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Rebirth: after the death of my Familiar

5/24/24 1:27pm 

48 hours. Just 48 hours ago I was helping my baby cross the rainbow bridge. The last 7 days have been an absolute whirlwind–no, tornado. On Friday around noon, exactly one week ago today, my dog collapsed in the backyard. We had been monitoring her for some weird symptoms for about a week up until then, and we had believed they were overall mild(?) but were starting to raise some concern. Maybe 10 or so minutes before it happened, I had called her vet to schedule an exam, and they made us the soonest available appointment for the following Thursday–telling us to take her to pet urgent care or ER if symptoms got any worse–and they’d put us on a waitlist in the meantime.

That day when I saw Tootsie go down, I thought she was going to die right then and there in the grass in our backyard, just she and I. I stayed with her for a few moments, and seeing that her eyes were still open, I ran inside to get my phone and find an ER vet. We rushed Tootsie to the nearest animal hospital to get her xrays and bloodwork, and were told she had congestive heart failure, and that there was a lot of fluid buildup both in her liver and in her lungs. That vet told us the basics of CHF and that dogs live either about 6 months up to 2 or 3 years depending on their response to the medication. She said she couldn’t tell us any more without Tootsie being evaluated by a cardiologist for an EKG, gave us some medication to help make it easier for her heart to pump blood and clear some of that fluid, and we went home. 

Over the next 24 hours Toots was more depressed and sad than we had possibly ever seen her. The new meds were a diuretic, which meant not only did we have to watch and see if they would even help her, but we also had to watch for other symptoms that indicate the medication is damaging the kidneys. By the end of that day after the emergency visit, my daughter got Toots to just light up–it was like she came back into herself. My husband and I cried many tears of joy, because we were so scared we had lost that happy spark in our girl. 

The day after that was Sunday, and we had a nice, but mellow, day at home as a family. Tootsie got so much energy and vitality back! We were overjoyed and filled with hope. But we were also constantly watching her, almost every minute of every hour we were monitoring her. Her breathing rate seemed to be staying just under an emergency level at all times, even when she was completely asleep. By Tuesday, I started to feel concerned that the breathing didn’t seem to be improving, and staying just barely under “too fast,” so I called her vet to see if there was any way they could get us in sooner than that Thursday appointment we had scheduled.

When I explained everything to the receptionist, she let me know that in order to properly prescribe Tootsie ongoing medication, they would require that EKG. She told me that their cardiologist was there that day, and had agreed to take us in as an extra visit in his already full schedule if we could come down right away. Taking Toots to the vet was always a rough task, but now it was terrifying because of how important it was to keep her heart rate down. But we did it, got the EKG, and went home to wait for the doctor’s report, which I was told would be given to me the following day.

Instead, to my surprise, the doctor called only a couple of hours later with the report. And the news was not good. She told us that Tootsie was already in late-stage heart failure, and that she and the cardiologist were both kind of baffled because she hadn’t presented any of the normal progression they typically see. But she said that her heart disease was clearly very aggressive and rapid-progressing, and gave us an estimated few weeks up to a year at best case scenario. Going the medication route also means monitoring her very closely to see if it’s helping, giving her any side effects, not helping, etc. And she also said we wouldn’t be wrong to consider her for euthanasia based on her condition. 

When I got off the phone with the vet that day, I had to pick my daughter up from school in 10 minutes. And in that short time I tried to process what I was told, and relay that information to my husband. Looking back on it now, we both see how almost robotically in survival mode we were at that time. Of course we were going to give the medication treatment a try, wasn’t she acting just like her usual sweet self again? 

Later that same night, after we put my daughter to bed, I started talking to my husband about what the vet had said and the info she had emailed us after my call with her, giving us the list of medications to order. We were talking about all the things we were going to adjust to make sure Toots’ heart was taken care of. She wouldn’t be able to run anymore, couldn’t play, couldn’t get stressed or worked up, couldn’t stay outside too long (summer heat), and we couldn’t hug or cuddle her too much so she wouldn’t overheat.

