Gypsy – you are a treasure that can never be replaced. We found you, or you found us, depending on how you look at things, on a summer afternoon in 2003 at work right by the front doors. We will never know where you came from. You were in the company of an older female dog, rather feral in nature but not aggressive. I think you had been moving around for a while because you both must have seen better days. She looked like she had been living a rough life and we never knew if you were her puppy or not, but she had obviously been taking care of you. We bought some dog food and got some water and she ate every bite, not sparing a bite for you. She looked like she had a healed injury because one shoulder was obviously higher than the other; we guessed she might have been hit by a car and never got treated, so she healed crooked, but it didn’t appear to slow her down.

You poor puppy, were barking at her while she ate and after she finished, we fed you by hand so you could get a little nourishment. We were able to get close enough to find you had two collars, both so tight it’s a wonder you didn’t choke while you ate. You were wearing choker and I had to find some assistance and luckily someone came out with a pair of bolt cutters to cut it off; we couldn’t get it over your head. And you had a flea collar on that was so tight we cut that off too. A few days more and it would have been into your skin. Neither of you had tags. What a surprise…

I called your Daddy and he came out; we got you both into our van with the promise of more food and took you to our vet. He guessed you to be about four months old; but the older girl you were running with didn’t want to come out of the van and she had to have a technician get a long lead to get her out. She was being defensive now that people were around her and paying attention to her. You could tell she wasn’t acclimated to that. So, unfortunately, your companion was put to sleep. We don’t know if she was in any pain, but the vet could tell by looking at her lop sided body that something traumatic had happened to her. I hope to this day we did her a kindness.

After the vet gave you a once over and determined you to be healthy enough to be around our babies, we brought you home to Nikki and Chief and Tiki, the bird. Chief was still pretty much a puppy himself then and Nikki was becoming a little grump at 12 years old. Chief’s expression was priceless at your first meeting. He had a playmate! Tiki didn’t play with the puppies and you looked at him like he might taste like chicken, so we didn’t let you play with him either. But you looked so sad that first night, like you were missing your former doggie friend. That’s why we often wondered if she had been your mother. Because you had been wandering, I decided to call you Gypsy.

You grew considerably bigger than your former companion; we guessed you were a shepherd of some kind mixed in with Rottweiler. Goodness, I can hear people now gasping…only the ignorant ones. You were a wonderful puppy, but as a puppy, you did those puppyish things and one thing no one had done before – you chewed up my books! My hardback books on the bookshelf that I had had for years were a magnet for your little teeth. I managed to salvage some of them, but several I had to throw the book covers away. I lost a brand new paperback and had to buy a new copy. We refer to those days as your attempts to better educate yourself. Eventually, you lost your taste for the written word. We tried to encourage you to eat healthy treats and chews, but living on the street must have made you feel like you had to inhale everything you could get in your mouth and there were several times I was afraid you’d choke, so chewy treats were not on your menu.

You grew into a beautiful girl with a thick double coat and the sweetest temper. One time I heard you whining and prancing back and forth between me and your food dish. Nikki was eating out of your dish, and rather than growl at him or get aggressive, you were trying to call my attention to it. About two years after you joined the family, we lost our little Nikki and it was you and Chief. You two went everywhere together; you slept on the same bed together, including ours. It got crowded at times since neither of you were compact sizes. We did have to start watching your weight since you enjoyed eating everything.

A couple of months after Nikki crossed Rainbow Bridge, we got a call from our veterinarian’s technician. We were told we could get another Pekingese, a little girl. We were intrigued and went to the see her. Sabrina had been surrendered by a college student who didn’t really have time for her and the resident cats were bullying her. She seemed like a sweet little girl so we decided to adopt her. We took you and Chief to the vet to meet her on neutral ground and the tech told us you were the dominant dog. Hmmmm….that was an interesting thought. We went along with their suggestions and introduced you and you got along fine. Once at home we went through the introductory stages again. Sabrina was about a year old and had outgrown a lot of puppy-isms; she was even paper trained.

Through the years, it was a joyful thing to watch you guys play together. We had another trio. You brought us a lot of happiness and you were great with Chief and Sabrina. We introduced you to your grandmother and she was tickled to have another furry grandchild. She often slipped you things to eat that you really didn’t need.

2010 brought a lot of changes to the family. Daddy and I retired and we all moved to Texas in September, along with your grandmother and her dog, Samantha. Samantha had once lived with us, but developed issues we did not know how to handle, so she went live with your grandmother. It was the best thing that happened for both of them.

