Wendy Doscher-Smith, groomer/pet photog/rescuer, read my obit for Harley, below, and sent me the piece she wrote last year after her beloved Nyla died. It originally ran in the Biscayne Times in Miami (Wendy now lives in Upstate New York). I present it with gratitude for her kindness and support.
Last week my husband flew to upstate New York to attend his brother's wedding while I stayed home and watched my dog die.
It's true Nyla was sick, but her death came suddenly, and I was in no way prepared for it.
I've written about Nyla here before: A large, black dog (probably a Belgian shepherd mix) who was adopted from a local rescue organization into her "forever home." The people who adopted her, my neighbors, didn't care about her. They left her outside, for fear of her fleas.
They did not inoculate Nyla against heartworm or parasites. They didn't protect her from fleas. She was skinny — starved of proper nutrition as well as love. Her coat was dull, her eyes sad. She was kept tethered, tied to a stake.
When we moved into this rental house just outside Biscayne Park ten months ago, Nyla became my companion. I work from home, so during the day she would dig her way under the fence to see me. I gave her treats and affection, a bandanna and fresh water. Meanwhile her "family" left her in their backyard without adequate shelter during summer's constant sweltering heat and thunderstorms, and even during the thick Fourth of July fireworks smoke. The booming noises and lightning terrified her.
Soon after I took her in, a vet told me that Nyla would have lived maybe another month tethered outside. I wish I could say this part of her story is unusual, but countless dogs are kept tied up outside, helpless in the hands of ignorant or cruel owners.
But Nyla's life, unlike those of so many unwanted dogs, took a turn for the better. I persuaded the neighbors and my husband to let me give her a new home. She was sick from the start and we
treated everything - urinary tract and ear infections, malnutrition, heartworm.
The treatment for the deadly yet highly preventable heartworm disease is itself a risky series of painful intramuscular shots, which not all dogs survive. Nyla prevailed. She wrestled playfully with our other dogs and chewed on squeaky toys. Her coat grew shinier and her eyes more lively. She
began to understand the concept of living as opposed to surviving. I thought the worst was over.
Then in September, Nyla came down with a life-threateningly high fever. We rushed her to an emergency veterinary hospital. After a harrowing week in the ICU (I was told to prepare for her
death), a surgery for spleen removal, organ biopsies, frantic consults with specialists around the country, pneumonia and a ten-grand credit card bill, we remained without a diagnosis.
No matter. Nyla came home, regained her strength, and proved them all wrong. To stay healthy, she took prednisone, a steroid that regulated her body temperature. It also took a toll on her body, weakening her immune system. Right before she died, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery was not an option, so my husband Jeremy built her a bright blue Astroturf-covered ramp to enable her to go outside more easily. The doggy wheelchair we ordered went to the wrong address hours before her death.
To the very end, though, Nyla defined the word "trouper." Every trial, every new situation, she handled with dignity and grace. Vets said it; groomers said it. Folks on the street commented on her demeanor. She continued to amaze me with her strength and composure. It sounds sappy, but she left an impact
on every person she met, even those who only heard about or saw pictures of her. She was just that kind of dog.
In this world of mini-pups, where breeders are taking the canine out of the dog to create pretty petite Frankendogs for shallow owners, noble Nyla stood out. She was all dog. All big, wonderful dog - a stunning beauty, with thick black fur, massive paws, and kind amber eyes. Children would stop me on her walks to ask if she was a wolf. She certainly had lupine characteristics - she rarely barked and had a distinctive lope.
And she fit our existing dog pack well. My beagle/basset cross, Franki-Jo, must have sensed Nyla's time was near. For weeks before Nyla's death, Franki moped and would refuse to come inside without extra prodding. The day she passed, the girls knew what was up and were on especially good behavior.
However, a few days later, Franki and Halo, a terripoo - both normally very well-behaved - clashed in a bloody battle. I tried to break it up. I screamed for help but nobody came. In the end, we were all bleeding. Halo had several puncture wounds, I had two bites, and Franki suffered some bad scratches.
Obviously the girls miss Nyla, too. They were grieving in their own way, but they also had dog business to attend to. They needed to re-establish placement in the pack.
This loss has been unlike any other I have experienced. I cry at night because I don't hear Nyla padding around. I cry in the morning because she doesn't peek her head around the bedroom door. I cry when I go to the bathroom because she no longer comes in to greet me. I cry when I venture into the living room because there is no grand, black, furry mass to avoid tripping over.
I cried once when the coffeemaker made a strange gurgling noise because it sounded like one of the last noises Nyla made. I cried as I crawled around on the floor the other day, picking up any stray Nyla hairs I could find. I cried when I reread all 100-plus pages of her medical reports.
During our seven short months with her, Nyla had an excellent quality of life. With every deep, contented sigh she exhaled, I knew this to be true. When she stretched out and placed her paw on my hand, I knew this to be true. When I sat next to her and listened to her calm, steady heartbeat inside her large, post-surgery, peach-fuzzed chest, I knew this to be true.
There is some limited solace in this.
Most important, Nyla understood what it is to be loved unconditionally before she died. I wish that for every living being. She did not die alone in a sweltering backyard. My neighbor's trash was definitely my treasure. I wish this could be true for every dog.
And while I mourn Nyla's passing, I am thankful and blessed to have known her. Many people remarked that she was lucky to have found us. They are all wrong. We were lucky to have her in our life. Many times, when it looked grim for her, I tried to bargain with God. I wanted to go so she could stay. But none of us control that.
Today, as I write this, I would give anything to have her back, to stroke her fuzzy belly once more and to tell her life is good.