Monday, December 29, 2014

Celebrating Zoe's Life

I am sharing Zoe's story with Eileen's Saturday's Critters.  Many thanks, Eileen.  I couldn't be with my sister, Sherrill, when she had to say good-bye to Zoe, but wanted to do what I could to help record this life that left such a mark on Sherrill's and my heart and on everyone who came to know her.  What follows is an account of Zoe's life put together over the past eight days but open to further additions, should Sherrill want to share other memories of her in the future.  Direct quotes from Sherrill's emails are all in a blue font.  My memories and thoughts about Zoe are all in a black font.
On Friday, December 19th, Sherrill wrote these heartbreaking words: "Zoe has had a very tough day. She had a seizure tonight and can no longer stand without help. I think it's time to say good-bye to my gentle, trusting friend. I will call the vet in the morning and I just pray that she can get through the night without another fall."  She included the picture below.  So many thoughts were in my heart, not least of which was the wish that I could spare my sister and her family this pain.
The next day, Saturday, she wrote: "As you predicted, Zoe is much better this morning. After about two hours of recovery last night during which we just patted and reassured her she was able to get up with help. She settled on her bed in the living room and went into a very deep sleep. I slept on the couch near her. She was able to get up once during the night just to change positions but she slept very soundly for many hours. I know her time has come and I called our vet this morning. If not today, it will be Monday because her seizure was awful and I don't want to have her go through that again. It wasn't just a fall. It was as if something knocked her off her feet and then the leg flailing and head shaking began. She went down so hard but fortunately just hit the floor and nothing else." Bill and I visited Sherrill in February, 2012.  I took this photo on February 9th, our last day before returning to Vancouver.  Zoe loved to greet each one of us when we woke up in the mornings and she always invited us to play.  I think you can see a glimpse of the toy she offered us behind her head in the photo above. No stuffed toy ever lasted more than a few days with Black Jack, but Zoe was different. 
On Sunday, things were calm.  "Everything is fine here. Zoe has slept almost non stop since Friday night. She's had lots of pats and love so she's quite content as long as she doesn't lose sight of me."  "Gentle Giant" is a cliché that happens to be absolutely true in Zoe's case.  The only thing about her that was larger than her impressive frame was her heart.  She enjoyed and was kind with everyone she met (except for a couple of exceptions to be described by my sister), but Sherrill was claimed as her own from the day she arrived.  I am grateful that I asked a professional photographer (Neville Black Photography) to do a photo-shoot of my sister and her husband to celebrate their 41st anniversary.  He at first insisted they exclude Zoe because he wanted the focus to be on Sherrill and her husband.  It took a lot of convincing to get him to change his mind.  I'm so glad he did.