The drive was a long one, probably harder on Samantha who was about 14 years old at the time. She handled it pretty well. And having you all under one roof turned out to be fine. Her age had mellowed her out and there were no issues; or perhaps having Chief gave her a sense of security and she did not have to be the “alpha” dog. By that time you were about seven years old and you mothered everything and everybody. If someone was sick you stayed near; if someone went to the vet, you checked them out thoroughly when they got back. If someone got yelled at, you came to see what it was about and offer comfort to the one being yelled at (usually Daddy did the yelling). You always had to make sure everyone was okay, and Samantha was no exception. Sadly, Samantha crossed the Rainbow Bridge the following January.

We began living as Texans in earnest and we all went job hunting. For me, retirement was not what I expected, but hindsight is always 20/20. We never found a vet as good as the one we had in Florida. We ultimately went to four different vets; one was an hour long drive, but she was the only one who could do a VOM, a veterinary/ orthopedic treatment to help with a myriad of problems ranging from arthritis to recovering from illness or surgery. One was about 20+ miles away and was like an inexpensive clinic. One was six miles away and had a sister clinic. They actually had laser treatments but the one time I had them do it for you, I could smell burnt hair. Then we went on the hour long drive so they could laser you. You were starting to have a little trouble walking about them, arthritis in the joints and such. You had two breeds working against you then; the shepherd and our former Florida vet advised Rottweiler’s are known to have back issues. Four vets could not take the place of one…

The year 2012 was a bad one; Daddy found out he had Stage 4 throat cancer, the severity which he kept from me. He told me he had cancer and that it was curable, a fact which at that time had me relieved. Shortly before he began treatment, we added another family member. Spock (Daddy named him for Mr. Spock on Star Trek) was a street puppy like you. I had stopped on the road because I saw a big shaggy dog dragging a rope/chain/leash and I was afraid he would get hung up on something or get hit by a car. I stopped and tried to entice him to me, but he proceeded across the road towards a group of mobile homes. Several dogs, all sizes, were playing together and Spock started to follow me. I told him to go back home and one of the locals sitting outside said he did not belong there. The dog I had stopped for was long gone, probably sitting at home, but Spock continued to follow me. Long story short, Spock became an additional member of the family and a great companion to young Sabrina. You and Chief were becoming the senior citizens, although Spock ’s exuberance energized both of you and brought out the playfulness. He was our bright spot that year.

Daddy’s treatment was pretty brutal, but he got through it. While he was recuperating from treatment, you started drinking water excessively and naturally wanted to go outside much more frequently. My first thought was that you were diabetic. Imagine my surprise when I found you had Cushing’s disease, an adrenal condition for which there was no cure, but could be maintained. You were on a very expensive medication (thank goodness for pet insurance – except the cap ran out after about six months); you were on supplements because the meds could be hard on your liver. It calmed you down and we settled into a new regime of medical care.

It was also a time your grandmother had to have hernia surgery. Things just never seemed to ease up in 2012.

2013 was not a good year for any of us. However, Daddy’s niece unexpectedly added to their little family, a baby girl; it was the one bright spot in 2013. Unfortunately, while Daddy and I finally found part time jobs, our human family members were not faring well. Daddy lost his mama in April and we turned to you and your furry siblings for comfort. You, especially, were always sensitive and knew we were grieving. And then, more heartache, for you as well. Chief, a very special dog in his own right, struggled for a couple of months with his mobility and could no longer use his legs. He crossed Rainbow Bridge on September 25th. I don’t think you ever looked sadder and we know you were grieving. You had mothered and comforted for years, and now it was our turn to comfort you as well as grieve with you. Almost two weeks to the day, our brother-in-law fell to a heart attack and that’s when I knew it was time to cut losses and come home. Daddy’s sister moved closer to town and all our reasons for being there sort of went away. I was more than ready to come home.

2014 was a bittersweet year. Daddy’s daddy passed away and our family seemed to be shrinking. In October we came back to Florida. It was a long drive but you handled it well and you and Sabrina recognized your old home. Your house and yard wasn’t as big, but I don’t think you cared about such things. And one of the first things I did was get you back in touch with the greatest vet. They knew how do to VOMs and how to do laser treatments properly without burning your fur. You thrived with their care, but you too were slowing down. Spock and Sabrina were chasing circles around each other as always, but you were content to watch. Spock occasionally got fresh with you, but you let him know to knock it off. And Sabrina became rather a bully to you, grabbing you by your long neck fur and tugging. I never once saw you raise a lip or utter a growl. You were the most patient dog, a trait you shared with Sunshine.

