We said goodbye to Sylvie on Wednesday. It was a beautiful, warm day, and we said goodbye out on the deck.
I knew this was going to hurt. I knew it like I know the sun will come up tomorrow. But still…
I know I’m supposed to talk about a rainbow bridge, a better place, and list all the ways in which Sylvie was the best dog ever. I’ll get to that.
But right now as I type this all I can see is the empty dog bed, think about how when I come home from one last trip to the vet today, she won’t be there to greet me. Our pack is down one. And my heart is broken.
Here’s what you need to know. I’ve been working from home since well before the pandemic. I spend more time with Sylvie and Lucy than I do with anyone else, including Cara. I talk to them, I sing to them, I curse at my coworkers in front of them. They stop me from going full Jack Torrance up here in the mountains. And now my silly little bundle of black poodle is gone.
She won’t be there to beg for treats or to insist on going outside for the third time in an hour. She won’t be there to do her all-terrain butt scooting. Rocks, dirt, tree bark, mud, snow — especially snow — she liked a good butt scooting.
Lucy’s curled up on my lap while I sit here getting snot all over my keyboard, my eyes swollen, my chest aching, my right hand reaching out for a dog that isn’t there, the dog I reached for when I needed to calm myself down.
When Cara and the dogs first moved to Brooklyn back in 2011, the four of us slept in a full-size bed. Lucy slept on or near Cara. Sylvie slept between us. Around the time I was being promoted to Editor of AdAge, I was dealing with a metric ton of anxiety, enough that I marched myself to the doctor and got a prescription for lexapro. And at night, as I lay there staring at the ceiling trying not to worry, I’d calm myself by running my fingers through her curls, over and over again, and try to match my breathing to hers before realizing the respiratory rate for a 16-pound poodle isn’t quite right for an adult male.
I’d almost forgotten about that. So much has changed in the 10 years I knew Sylvie. She moved from Louisiana to live in Brooklyn. Then we moved from Park Slope to Bay Ridge. We also moved into a king size bed, where she was free to sleep as far away from us as possible. Then we moved to Superior, Colorado, then here to Conifer. These last few years, she slept at Cara’s feet. But sometimes she preferred to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, Lucy switched as well, and now spends most nights curled up between my legs or tucked into my side.
So I’d almost forgotten that I used Sylvie as a stress stone. And lately, Facebook Memories has been reminding me of a host of other things that five-year-old Sylvie did before she turned, somehow, into 15-year-old Sylvie. Other things I’d almost forgotten. She liked to chase and chew on pants legs and shoes when playing in the backyard. She (and Lucy) sometimes nested in a pile of shoes when waiting for us to return. She liked to play in the bed first thing in the morning, which was always a good way to get a human ready for the work day.
Like most dogs, she loved walks. For a dog that grew up in a house in Louisiana, she sure seemed to enjoy taking to the streets of Brooklyn. Or the idea of it at any rate. Because while she would jump and spin, yip and yap the minute she saw her leash come out, she was more than a little problematic when she was on that leash.
Runners? Hated them. Bikes? Hated them even more. When we lived in Bay Ridge and I really wanted to wear her out, I’d walk her down to the promenade, wait for a biker to come along, and off we’d go. I’m not so sure how the cyclists felt about that, but they were never in any danger of her catching up to them.
In fact, right at the start of our grand adventure, Sylvie’s problematic leash behavior almost put an end to our little family.
It was the first time I took Sylvie and Lucy for a walk in Brooklyn without Cara. It was a nice summer day. I’d taken off from work so DirecTV could come by. After the appointment was over, I decided to walk the dogs to Prospect Park. I thought maybe if I’d tire them out with the half mile to the park — a long distance for tiny dogs not used to much walking — and we sat in the grass for a while as bikers and runners did their thing, they’d get acclimated. The walk there went fine, but soon enough it became clear that it hadn’t worn them out. They still wanted to murder every bicycle. So I headed out into the middle of Long Meadow — out of sight of bikes and runners. In the middle of throwing down a blanket, Sylvie started pulling at her leash and then, somehow, slipped right out of her harness and shot across field straight for … a little girl running along with her parents. Everything slowed down at that moment. I could see her biting the girl and being put down. I could see her running beyond and into traffic.