More words written Sunday: "I have cleaned frantically because that's what I do when I need to distract myself. Our front vestibule, cupboard, stairs and woodwork all sparkle. Now heading to scrub bathrooms. Zoe's areas remain untouched."  As you can see, Zoe was thrilled with the photo-shoot.  A walk at Experimental Farms with two of her favourite people and a nice new gentleman paying lots of attention to her.  Well, that's what Zoe called the good life!
And on Monday, "Your parcel arrived late this morning. Zoe barked and scared the mailman but that was the last of her energy. Sadly, I am firm about the appointment today. I think it was confirmed for me yesterday when Barb arrived with her little dog Lily and Zoe refused to go for a walk with us. Barb and Lily went for a short walk to the park but Zoe and I stayed home. I think she knew that she couldn't do it. She's deaf, totally blind in one eye, has trouble eating and walking. She's defenseless and anxious. I know she could last longer but with the threat of another seizure looming, I feel that it's kinder to let her go. I've struggled with this decision but if I kept her with me longer it would be for me, not for her and I would never be able to leave her without feeling terrible guilt. Even when she is being cuddled by K (Sherrill's son), she is craning to find me with her better eye. Strangely, she has stopped pooping and peeing on the "blue grass" in the last month or so. Can't explain why, but she seems finally to be housetrained. :) We're quite proud of that. 😄"
"K is having the most difficulty dealing with this decision. He asked if we could try to keep her through Christmas at least. Truth is though, that Zoe is happiest when the house is quiet and peaceful and she has me to herself. Right up until Friday she was thrilled to have W (4-year-old grandson) arrive and be here with us. On Saturday mornings she has always bustled into his room with me in the morning as he wakes up. She would often lie outside his door waiting for him to get up. This Saturday, she just ignored him and slept. He brought her her toys but she didn't even raise her head. For very brief moments she gets up and looks almost normal. But five minutes later, she has to sleep again because her energy level is so low."
"I will try to take Zoe out to the park this morning to visit her favourite haunts. I'm hoping that she will have the energy and will to go with me even if we just make it to the first park bench. Otherwise, her day will be filled with peace, love and treats although she has refused to eat he breakfast again this morning. My heart is heavy but not broken. I know she had a good life with us."
"Just got home to a very empty house. Zoe left us willingly and gently with three of us beside her and holding her (Sherrill, her husband and her son). She had another smaller seizure late this morning and she was quite agitated here at home. She didn't want treats and I couldn't take her to the park. She didn't want to go. She did have an amble in the back yard earlier today and did her best to stare down a squirrel. But by late this morning there was no question that it was time for her to go. She didn't even put up the least fuss at the vets. A first for Zoe! We all cried and had a hard time leaving her there but the vet was wonderful and promised that she would not be left alone. Her remains will come back to us and be placed on the mantle with those of our Katy. Someday perhaps I might be able to let them go."  

