I found her in the middle of Range Avenue, aka LA. 16, the busy north-south thoroughfare that runs by my house in Denham Springs. She was a tiny black and tan puppy, probably no more than eight to 10 weeks old and her most prominent feature were those enormous ears.
At first we thought she might be a miniature pinscher but her ears were not trimmed nor had her tail been snipped as is common for the breed. Neither were her legs nearly long enough for a min-pin.
After considerable research, we finally determined she was a chiweenie, one of those so-called designer, or hybrid breeds—a cross between a Chihuahua and a Dachshund. She had the body of a Chihuahua and the ears of a Dachshund except instead of being floppy, they stood erect, large enough for a gust of wind to cast her airborne or so it seemed.
PENNY AT TWO YEARS, WITH FAVORITE TOY (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)
When I married Betty more than 46 years ago, I told her I would always have a dog—and I have. But Penny, as we soon named her, became our very first indoor dog. As a puppy, she would leap repeatedly, attempting vainly to jump onto our sofa and the day she finally made it was a breakthrough for her as she was no longer content with lying on the floor.
That was 15 years ago and she was eventually diagnosed with a heart murmur and our veterinarian, Dr. Michael Whitlock started her on a regimen of heart medicine and diuretics to help keep fluid from building up in her lungs.
With advancing age and with her weakened condition, she eventually became unable to jump onto the sofa so I would lift her up and she would wrestle with a blanket until she could burrow under it to keep warm. She hated thunderstorms. Trembling, she would seek refuge from the storms under that blanket.
We used to laugh at my uncle Pete for the manner in which he would walk around holding his beloved Pomeranians but soon my daughters were laughing at me as I walked around the house with Penny cradled on her back, perfectly relaxed, in the crook of my arm. And I long ago lost count of the times I would take my afternoon nap on the sofa with her curled up asleep on my stomach, usually under that blanket.
Her healthiest weight was around 12 pounds but the combination of the heart murmur and the medication pulled her weight down to about half that. Dr. Whitlock wanted her weight around five of six pounds to keep the fluids down, so that was okay.
When those fluids would build up, she would develop a cough that wracked her tiny body, so he prescribed even more medication that created a new problem: dehydration. For that, he occasionally had to inject fluids, which seems contrary to her best interests. But as Dr. Whitlock explained time and again, we were walking a fine line between too much fluid and dehydration—plus whatever damage the necessary drugs might be doing to her kidneys and liver.
Dr. Whitlock, it must be said, was—and is—one of the most compassionate, caring veterinarians I could have ever found for Penny. He would even call me at home to check on her and it was his dedication to her care and wellbeing that prolonged her life for at least a year—maybe two or three—beyond what she normally might have lived. There were times when I was certain the end was near but he would give her a steroid shot that would pick her up for weeks or months at a time. I will forever be grateful to him and his staff for giving us that extra time together.
Up until about last Thursday, she remained in good spirits and had a healthy appetite. But on Friday, she had begun to slip into a more lethargic state and by Sunday she seemed almost catatonic and unusually weak. When I took her outside to take care of her business, I could see after a few minutes that she was too weak to even walk back into the house, so I gently picked her up and carried to her bed in my office. She refused to eat all day and simply sat up, staring into space as if she was afraid to lie down.
Around 1:30 p.m. I picked her up to take her to the sofa for our customary nap. As I held her—on her back in the crook of my arm as usual—she let out three quick yelps. Then her weakened little body, reduced to about four, maybe five pounds and simply too feeble to continue the fight, jerked twice and she was gone. Apparently, she’d had a heart attack.
I laid her on her bed and stroked her head as she continued twitching for a few minutes even though I knew she was dead. And yes, I cried. We grow attached to these trusting little companions that depend on us for their care and though I have almost always had special connections to my dogs, I had grown to love her as no pet before. And as someone once said, their love is unconditional: they don’t care about social status, race or gender. Treated with kindness, they return the loyalty and devotion tenfold. We could all learn from that.
Daughter Leah, upon learning of Penny’s death, sent me this poem:
Nine-year-old granddaughter Baylee has already added to her Christmas list a request for a puppy “that looks like Penny because Grandma and Granddaddy are sad.” But there’s no way I would ever try to replace Penny. I couldn’t. Besides, I have a 17-year-old Chihuahua, Tia, which I inherited from daughter Jennifer and an outside dog, Blaze, a gift from granddaughter Lauren. Blaze is a chow-golden retriever mix and one of the friendliest dogs ever. He’s about two now. I’m 71 and if he lives a normal lifespan he could—and well might—outlive me, so I won’t be bringing any more dogs into my home.
The pain of losing Penny is just too great.