As these words were leaving our lips, the clarity came barrelling down on us—we have to take away every aspect of life that Tootsie loves the most. 

That was the realization that got us to open our eyes about the whole situation, what brought us out of robotic survival mode. Toots was struggling, and she was struggling bad. Of course she wasn’t showing it, she never did her entire life. We nicknamed her the Hulk Dog when she was like 9 weeks old after surviving eating rat poison (don’t even get me started). She put on that smile and that waggy tail every single day, never showing her pain. And the truth is, most dogs and probably most animals are like that. It was during that conversation that late, dark Tuesday night my husband and I realized that every second Toots was trying to breathe was a struggle–her breathing rate was showing us that every day–and the doctor had just confirmed it was inevitably going to get worse. 

At almost the exact same moment my husband and I voiced our realization. That putting Tootsie on these meds and asking her to tough this out and fight this out, while trying to time it all and “beat” her disease to the punch was selfish. To go that route at that point would only be for ourselves because we were too afraid to let her go. And we knew then and there, that if we went that route, Toots would have done it for us. She would have kept that smile and waggy tail. She would have fought. She would have struggled. “Dogs are love personified” a good friend told me once. Of course she would have done that for us. So, my husband and I decided in that moment that we would take that pain instead of making her carry it for however long she had left, and we would carry it in our soul-ripping grief if it meant she could be free and have peace, and leave this world still Tootsie, still her happy, sweet, perfect, amazing self. Not withered away until she couldn’t fight anymore. 

It was awful how quickly and easily it was to schedule the appointment for her in-home goodbye–not because there’s anything wrong with those services, they’re incredibly sacred, but because it was all happening sickeningly fast. One thing after another and suddenly we are scheduled just that following day, that Wednesday. Just 48 hours ago. 

The rest of the story is for my family and myself, as this has easily been one of the most difficult deaths we have ever experienced in our lives. But I can tell you that Tootsie’s passing was absolutely beautiful. She was surrounded in love and gratitude for hours that whole day leading up to her bridge crossing, and when the time came she showed that quintessential greedy Hulk Dog self and scarfed down as many treats as she possibly could until she physically couldn’t anymore from the sleepiness of the sedative. My husband and I called on spirits, ancestors, gods, and guides to gently carry our baby’s spirit to the next realm, and to hold strong protection over our family as we enter into the raw, stabbing-painful void that is grief. 

48 hours ago I lost my first baby. And though I’ve cried more than a million tears in that time, today I can tell you how strongly I feel her around me. The signs she has shown us that she is still right with us are abundant and powerful. I can’t believe we’ve been able to find laughter, gratitude, and even some joy this soon after losing her. 

Tootsie’s death is of the most sacred I’ve yet to witness. As my familiar, losing her physically has laid me out flat like a steam roller. And even though the house is way too quiet and way too empty without her physical presence, we’ve already seen it begin to fill right back up with all of our love again. 


One day, when the time is right and we’re ready again, Tootsie girl is going to send us our next fur baby. And in the meantime, this little family of three is going to live their lives to the fullest in her direct honor. Our animals are family, that’s why “pet” never felt like the right world for us. She was more than a pet, more than a dog, and now she is no longer limited by her physical body. That beautiful heart that just couldn’t hold all the love she had to possibly give, and so now she surrounds us within in every energetic way possible. 

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1 Comment

I'm so incredibly sorry that you had to say goodbye to Tootsie. I lost my second dog (my first is still kicking around even though he's older than she was) almost 2.5 years ago and there are still days that I am brought down by her absence. But I don't mind at all because she's worth every single tear and every second of missing her. The day we said goodbye I did a tarot reading about it and the card I pulled for her was the 9 of Cups. I (obviously) didn't know her and don't know you in person, but I'm sure that would be the same for your girl. I wish you and your family the best and…

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