I can still see Zoe running happily towards me when Bill and I walked with Sherrill, her daughter, her new grandson and Zoe. It is the image I will hold in my mind of her, just happy, happy, happy to be with her family.

"Must go Carol. I knew you were with me today.  D (her husband) and K (her son) came too so Zoe had most of her people with her. KA (her daughter) called and came by after work. Zoe was the bravest of all of us. The vet couldn't have been kinder and the room was prepared for us when we arrived. We brought her favourite blankie. I had cooked bacon for her but she didn't want treats today. Even though bacon was a rare and special treat she just didn't want it today. Right now I am exhausted but am having trouble even thinking about going to bed without her beside me snoring. I'll manage but as you know, it won't be easy for quite some time."
"We are all very sad at losing such a sweet girl. I whispered your good-byes along with my own. And now I need to just go and cry."  

This was taken on our first outing with Black Jack after our arrival in Ottawa that February, 2012.  Zoe accommodated the whims and commands of her housemates with a generosity that Black Jack took for granted (but I didn't).

We did a lot of walking in those few days.  Zoe would step out on her own briefly but she preferred to be right behind Sherrill.  Bill and Black Jack followed them, and I usually brought up the rear, camera in hand.
"I'm OK and you're right, tears don't help much. But Zoe did help. I am convinced, as was the vet, that she knew and was ready to go."
"I will send you one photo tonight and more tomorrow. Tonight's will make you cry as it does me, but in time I will see it as the comfort that she offered right until the end. That photo was taken last night as I sat beside her in the floor."
On Boxing Day, Sherrill wrote: 
"I'm OK but certainly missing my Zoe. I see her everywhere I turn and will for quite some time. I am very grateful to have had her for as long as I did. I will say that I still step carefully along her "pee path" having ended up with wet socks many times."
Zoe's story is a beautiful story, one to celebrate and one that brings smiles amidst the tears.
"Zoe chose me in 2006. We had been without a dog for several years when I decided that I would go to the Humane Society and just see if they had a small dog in need of a home. I read the profiles of several dogs and when I came to Zoe's I thought I would just ask to meet her and then give adoption of any dog another thought. I knew she wasn't small, but had no idea quite how large she would be."
"I was taken to a small box-like visiting room that had a long bench attached to a wall and nothing else. Zoe arrived dangling an attendant on the end of a leash and she launched herself onto my lap. There she remained shaking in fear and anxiety until the attendant dragged her away to a cage."
 "I did go home, but only to let D (and Mom who was staying with us) know that there was a dog in need of adoption fast. The next day we went through the adoption process and brought our 3 year old, boxer/rottweiller/mastiff home. At first she was delighted to be here, but soon Mom came down the hallway using the wall to steady herself and Zoe was terrified. With her tail tucked firmly between her legs she lunged at Mom over and over while barking furiously. She didn't touch her, but if you remember how unsteady Mom was by that time, you will understand my fear that she would fall. She did this every time she saw Mom and Mom really disliked her. ('I don't know what's the matter with that dog. I never did a thing to her.')"
I had to go to work and Zoe would have been left alone with Mom. After several days of trying unsuccessfully to confine Zoe to a room or a crate while we were away, (the marks on the doors are still quite evident, and Zoe's nose took a beating from the crate that she escaped) I gave up and decided that she would have to go back to the Humane Society.
 D and I took her back on a Friday. We brought her in with all her worldly possessions, (leash, collar, blanket and food) all newly purchased. Don sat with her while I stood at the counter and wrote an epistle about her behaviour and reason for her return all the while doing my best to be sure she would be appealing enough to be adoptable. That entire time Zoe sat patiently with Don watching people and animals come and go. Not a whimper or bark out of her. I left her there and returned home crying all the way.
Zoe running between Sherrill and KA
"When we arrived home, Mom announced that she wanted to go back to her apartment so on Saturday Don loaded the car and off he went with Mom. I sat and bawled. K arrived home and still chuckles when he retells the story. Apparently all he could make out between my sniffles and gibberish was that Zoe thought she was going to the park (true enough) and now she was back in a cage and no one would ever adopt her. End result, I called first thing Monday morning to try to get her back. I was told that they would interview me and the family (I can understand the need to be cautious) and charge us the adoption fee again. The piece de resistance was that I had to agree to hire a dog behaviour expert to do an assessment of Zoe and follow her instructions. (She told us that she was a lovely dog but very juvenile.) None of her belongings were returned so they had to be replaced. On top of the adoption fee there was the $200.00 fee for the behaviourist so we were by then the proud "owners" of a very expensive anxiety ridden dog with bad teeth and a delicate stomach. She was undernourished and terribly skinny but she still weighed in at almost 80 pounds. The rest is history."

"After a few difficult months I began taking Zoe to Tina. Her Mom was the office manager at a building that I was managing and we got talking one day. She told me that Tina was virtually bedridden after a serious car accident several years earlier and that she had just lost her second dog. We came up with a plan to bring Zoe for a visit and see if they would hit it off. Tina didn't want to hear about another dog after her loss, but she agreed to the visit. For the next two or three years until they moved to the country I took Zoe to Tina every morning and picked her up after work at night. If we had to be away overnight Zoe had a sleepover with Tina. Zoe developed some confidence and Tina had a sweet dog for company during some very lonely days. Her love of animals and gift for training them made life with Zoe so much better.

