The Girl That Never Left My Side

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There is no opening sentence that can do justice to the girl that never left my side. I’ve started and stopped writing this hook so many times that I’ve finally given up. There is no quirky anecdote or cute line that can say what I need to say. That’s because the girl that never left my side was my dog, Daisy. This is a dog story.

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Photo by Bill Flanigin

My son was five years old in 1998 when my wife and I decided he was old enough to have a dog. He picked her out at the local shelter. What he picked out was a small, female terrier mix bursting with brown, black, white, and various swirls of those same colors. She had white paws with tan freckles. She was full grown, but still very young, perhaps a year. You never know with most shelter dogs what their backstory may be. She was very cute, but I didn’t want her. I knew that I would end up doing the most of the doggie related chores, and I had enough on my plate. My wife and I were school teachers and we came home exhausted. Dinner, dishes, baths (we also had a three year old daughter) and bedtime took up most of the evening.

After about five minutes at the shelter, she won me over and we took her home. Somehow, I got to name her. Daisy. Daisy Mae to be specific, but Daisy for short. I have no idea what criteria a five-year-old uses to pick out a dog, but 17 years later, on the day Daisy died, I was barely able to call my grown son and tell him what a wonderful job he did the day he picked Daisy out of a crowded animal shelter and how lucky I was to have her.

So began my life as a husband, father, and now dog owner, the American trifecta. I was firmly planted in suburbia eating at Chili’s watching Little League games. Daisy was a great dog and soon became a part of the family. She almost never barked. And for some reason, she started squeezing herself under the bed to sleep. She also loved to lick your face. I would sometimes grab my kids and hold them down while Daisy licked their giggling faces. It was my own form of Daddy torture. Life in the burbs was just fine, until it wasn’t any more. In 2004, my wife filed divorce.

One of the strangest things about getting a divorce is moving from a noisy house with a wife, two kids, and a dog to a house where you are alone. I did have my kids half the time, which was great, but on the days that it was just me, it took some getting used to. I had been married 14 years and my house was a busy place. Now, some days I would come home to absolute silence. It was depressing. Of course Daisy was the kids’ dog, and since I moved out of our family home I wasn’t taking “their” dog with me. They had enough change to deal with.

My daughter, now eight, was very sensitive to the fact that I was alone at my house some nights and she didn’t like it. At some point rather early on, the kids asked me if I wanted Daisy to live at my house with me. I said yes without hesitation. I missed Daisy more than I imagined and, for some reason, I was certain sure she missed me too.

So began my life with Daisy as my wing dog. One day, Daisy and I went to the hike and bike trails in town. She barked at every dog on the trail. The dog that never barked would not shut up! I had to carry her back to the car. She’d seen other dogs many times. She was not aggressive in any way. What was up with this? In the car, I had a long talk with Daisy about her behavior. I realized that I talked to her for the entire 20 minute drive home. Sure I talked to my dog before, who doesn’t, but this was more conversational in nature. She seemed to be listening.

In fact, on the nights it was just us, I talked to Daisy like I was some kind of lunatic. I would tell her about my day. I would make up songs on the fly to sing to her as she ate. I would use my best Crocodile Hunter voice to describe her walking around the backyard being “Queen of her Territory”, and how beautiful her “maakins and colorins” were to imaginary television viewers. At night, she stopped sleeping under the bed and slept on the floor next to the bed. Soon she was actually sleeping on the bed, but in the far corner. Then on the bed, but a little closer. Finally, she slept pressing her body up against one of my legs. She seemed to know I needed her closer to me than under the bed. And so it went. I lived a single dad’s life with kids and a dog, and a single dad’s life with kids at their mom’s house and Daisy Mae.

Daisy was my only daily companion for the next decade plus. She saw me date. She saw me fall in love again. She saw me marry Allison (and her two dogs Hank and Lulu) in 2008. Daisy was about 11 years old and the oldest of the trio. She would outlive both. She watched my kids go off to college. When Allison and I started sharing a bed, Daisy started sleeping under the bed again. I guess she felt she had done her job sleeping next to me all those years and she could go back to her preferred sleeping location. If she got cold at night, she would sneak up the newly acquired doggie stairs next to the bed and I would wake up to find her next to my leg in a dog ball, nose tucked under her tail.

Daisy slowed down but her fur never turned gray. People that met her were always amazed when I told them her age. She turned 12. I wanted to throw her a Daisy by the Dozen birthday party. I didn’t. To this day I regret that. She turned 15 and started losing her eyesight. Her cloudy eyes still had a sparkle to them. At least they did to me anyway. By 2015 Daisy had lived with me for 17 years. Considering she was around a year old when we got her, her estimated age was at least 18. Wikipedia lists the oldest documented dogs on record. At the bottom of the list was a dog that was 19-years-old. C’mon Daisy! I somehow felt that Daisy just would live forever. Now I know that sounds stupid, but she just seemed to always be there and the thought of her not being there just never occurred to me. Until it did.

I started carrying Daisy up and down the stairs. We moved to a new house and it was hard on her. I didn’t realize how she navigated her known territory with her blindness, but I could see now she was lost in her new surroundings. She still had an appetite. She still enjoyed resting in the sunshine. For the first time, I realized my time with Daisy was limited.

How do you pay tribute to a dog that has seen you at your best, and at your worst? Daisy was the only one that connected me from a young family man to a divorced single father to a guy with a second chance on love. She let me hug her when I was lonely. She watched my kids grow up and move away. She welcomed my second wife, and her dogs, with love and affection. Daisy was always there. And then she wasn’t.

Daisy died last spring. I grilled hamburgers on her last day and we ate them on the kitchen floor. She couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, and she couldn’t stand anymore. She seemed to be in a permanent state of confusion. It was time for her to go. How do you communicate to a dog how much you love them? How could I ever thank Daisy for being the girl that never left me? I whispered in her ear how much I loved her, how lucky I was to have her, and I thanked her for loving me. Daisy really was the girl that never left my side… until she had to.

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