“Today my heart is big and sore
It’s trying to push right through my skin
Won’t see you anymore
I guess that’s finally sinking in…”
-Patty Griffin, “Goodbye”
She was there. And then she wasn’t. I rolled over in bed this morning expecting to see her frosty face nestled into a blanket in her bed. But it was empty. Rusty was snuggled against my chest. We’re both broken.
I knew adopting senior dogs wouldn’t be easy. It meant less time together ultimately. And I had over 6 years with Honey. I thought I was prepared. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.
Honey and Rusty were 11 and 9, a bonded pair that had been through the wringer. Abuse, neglect, locked in a tiny bathroom for years. Numerous adoptive families, surrendered back to a rescue or simply let loose outside and sent back to the rescue via microchip when found. The excuse was always too much to handle—skittish, whiny, and always having accidents in the house. I was looking for a puppy, or at very least a young dog. I’d grown up around dogs but this was my first foray into pet ownership on my own. The second I read Honey and Rusty’s story and saw their picture though, I knew they were my little buddies.
Everyone falls in love with Rusty right away. He’s a classic goofball, happy-go-lucky dog. He’s easy to love. Everyone gravitates to him and showers him with affection. He has a crooked back leg, either from birth or a break that healed wrong. No one knows. It doesn’t bother him too much, though it’s getting worse with age. It gives him a bow-legged stance and humorous, jaunty gait created from not putting too much pressure on it.
Honey was the tough nut to crack. She was cautious, watched from the sidelines, sized up every situation, enjoyed her alone time sprawling out on a cushion anywhere. She had a low grumble that meant she was not here for any of your shit. And she only warned you once. But she had all the patience in the world for Rusty. She let him bathe her face in kisses for close to an hour before finally saying enough with a decisive bark—never a nip for him. She saved the few teeth she had for people that pissed her off. Honey and Rusty were the true definition of family, though not related by blood as far as I know.
Honey was a lot like me. Her curmudgeonly nature was adorable. She let Rusty get all the attention while fading into the background by her own choice. She liked it that way. I understood that. When she wanted something, she wanted it just that minute. I regularly exhibit a similar lack of patience. She would slowly creep up the stairs to sit next to me on the couch and nudge my hand with her snout. Usually telling me she was ready for a treat as it had been an hour or two without anything to eat. She loved food, just like her dad. In short, she was a diva. Some might disparage that behavior, but I admired her compunction and refusal to settle for anything less than her demands. She inspired me.
She was my best friend. Honey and Rusty both, but Honey found a way to weasel her way into my cold dead heart just a slight millimeter more. We were two peas in a pod. When Rusty was being silly or hyper or just too much, she would shoot me a look that said “look at this guy, can you believe it?” Or she’d walk out of the room with a glance over her shoulder that communicated “I don’t know her” better than a Mariah Carey meme. She wasn’t much of a snuggler with anyone but Rusty; but she finally came to love snuggling against my chest in bed at night or sitting on my lap on the couch while watching TV. Her guard was always up, but she let me through. She trusted me, even when I teased her or played little games. She would pretend to be mad and then pounce with a kiss. She was a perfect, frosty-faced little old lady.
Honey would’ve been 18 years old this coming July. But she’s gone now. She left me and Rusty on February 10, 2017 (ironically, my own mom’s birthday). I can’t even begin to describe the hurt. There’s been a lot of death in my life—pets, friends, family members. But this is a different kind of emptiness. I’ve never wanted children; never even entertained the thought. I prefer dogs to humans. Honey saved me and I don’t think I’ll ever be whole again. I have to be strong for Rusty though. And I will. I’ll just be a little different than I used to be. Grief breaks us, like a break to a bone. Though it can heal, it’s never just the same as it was before the fracture. A tiny bit weaker.
It’s actually a miracle I got as much time as I did with Honey. I used to joke that she was magically Benjamin-Buttoning herself. The day I was supposed to pick her and Rusty up, she got too sick and couldn’t travel. We had to postpone. Once with me though, she seemed to beat all odds. She had a bunch of health scares, but they were all for naught. Four years ago, her vet found a tumor on her adrenal gland and told me she probably didn’t have much more time. Fluid would fill up in her belly and need to get drained every so often. Whenever her belly resembled a sideways football, we’d trek into the vet and get the fluid drained and she seemed good as new.
After I moved to New York, it filled up faster and she needed it drained every two weeks. In October 2013, the vet suggested I consider putting Honey to sleep. Now, the fluid made her uncomfortable, but once it was drained she ran around like a puppy and ate everything in sight. The only thing that tumor and the fluid ever changed was her jumping. Before, she jumped onto the couch or a chair where Rusty couldn’t get to her for some alone time. He never jumped because of the back leg. Dachshunds aren’t supposed to jump regardless because of their long backs, but Honey was fearless. After the tumor, she always used the little staircase I bought her and Rusty. I know though, that tumor or the fluid never affected her quality of life. It was just a slight inconvenience to her. I told the vet “hell no” and “fuck you very much for suggesting it” just for added emphasis.