When I messaged Tina on facebook to ask if she could send me this photo for the blog, this was her response: "Zoe has been an angel is my life, so has Sherrill. They came into my life at a dire time & both gave me so much hope & love. To share my days with Zoe was such a blessing She'll always be my angel." Beautiful words, Tina!  Looks like this was a win-win relationship.  And thank you for visiting Zoe just a couple of weeks before she died.  She loved you.  That kiss speaks volumes. 
"She never was good at being left alone, a fact that through my tears I carefully explained to the vet when we left her in their office for the very last time. Eventually she learned that we would be coming home and that good things would happen when we did. She learned that a dog park is not a scary place although she never did leave my side when we were out with her and she was off leash. There was never a danger of having her wander off."
That's the beginning of Zoe's story. There are so many others (including the need for living room window and door replacement) but I have rambled long enough. I miss her so much hence the rambling.
These next photos were taken in 2006. I was just getting to know Zoe.  
She made funny faces and cuddled..
 and snuggled..
 and worked her way into my heart. I took this picture because Zoe was trying to lie on a small towel, the only thing she could find since  Black Jack had set up camp in Zoe's bed.
Zoe had some wonderful play sessions with Black Jack.  What really impressed me is how she tried to make herself as small as possible.  (You can see that in the video at the end of this post.)
That Christmas, there were four dogs in the house.  Black Jack, Zoe, Tova (my sister's daughter (KA)'s dog and Ella (KA's fiancé's dog).  Black Jack took Zoe's bed, and Zoe didn't want to take Tova's bed.
I was not there to see Penny, a visitor, 
but size was never an issue for Zoe or her playmates.
KA's dog, Tova, had been rescued while KA had been at university, and though she no longer lived at my sister's home, felt a great responsibility to keep things running smoothly in this place that she still considered hers.  One of her "duties" was to inspect Zoe's ears regularly.  Zoe thought that was just fine.  
As much as Zoe adored Sherrill, she was willing to share her with Tova.
This was the only shot I managed of all four dogs more or less holding their position.  Zoe was happy but exhausted, having entertained her guests and accommodated their every need throughout the holiday.
I really love this video and hope you will find a little time to watch Zoe and Black Jack playing.  This concludes my post for now, but more Zoe stories may be added on in the future.  Even from Vancouver, I miss you, sweet girl.  You were a keeper for sure!


  1. Carol, my deepest condolences to Sherrill and family, including you, From your beautiful tribute, and Sherrill's too, I know that Sherrill gave Zoe everything that is important in the life of a dog, including the gift of knowing when to say goodbye. Sherrill, thank you for adopting a dog in need, thank you for choosing to go the extra mile to keep her even when additional conditions for adoption were required, and most of all, thank you for loving her. I am so sorry for your loss. Run free, Zoe, you were one much loved dog.

  2. sweet and beautiful girl. well-loved. very happy. they leave us far too soon.

    the cow she was playing with in one of these photos is the same one my old girl, marigold, had, too. i've kept it for forever and won't let the other dogs have it.

  3. My thoughts go out to Sherrill and her family. I know from experience how deeply felt the loss of a much-loved pet can be. I have learned it is kinder to end the suffering of a pet sooner rather than later. Zoe’s evolution is every bit as interesting as the Marley & Me tale. I love how she plays with Black Jack being careful not to harm her. A gentle spirit, indeed!

  4. On my,I enjoyed reading about Zoe's life with your sister.. I am glad she was rescued and lived a happy life.. It is always sad to see our beloved pets leave us. I will always miss my Goldie Girl. I love all the photos and the video! Thank for linking up, have a happy week! I wish you and your family a very happy, healthy New Year!

  5. I am so sad for Sherrill and her family. Zoe was a very lucky dog to have such a lovely family. It is so hard to lose an animal but she will be well remembered for a long, long time! What a wonderful tribute this post is to her life and spirit!
    Thanks, Carol. Phyllis

  6. Thank-you so much for doing this beautiful tribute, and for always being there for me. It was wonderful to see so many photos of Zoe frolicking happily. With her four legged friends she re-visited puppyhood and learned to play for the very first time. BJ and Penny wouldn't take no for an answer and Zoe obliged as she always did.

    Of all the things that Zoe learned from Tina, the most important was that there was safety and unconditional love outside our doors.

    Thank-you everyone for taking the time to read Zoe's story, and for your comforting words. TexWisgirl, I also kept Zoe's cow because it remained her favourite toy until her last day.

    Zoe will be coming home very soon. Her spirit never left!

  7. What a touching tribute to a lovely doggy Zoe. She certainly had a grand life after she was rescued and eventually settled with her loving family and friends.
    Best wishes ,
    ABCW team..