wish I had known about the in-home veterinary services that I would use in the end. I also knew in the back of my mind that I would end up feeling very sad and empty when she finally left this earth.
Going away on vacation always required an arrangement for her care – whether an overnight or a week. Among her caretakers were my parents who enjoyed their canine grandchild and referred to their home as “Camp Bridgton”. She had a favorite rug that she would serenely lie upon. And we had to be extremely careful that Poppy didn’t run off with the dessert my mother had made.
There were definitely issues that were a constant source of frustration. Food had to be secured in out-of-reach places as her breed was notorious for sneaking snacks. We lazy humans would yell “Poppy down off the counter” when we had forgotten to refrigerate cheese or another desired morsel. Poppy must have eaten at least of 3 weeks worth of cat food as we didn’t always remember to pick up the cat food dishes and always would yell.
Our favorite Poppy story deals with one Christmas Eve when the 3 kids brought a lovely gift which we put under the tree. We went out to my aunt’s annual Christmas Eve party and came home to find the gift in a completely unrecognizable state. They had given us a metal canister of premium cocoa. Poppy had shredded through the paper and punctured the can enough to extract the contents, the remaining cocoa sprinkled about the room. Yes, cocoa can be deadly for dogs, but not this one – she survived the ordeal.
Poppy was also famous for relieving the garbage can of its contents and would carry each precious piece to her bed and shred each deli meat bag, aluminum foil and sandwich wrapper to teeny tiny pieces probably in retaliation for leaving her alone.
Before Sam the cat died in 2005, we acquired two scalawag kittens – Minnie and Muffin who truly believed that Poppy was their mommy. The three of them would share the loveseat – all three were black and in dim light it was challenging to tell which one was which. Muffin especially loved to rub Poppy and Poppy would tolerate it – standing still enough to indulge Muffin. If it became too ticklish, she would move. Muffin also practically slept on top of Poppy and within her paws. Cute doesn’t even describe it.
We carried on with our daily routines of feeding, walking, sleeping – she stopped jumping up on the bed around 8 years old I think. People constantly commented on how she didn’t look her age and how spry she was. Poppy always seemed to be happy, bouncing up and down with her distinct bark if she had an inkling that we would be putting on our shoes/jackets to go out for a walk. It was all over when she saw the leash. Muffin even loved to accompany us on our walks and it was so adorable to have her trotting along faithfully on our jaunts. She would come out of whatever bush she was hiding under and catch up to us – sometimes on Route 9 which scared the bejeezus out of me.
However, life with Poppy changed when I moved out of Maine to teach in Cape Cod. I felt lost and I guess it was a rehearsal for what I feel now that she is gone permanently. I tried visited when I could and often inquired about her health. While I lived in Maine, she occasionally had “spells” when walking when she suddenly would collapse as if the wind got knocked out of her but then would recover and get back up. Our vet repeated the mantra that in this breed, it was common to have laryngeal paralysis and that if she got overheated or excited, she would have difficulty taking in oxygen which could cause this phenomenon.
When I returned this summer, these spells intensified and seemed to mimic an epileptic seizure. I took her to the vet a couple of times and even saw a different vet. In these episodes, she would collapse suddenly, her feet paddling, and she would lose control of her bodily functions. This, of course, indicated something was not right. The vet never really suggested anything and we kind of kept on thinking it had something to do with her breathing. It did occur to me that it could be more serious and may involve tumors on her brain since the vet told us epilepsy usually surfaces in younger dogs.
The episodes grew in number and also she seemed to lose interest in eating. Her focus also wasn’t good and she approached climbing and descending stairs with trepidation. I coaxed her up into the house on many a chilly morning.
This past Monday, though I came home from a long day at school to find Poppy on her bed with a blanket over her. I asked Brandon what’s wrong with the dog and he replied “didn’t you get my texts” and “I called you several times”. No, I was in a meeting and didn’t think to check my phone. Evidently, she had a series of seizures and was unable to get up. I looked at her still body, her gaze was distant. No, we have to do something.
So, I called one of the 2 in-home vets who was unable to see her. The other in-home vet was unreachable and I ended up taking her to an emergency vet 18 miles away. We picked her up on the bed and placed her gently in the car. I wanted to know if she could indeed walk again. I needed an answer and I was frustrated that even though I had been vigilant about this problem, that the professionals couldn’t give me a definitive answer and a course of action for maintaining her health.
The emergency vet, devoid of compassion, wanted an exorbitant sum of money just to monitor, run some tests and keep her overnight and adamantly stated the practice wouldn’t take a payment plan. I knew that if we could get one of the in-home vets to come the next day, that is if she made it through the night, that it would be more reasonable. So, we trucked her back to Cumberland which probably did more damage and brought her inside.
During the night, I had a dream of euthanasia but also thought I heard her up and about with her collar jingling and felt optimistic that she would “snap” out of it. The next morning, I decided to go to school – 50 miles away – because I was sure that the in-home vet would discover that it was a fixable issue and that Poppy would be enjoying her life once again. Around 10 am, I found out that this problem was pretty significant and I had to rush back. Upon arrival, it was determined that Poppy was not going to make it through the day and that it was not wise to let her continue to suffer. However, this vet could perform the service but could not transport her. I considered that I didn’t want to transport her to the original vet in my car as that would be a difficult journey. So I called the other in-home vet who came promptly. I did have a few hours with her to just sit by the fire and talk to her telling her she was a good girl and she was pretty and I loved her so much.
He arrived and clearly was adept in euthanasia. He explained the procedure and how the initial shot would relax Poppy and send her into a very happy state. The second shot would be the one I didn’t want to be present for. With the first shot, I witnessed Poppy’s mouth moving in a jerky fashion. It was too much to bear so I said that I would wait outside while the 2nd shot was administered. About 5 minutes later, the vet came out and we hugged. Her body was in his car and I opted not to have the ashes.
Since Tuesday, the house has been incredibly silent. Cat food remains secure. Garbage pail unattended. I haven’t had to straighten the slipcovers as much as before. There is no more daily feeding routine and I noticed our teenage neighbor with autism who was very much attached to Poppy wandering back and forth looking for her. The cats haven’t seemed that bothered but I did witness Minnie sitting on the cellar stairs crying in a strange vocalization that seemed mournful. From time to time, I have found myself sobbing and wonder if I am going crazy. My mom has gone through the same thing twice and offered solace. I don’t want to get another dog any time soon.