In six months I was working again and it felt good to be back in the work place. I was starting to feel more secure again. You were doing well and we kept tabs on your worsening arthritic symptoms and the Cushing’s. 2015 and 2016 came and went with little drama; that was a reward in itself after years of angst and heartache. You continued to mother Sabrina and Spock, even when Sabrina started getting feisty with you. Thank goodness for all that fur. You were also starting to lose weight which at first was not alarming, but you lost continuously. Then you did one thing that surprised the heck out of all of us. Ducks were now living in our neighborhood, quacking, nesting, flying and just being ducky. Spock loved barking at them and running along the fence line. One day I heard some extra commotion in the backyard and I went out to investigate. I was totally blown away by the fact you and Spock were chasing not only grown ducks, but the ducklings. You had one in your mouth and I was fervently hoping you didn’t think it was a squeaky toy. I did get you to drop it, but it was already gone. I felt very bad for the duck family, but thought it was a case of mistaken identity. Imagine my shock when I found someone had regurgitated and there was a little bird, I’m assuming a duckling. One day in the yard I saw some of the ducks and you had come outside but hadn’t noticed them yet. When you did, I saw the hunter in you and you began to stalk them in a very focused manner. I had to get in front of you to get your attention diverted and to discourage you from your duck hunting. You very readily went back in the house without any problem, but from them on we always made sure the yard was duck free. I don’t know how it happened, but one afternoon a duck got in the house and you were after it. I was not home but Daddy told me all about how the feathers were flying. The duck was rapidly escorted outside. Daddy tried to compensate your cravings by getting you duck flavored treats; I was not terribly amused.

By 2017 you were causing us concern with the weight loss and the increased pacing at night. We checked your Cushing’s condition and it was under control. We learned you had a urinary tract infection which we treated successfully. But you were getting weaker and continued to lose weight. We increased your food intake and you continued to lose weight. We added canned food to your diet and you continued to lose weight. Your weakness made you tired and walking became more of a problem. Our vet said it was more about your back than your hips, but you had lost all your muscle mass. My once robust, bouncy girl was becoming skin and bones, and there didn’t seem to be anything we could do about it. Your blood work came back with good results, even your x-rays didn’t show any abnormalities other than the spondylosis which you have had for some years. We tried frequent VOMs, but they weren’t helping as much as we had hoped.

Friday, May 4th, 2017, we tried another VOM and Saturday you were walking on your own, going in and out the doggie door without help. You decided to lie on your doggie bed outside and went to sleep and we figured the fresh air would be good for you, so we let you sleep. You slept for hours and hours. When it started to get dark, we woke you up and you couldn’t stand. I attributed this to lying in place for so long, but you weren’t getting any better. We helped you inside and I fed you a good dinner. You never lost your appetite, but we could tell the motions you went through just to eat were tiring. After you ate we helped you outside for one more break and then helped you inside and it was then we thought we could not put you through more of this. Every movement exhausted you and it hurt to watch you try to drag yourself across the floor. You would do it, too. The spirit was there, but your poor body was just wearing out. I called your grandma and told her about our decision and she wanted to be there with you as well. Saturday night you slept very soundly, well into Sunday afternoon. I let you sleep. Then I got your dinner ready and you ate almost every bite. It was sleepy time again and you just dropped off and slept until Monday afternoon. Your grandma came over and I fed you one more time, a bowl of dry food and your favorite canned food, salmon and rice. You ate every bite and chomped down some ice cubes. Even though you still enjoyed eating, the effort exhausted you. Then I let you drink some water; I didn’t want you guzzling water after being asleep for so long. Not long after, you tried to get up and I helped you outside where we were both exhausted and you flopped to the ground. You did manage to do your business and I got you back in the house. It wasn’t long after you went back to sleep. It was breaking my heart to wake you up for one more car ride, one more visit with the vet.

It took a little doing, but we got you up and into the car. Grandma sat in the backseat with you to make sure you didn’t roll off. You had almost no muscle control at all. Daddy was able to get off work and he met us at the vet.

My beautiful girl, you were surrounded with love; I hope you understood. I think you would have continued trying until you had absolutely nothing left, but you deserved better and I hope we were able to give that you. You quietly stopped breathing and we knew you were on your way to a better place.

Gypsy, you are so loved and so missed. You have taken a big piece of our hearts, especially mine, but you have left a piece of yourself with me as well. You will always have a place in my heart, as well as Daddy’s and grandma’s. You have lots of friends to play and run with. Go find Chief and give him kisses for us. We love you baby girl.

A gentle heart ...except for ducks.
May 8, 2017
Joan Altizer