As most all of my family and friends already know about my beloved Piper and her abrupt elimination from my life and that it has been very hard on me personally and pushed my emotions to a place I hope to not see again time soon; I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts and emotions with the rest of the Bear Creek family.
I adopted Piper as a little tiny puppy officially from the Stanly County Humane Society. Someone had surrendered this little speckled puppy to the Animal Control Shelter and did not want to put her in general circulation hoping to save her from exposure to all the many diseases that can be floating around with all the other dogs back there so they called Sharon and she picked her up and brought her to the clinic. I took one look at her white-tipped toes and tail and immediately fell in love with her. I just knew she was meant for me. She came home with me that very night. I introduced her to the other members of the family and she fit right in. She was feisty but sweet and we were inseparable. She’d curl up with me on the couch at night and sit on my shoulder while I watched TV or wrote medical records. She even rode with me in the truck a few times on farm calls.
I almost lost her as a puppy twice when she had a bad reaction to a dose of ivermectin and then a couple months later when she caught a viral enteric disorder (not parvo, but similar) that made her very sick. I became a blubbering, inconsolable mess. I took her to a small animal clinic locally, as I was not yet set up for small animal medicine, and begged them to save her. They kept her for a day and stabilized her to the point where I could take her home and continue her care. For three days she did not move from her bed by the fireplace. I prayed countless prayers that I would not lose her. She finally came around and started eating. I was so grateful. I kissed her little toes and just said a prayer of thanks that I got to touch her sweet soft face for a while longer.
She was MY buddy. My couch cuddle buddy. It did not matter where I was, she wanted to curl up with me. She would ninja-crawl up onto the bed or couch and wind herself into a little ball on my legs or my feet and there she would stay until she was made to move. She was the perfect sleeping buddy. Of all my dogs, she was also the one that I had no doubt in my mind that she would protect me. She would have put herself between me and any threat. She was quiet unless she felt the need to say something. Not a big talker but her growl would make you think twice if you were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of that sound. Her nature was caring and gentle with every creature in our household. That went for even the smallest of critters or the countless stream of orphans I brought into the house. She would sit with the unlimited number of baby goats that I brought home. Cleaning their faces and standing guard for hours, she was my dedicated helper. Our ferrets would torment her and bite her face but she would play with them oh so gently and never hurt them. When Ghost came into our home, she was the first to accept her and teach her how to play and show her the ropes. She was the best big sister a pup could have.
One of her most endearing qualities was the softness of her face. It was the softest face I have ever felt on a dog. I loved her little white “peep toes”. She went by many nicknames here at the house: Peeper tot, Snickers (Tommy called her that), Peepers, Peep peep, etc. Her picture graced many a Facebook posts or website cover photos for the clinic over the years she was with us. She loved to run and would go absolutely nuts when Tommy fired up the quads. She wanted to run with him and she would run as long as he could ride. She was also one of the most athletic dogs I have ever had. Her vertical leap was staggering. Many a picture was taken of her leaping into the air for a Frisbee or toy. Her athleticism also contributed to one of her most frustrating qualities-keeping her in the fence/yard. We had to build a fence around the back yard to try and keep her from wandering. She would not stay in the yard. I did not want her to get into trouble or get hurt, so we tried to keep that from happening. Unfortunately, we had to keep modifying the fence to accommodate her ability to get out of it. She could leap over the gate, so we had to put a hot wire over the top. She was also a really smart cookie. As long as that wire was across the top, she would stay in, but forget to put it back when you went out the gate and she was gone. She wasn’t usually gone for long, but I always worried she would get into trouble and get hurt. I knew one day, she might not come back or I’d get a call saying she was picked up by Animal Control. I kept trying new ways to keep her from straying, but sometimes she would still find a way.
That “one day” came way too soon. We were moving things in and out of the backyard on a Friday afternoon and a gate was accidentally left unlatched and she took off when were busy working. We noticed her absence and started calling for her. When she didn’t come back after a couple hours, we went out searching. When the sound of the quads firing up and riding up and down the road did not bring her running back I got a bad feeling. When the sun set below the horizon and darkness fell, so did my hope. It was then, in my heart, I knew she would not be coming back. She would have returned to me, if she could. I prayed again a countless number of prayers asking for her return, but in between the lines I was praying she was not hurting. That she was not scared or struggling. I went to work that Saturday morning still not knowing where she was or if I would ever see her again. As soon as I was done at the clinic, I went home to keep looking for her when I received a call from our neighbor down the road. He asked me if I had found my dog yet and I said I had not. He said the words I had been dreading. He was mowing in his hay field across the street from our house and found a body that might be her. I knew it was without having to see her, but I said I was on my way. I went straight out to the center of the field where he stopped the tractor. The grass was high, but he had mowed enough around her that I could see her as soon as I pulled up. My breath left my body. It was her. I walked over to her body and fell to my knees in a full on wail. It was a hot day but I was prostrate over her furry body in the middle of that field feeling the full affects of my grief. The loss of life was painful and sharp. I tried to pull myself together to stop and let doctor mode take over a moment to investigate the why and the how of her death but there were no obvious wounds or tell tale signs. She was stiff but not long dead. I do not know how long she had lain there or if she suffered in the process. I loaded her up into my work truck and took her back to the clinic. I had to be thankful that I had at least recovered her body for semblance of closure. Tommy met me at the clinic and I broke the news that I had found Piper. We cried together on the floor of the clinic. I said my last good-bye before preparing her for pick up by the cremation service we use. I removed her collar and clutched it for dear life. It was all I had left of my sweet Peeper Tot. Tommy helped me place her in the freezer until she could be picked up on Monday. We went home and where I continued to cry and let my grief run free, uninhibited, away from the public eye. I’m pretty sure I slept with her collar clutched in my hands, unwilling to let it go. The collar still hangs from the rear view mirror of my work truck.
I had a hard time coming to terms with her loss. I blamed only myself for the situation of her death. I had the responsibility to keep her safe and keep her on her own property and I failed. She died alone, without me there to say goodbye or help her cross over like I have done countless times for my clients and their animals, but I could not be there for her. I have no way of knowing if she was scared or suffered in my absence. It is that she died without me being there for her that most upsets me. More so than the fact that she is dead. I could have handled it better if she was put down by my own hand for any number of reasons, but I felt as if I failed her. The person who loved her most in this world and who was supposed to care for her above all others, a veterinarian, and I couldn’t be there for my own best friend. I cannot tell you how much that has eat away at my soul. I still cry about this. I still miss her more than I can put into words. Beast never got to meet his big sissy. But I see her in the way Ghost plays with him. She was raised by Piper and Ghost is showing Beast all of the moves she taught her. The pain is beginning to fade. The nerves are not so raw. Certain memories are triggered and her loss rises to the surface. Especially now as I write this. You can imaging I am crying like a baby this very minute. People still ask me if I ever found out what happened to her. The answer is that I do not and I do not dwell on that fact. It hurts too much to speculate. I am simply grateful to have gotten her back at all. I at least have that closure. I know she is gone from this world, however I am heartbroken that I was not with her when she left it.
You might be asking why write this? Well, some of it is closure. The other part of it is that I want you to know that I have been there. When someone asks me about putting their dog to sleep or deciding to when to do it. I always picture myself with Piper and then answer their question from my heart. When you see me crying because I am putting your animal to sleep, I am saying goodbye to her all over again. I know the pain you feel. I know the hole in your heart. I know the depth and breadth of your sorrow, because I feel it even now.