After that vet visit, the fluid…just…stopped. Her belly never filled up again until just a couple days ago. I know it was her belligerent way of telling that doctor to fuck off too. She was just as stubborn as I am and she showed them. She changed her own body chemistry to prove that doctor wrong. And she had a GOOD three and half more years. Just as sassy and snarky as she ever was. Truly a diva to the very end.
Her belly seemed to get a bit more bloated over the last week or so, but she was still eating. Just a bit lethargic. When she went a full day without eating on February 9th, I knew something must be seriously wrong. I took her to the vet on the 10th and things rapidly went downhill. The poor girl had been hanging on so long, I think she’d worn herself out. I wasn’t prepared for it to all happen so quickly.
During the appointment, she became despondent and couldn’t hold her head up. They took x-rays that showed her liver nearly quadruple its normal size. Her heart was also enlarged. She had almost no red blood cells and her white blood cell count was off the charts. She was fighting something major. They also thought she was probably in kidney failure. But she never suffered at home. She fought it all to the end until it completely took her over and then said, “fuck it, I’m out” like the badass she was.
The doctor gave her a shot of antibiotics and pain meds so I could take her home for the night. Have one more snuggle, though it would have been tearful I’m sure. I also wanted Rusty to be able to properly say goodbye. But even that wasn’t in the cards. The pain meds seem to make her worse. They gave her fluids since she was also seriously dehydrated, but they immediately came back out, all over me.
In true diva fashion, she wanted to cause one last scene and truthfully it let me know that the Honey I knew and loved was in there and telling me she was OK and ready. She pooped everywhere. All over my pants and the floor. We rushed her back to a bathtub to rinse her off and her beautiful little head just fell to the side. She couldn’t hold it up. The spark was gone from behind her eyes and it had just been there hours earlier. She was ready to go. She wanted me to let her go. But goddamnit, she fought and I believe she wasn’t in pain until those last moments. That knowledge provides the tiniest bit of comfort.
I let the doctor know it was Honey’s time and she gave her a first shot meant to induce sleep so she wouldn’t feel anything during her ultimate transition. I grabbed her out of the bathtub and held her to my chest, both of us covered in shit and getting more everywhere. Everyone was concerned, looking for towels, telling me not to get it on my shirt or in my hair. As if any of that mattered in those moments. I just clutched her tighter and rocked her back and forth, scratching behind her ears like she so loved. Honey and I caused one last scene covered in shit, making everyone squirm. Me, bawling profusely while the tears wetted her back and the light quickly dimmed from her eyes. I kept kissing her face and whispering “I love you” and “I’m so sorry.”
I laid her out on a table with my hand on her back as they tried to find a vein for her second shot, but she was already gone. Her little chest wasn’t moving up and down anymore, her eyes still open but glossy. And a little piece of me was shattered. Just gone. She’d performed so many miracles over the years; one more just wasn’t in the cards for her no matter how hard I wished. She was my perfect friend. Rusty has my heart too, but Honey was something special. She was me. We got each other.
I have both Honey’s and Rusty’s paw prints tattooed on my chest right over my heart. So she’s always here and all three of us are always together in a way. But right now, Rusty and I don’t know what to do. He keeps looking around the apartment, hoping she’s hiding under a blanket or ready to walk around a corner and steal his food (she loved doing that too!). He didn’t get to say goodbye. We didn’t know. I told him I was taking Honey to the doctor to make her feel better and we’d be back soon.
Maybe saying goodbye doesn’t make it easier though. In Patty Griffin’s “Goodbye,” she sings, “And I wonder where you are / And if the pain ends when you die / And I wonder if there was / Some better way to say goodbye.” There’s no good way to say goodbye. And we’ll question it regardless. It’s like a hole. A hole can never be filled exactly as it was. There’s always an indication of the hole. I’m trying to fill this one with the good times, with the extra years Honey got to live, all those memories. I wish more of her years could’ve been with me though.
If there’s no good way to say goodbye, I’m glad Honey and I did it our way — unapologetically covered in shit and making everyone around uncomfortable. A metaphor for what we had and for how to go on. She’ll always be my heart, even if it’s broken. And she’ll be Rusty’s too. Rest in peace, Honey. You were so loved. We will NEVER forget you. Never. Give ‘em hell wherever you are, you precious badass, you diva senior wiener. I know you will. Goodbye, frosty face. Goodnight, Honzo.