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SANDY BANKS / Life As We Live It

Hard to Say Goodbye to This Friend of the Family

January 26, 1998|SANDY BANKS | * Sandy Banks' column is published Mondays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is

She came to help remedy a loss so great I thought we'd never recover. And her departure will leave a void that I doubt we can ever fill.

She wasn't with our family long--just three years. But she enriched our lives with her good nature and sweet disposition. And though I've been preparing all week to say goodbye, I can't yet imagine our life without her.


I loved that puppy from the moment I saw her, alone in a tiny cage. It was just before Christmas, and her littermates--all 12 of them--had already been sold. Her heritage was troubling--half pit bull, half Rottweiler--and her prospects were slim.

I still can't explain the bond, but something in her brown eyes spoke to mine. I took her home and named her Cookie.

My neighbors thought I had lost my mind. My husband had died just one year before, and I could barely manage--with three kids and one dog--alone.

My therapist offered this explanation: Little brown female puppy, abandoned and alone at Christmastime. Get it? The puppy was me; I rescued myself.

And friends pointed out that every two years I either have a baby or get a puppy. Something about the restorative powers of new life, I suppose.

All I know is that Cookie saved us; like a guide dog leading the sightless through a blinding haze of grief.

I'll spare you the details of her short, sweet life--the funny stories and sentimental vignettes. But trust me when I say there was something special about Cookie, something powerfully soulful in those big brown eyes that no one who met her could resist.

She was, we joked, as dumb as a rock. She chewed holes in our walls, gnawed on the French doors and shattered our front picture window twice, trying to chase cats she saw through the glass.

But she taught us that some things matter more than brains.

She was infinitely patient, docile and calm. She curled up in bed with my children each night, and they woke her with hugs and kisses each morning.

She taught them about loyalty and unconditional love. And that anything--even pit bull genes--can be redeemed with the right measure of kindness and love.


Sometime this week, we will likely say goodbye to our gentle friend. She is hospitalized, mysteriously paralyzed by what we can only conjecture is some sort of poison.

For days we thought she might recover. Our vet tried transfusions and Vitamin K. Antibiotics and steroids. X-rays and second opinions. But still she lies motionless, alert but in pain and unable to move.

And it may be time to give up hope, to let her go, to euthanize her.

I try to explain it to my children, but the words I rely on can't hide the truth.

"We'll have to put her to sleep," I say. "It's not fair to let her live like this."

"You mean kill her, don't you?" my 9-year-old asks. They look at me cleareyed and disbelieving. I could kill a dog I love so much just because her legs don't work?

And I talk to them about quality of life, about the practical side of handling an immobile 85-pound dog, about how miserable she'd be.

But it's not much of an answer, and I know that. I can't do better, because I don't know what else to say, or what to do. I don't even know how to decide.

I'm unarmed in the face of grief so raw it even moves our vet to tears.

"It's not fair," my 12-year-old cries out, as she crawls into the cage to hug her dog, wiping her tears on the soft brown fur. Her little sisters follow her in and bury their faces against Cookie's neck.

That night we struggle with our prayers.

The oldest makes her plea direct: "Please God, we need a miracle. Give us a miracle. Let Cookie be OK."

The little one--preternaturally wise--asks only for the wisdom to accept what comes. "I know you'll take good care of Cookie. If she dies, God, let her make friends in heaven with the other dogs."

And the middle one is as torn as I. "Please God," she says, "don't let Cookie die.

"But if she does, let Mommy get us another dog."

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