Two starved, undernourished pups covered in fleas and ticks were delivered to me in a diaper box in mid-August 2010. A friend had found them abandoned on her dad’s farm and wanted to help them. She saw that they were in rough shape, so she called me and asked me what to do. I offered to take them for the night and turn them over to our local no-kill shelter in the morning.
That night, as I sat with them on my bathroom floor, it was clear that they would not survive the rigors of being at the shelter. I called my vet and headed up the road to get them help the next morning.
Long story short—I named the smaller one Tunie (Petunia) and the larger one Emma Louise. Tunie was unable to keep food down. Many trips to specialized vets later, it was determined she had a damaged esophagus. The vet kindly told me that it would not be unrealistic to euthanize this sad little puppy, but I saw a fighter resting in the palm of my hand. She wanted to keep going.
There followed a fundraising effort that many kind folks and organizations contributed to. The effort to open her throat surgically was unsuccessful. The vet clinic recommended grinding dry food and adding water to create the consistence of gravy, then position Tunie so that she was standing on her hind legs and reaching up into the bowl, causing her to straighten her esophagus.
I can’t tell you how I dreaded feeding time. First was the mess of creating the food, and next was the sitting down with her little paws on my leg while she slurped food all over the place. If something was too large to swallow, the whole mess would be barfed up in a sea foamy sort of yuck. Twice a day we did this dance. We got better at it. Over time, I realized that it wasn’t an inconvenience, it was a blessing. I focused for a minute on just her and me. I lived in the moment twice a day. I watched this tough little powerhouse blossom. A little math tells me I did this close to 8,000 times over 11 years.
She grew. She turned into a fierce protector of her food, her space, her life. All the other dogs in the house learned that she had boundaries and that they better respect them, or they would be headed to the vet for staples in whatever body part she connected with. I can’t remember the number of times I threatened to send her to the shelter when that happened.
The years passed. Tunie thrived. She was always at my feet when food was present. She was in the middle of everything. Empty food bag on the floor? She would be licking every last whiff of kibble, crinkling it around as she buried her whole body in it. Emma also thrived. She became self-sufficient and aloof, but always a part of the picture.
Fast forward to this past March, 2021—Tunie was lethargic and appeared to be having pain in her right hip.
Trip#1 to the vet showed Lyme’s disease and a x-ray of her hip showed an anomaly in the joint. Treatment followed and she resumed life, but she was slower.
Trip #2 she was stable, hip x-ray was OK, life went on again, but she was thin.
Trip #3 July 28, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but she just wasn’t right, so we started another round of antibiotics for Lyme’s. On the upside she had gained some weight.
Trip #4 August 13, She was laying on the floor by my bed when I woke up-not her normal pattern. She didn’t want to get up. It felt like she had given up. My warrior had no fight. The vet found that she was in full renal failure brought on by the Lyme disease. I knew she was done, I felt it, but I couldn’t accept it. Choices were to put her through what amounted to dialysis with a specialist for 8-10 days with a poor prognosis, or palliative care. Her fight was gone, she had fought through 11 years, but I didn’t see her fire shining through. I brought her home Friday night and she was miserable in every way. She couldn’t eat, she could barely walk, she would go out in the yard for a bout of diarrhea, and then just sit down and wait for me to carry her in.
Trip #5, August 14, I held her as she passed into her new life. And I sobbed like I have never done before. Maybe it was because she is my 4th dog to pass in the last 13 months (all seniors with medical issues), maybe it was that I never really mourned for my mom’s passing three and a half years ago, or my dad’s a couple years before that. Maybe it was because her spirit to survive and her ability to set boundaries were lessons that I tried to learn but still struggle with. Or maybe it was because life has beautiful moments, and really hard moments, and I experienced all of those with this amazing little soul. Whatever the cause, it still rocks through me like waves and I helplessly ride through the sadness.
When I came home from the vet, Emma was all over me. She sniffed my shirt and seemed to understand that her sister was not coming back. If they had been bonded to each other, I would have taken Em with me, but they were not buddies. The household has been quiet. Dogs that gave Tunie a wide berth seem to be more at ease. Feed time takes 10 minutes instead of 25, but for the first time in 11 years, I miss having a shadow follow my every move, and then sit down to share a few moments of the day.
I hate that my canine family is at the age that they are leaving me. I hate that I am aging and am not as strong as I used to be. I hate that life sends us these bittersweet moments and memories. But I am grateful for the experiences, the lessons, and for sharing time with amazing animals that teach us to be better humans.
Godspeed, Warrior Princess. You are loved. You are missed.