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When I was around four or five years old and life was still a series of loosely connected days full of naps and occasional miniature adventures, my dog Ilse died. Or rather, one day she wouldn’t get up from the couch and after learning from the veterinarian that she had a tumor we had to put her to sleep. I don’t remember being very affected by it—she was, like life then, still something I was getting to know. After a few months, my parents decided it was time to get another dog. As a family, the four of us drove to the Table Mountain Animal Shelter, a place that’s tucked off the highway in considerable nothingness, and went inside.
A vast majority of the dogs were squirming, barking things with black eyes and flailing tails. The rows, the cages, the dogs seemed endless. It was a cheerless, terrifying place. The floor was hard and gray and made every noise echo—the murmurs of other prospective adopters, my footsteps, the growls and barks. And then I noticed her, nameless. Seeing as I weighed less and stood shorter than her when she jumped up and put her paw to my hand, I’m surprised I didn’t flinch and run away. Her eyes were large, brown and glinting with cleverness, not yet bleary and glassy like those of some of the dogs who had probably been at the shelter for months, if not years. Skinny and whimpering, she seemed hopeless. I immediately chased after my parents, who had somehow gotten ahead, and told them to follow me.
After I told them what she had done, and they got a good, long look at her, they agreed she would be our new dog. We were told it would be two weeks till we got to take her home, since she still had to be spayed, and then paid the forty dollar adoption fee. The two weeks that followed were especially long for all of us. Car rides, now, were spent coming up with names, voting them down, and then coming up with a fresh batch. Finally, my mom came up with the name Daisy. I, along with my sister and dad, all for some reason felt compelled to agree and so our new dog now had a name.
It was my sister, dad and I who went to pick Daisy up. When we first saw her, I don’t think it was very obvious that she was the same dog. Her fur had thinned, she was even skinnier than before and her eyes seemed shocked. She scrambled all over me on the drive home, nervous. Daisy had been at the shelter for less than twenty-four hours we adopted her, and it was amazing to see what two weeks at the place had done to her. When let loose in her new home, it was a while before she became less than a blur of white fur and clicking nails against the hardwood floors.
Daisy almost died once during the first months that we had her. When walking her once, she being the crazy, wild animal that she was, ran around a pole and in panic ran around it again and again, trying to get free, until her collar was hard against her throat. It was just my sister, who is three years older than myself, and me. We became panicked, scared to near her because she was foaming from the mouth and slamming against the pole, trying to break free, with surprising intensity for her skinny body. I don’t remember how she finally got free—I think it might have been my dad—but I think that was the first time Daisy displayed her morality.
We moved from our old house into a new neighborhood at the eve of the start of my elementary school education. Daisy settled right in, spending most of her days barking at the dog next door, running along the six-foot fence and jumping so high her head went above the fence. Daisy, for the longest of times, was a furry creature of uncontainable energy. When guests would come to our house she would start crying so loudly it sounded as if she were wailing and jump onto them, shaking with pure elation that there were new people to give her even more attention. As I grew older, it seemed as if Daisy didn’t. She settled down a little bit, not too much, but enough so that she was able to lie still for a few moments, if only to be petted.
Daisy was always a dog with a certain emotional awareness outside herself. Perhaps there is a certain amount of projection, but she was like the dog in the movies, the one who if you’re feeling down goes and sits right beside you. Her love was for people. She thought she was a person. At dinner she would eat from her bowl as we ate our dinner, sometimes giving us a look as if to say “why can’t I eat at the table?” and during Christmases she would gently unwrap presents for us, careful not to bite whatever was inside.
When Daisy was around ten, a dog park opened, and we would take her every so often. Whenever we neared the place, Daisy’s tail would begin to wag and she would start to cry with anticipation. It was because of the people, though. With fellow canines, Daisy remained aloof. She might allow herself a short, modest sniff of one of the dogs but then wouldn’t stray five feet from us. By then, when Daisy would run a slight limp would appear. It was hard to tell if it was because of her left or right back leg, and it was almost unnoticeable, but one vet visit it was diagnosed Daisy would need some expensive surgery. The veterinarian told us that she was in a lot of pain. The funny thing is that Daisy never mentioned it, through a cry or otherwise.
Of course she had the surgery, and as it happened she had to spend the night. The next morning my dad and I went to pick her up we found her in the back, in a kennel much like the one I first saw her in, which was now many, many years past. Her entire back leg was shaved and a large, jagged row of black stitches ran its way, fresh and looking like it hurt. For about two weeks or so, Daisy could only walk on three legs. She performed this feat admirably, and after awhile her fur grew back and while the limp didn’t quite go away, we knew she wasn’t in pain.
I went through middle school, then my first year years of high school. Daisy slowed down considerably, but still remained the spritely, good natured dog she had always been. That changed when her leg started to work less than it ever had. Two types of painkillers were necessary, fed to her both morning and night. They worked for a long time, and then they didn’t. Suddenly, Daisy couldn’t walk almost at all. It was a immeasurable difference from when she was young. Daisy became frustrated, confused. She didn’t understand that her leg, which grew skinny and light, didn’t work anymore and tried to walk anyways, stumbling even a couple feet.
It was the worst thing. And, then, of course as I knew the time would come, we had to put her to sleep. She spent her last day outside, sprawled elegantly in our front yard, lying in the sun. It was my parents who took her. I had to hold her back legs to help her get to the car, and my dad hoisted her onto the backseat. I gave her one last pat on the head, and I could tell Daisy knew something was different. She licked my hand, my parents pulled out of the driveway and that was the last time I saw her, until her remains, impossibly small, arrived a few weeks later in a tin can. It didn’t seem like that was really Daisy, and I knew it wasn’t. Daisy will forever remain the handsome, smiling dog standing right along with my mom, dad sister and I in a family portrait we had taken. A member of the family just like the rest of us.