None of that happened, obviously. But had I lost Sylvie, there’s not a doubt in my mind Cara would have left me just two months after moving to Brooklyn. And there’s not a doubt in my mind because she told me as much. Cara made it clear from the start that any attempt to play “it’s me or the dogs” could only end one way — and it wouldn’t be in my favor.
Cara’s was — is — a fierce doggy mommy. She’s a fierce person in general. This has got to be harder on her than it is on me, yet she managed to go to work today while I sit here in my little puddle of sad.
Sylvie, of course, was Cara’s. Both dogs were. Sylvie was five when I met her, so I missed all the real puppy years. But I’ve seen pictures and the cute is enough to lay a man down. When I first met Cara, it was clear she was crazy about her dogs. I thought the whole thing was a little silly.
We know how that turned out — me sharing food, sharing a bed, cooking entire steaks for them. But the bond between Cara and Sylvie was always the primary one. Sylvie made that clear from the start. She took to me easily enough. She took to strangers in general. She’d bark at you a bit but was easily bought off by a treat and some scritches — whereas Lucy would bark at you for the duration of your stay. It’s why people always said Sylvie was the sweet one and offered to take her if something happened to us. (Poor Lucy has mellowed in her old age.)
But even though Sylvie took to me, she would not tolerate any monkey business with her mom. Not while she was watching. Hugging, kissing, dancing. All guaranteed to get her barking at us. She also spent the first couple of years humping my arms, which I assumed had less to do with sex and more to do with domination, letting me know who was really in charge.
And, yes, to be clear, I just said that my female dog humped my arm. Sylvie wasn’t overly concerned with traditional gender roles. She lifted a leg to pee. Every time. I’ve become so used to it that I find it weird when other female dogs don’t lift a leg.
Sylvie looked dashing in her blue and green turtleneck sweater. But put her in a frilly dress and she just looked — well she looked like she wanted to murder you in your sleep. Because Cara’s mom makes custom dog clothes, Sylvie got put into dresses far more often than she would have liked. But she also got a lot of use out of that sweater.
For a dog born and raised in Louisiana, Sylvie sure did like the cold. And she loved the snow. This video is one of their first snowfalls in Brooklyn.
And this one …
This video is here in Colorado just a few weeks after she returned from emergency surgery to have her gallbladder removed.
We almost lost Sylvie at this time last year. We paid a lot of money to try to save her. Not only did it work, but she had a really good year. We had a really good year. Like Cara said, if we had to pay twice what we paid, we would have done it. I’d harbored a little bit of hope that last year’s scare would have prepared me for this, would have toughened me up some. But no.
Some would say it’s unmanly to cry so much over a dog. But I’ve seen enough grown men bawling over dogs to know better. And some would say it’s unseemly getting so distraught over a pet. Especially in a year in which over 500,000 people have died of COVID in America alone.
But there is no shame here. No one loves you like your dog — not your children, not your parents, who, as humans will be disappointed in you from time to time. The only thing you can do to disappoint your dog is not give it more chicken.
And honestly, I don’t know what else to do with all of these feelings other than pour them all out here. Hell, I have a feeling I’m just getting started. I haven’t even touched on what the month since her first episode felt like.
All of which is fine. People like to read memorials to gone dogs. My friend Jim Mitchem even put together a book of them and I help sift through all the entries. It’s not because I’m sadistic.
I think it’s because when we grieve for our pets, it’s something pure. The love our dogs have for us is uncomplicated. The love we have for our dogs is the same. With humans, we sometimes have to try hard not to speak ill of the dead. Human relationships are messy. We say and do things to hurt each other. That doesn’t happen with dogs.
I guess stories we tell about dogs, even the sad ones — especially the sad ones — remind us that our fellow humans are capable of such pure love, and yes, such pure grief. It’s something hopeful.
I’m not feeling so hopeful right now. I just returned from the vet. I dropped off the oxygen tent and oxygen concentrator. Donated all the pills we didn’t give her. When the vet tech came out to take the stuff, I lost it. Again. And when we got home and Lucy spent the first fifteen minutes searching the house. The same.
And that’s okay, too. Nothing will ever love me like Sylvie loved me. And I’ll never love anything else exactly the same way. I know she had a good life. I know she was spoiled rotten. I know we did right by her. I know this, but I feel like she deserved even more. More walks, more hugs, more scritches, more chicken, more steak. More life.
Because Sylvie wasn’t just a good girl. She was the best girl.