March has always been one of my favorite times of the year. March meant that the NCAA March Madness tournament began, WrestleMania is right around the corner and baseball season was in sight. However, on March 21, 2016 my passion for March took a dark turn. On that day I had to make the most difficult decision of my life: I had to put my beloved dog of nearly 15 years down to rest.
In 2001 I was living in Patterson thumbing through the classifieds in search of a pet. My mind was set that I wanted a Queensland Heeler and I had seen a listing that read “10 week old Blue Queensland Heeler puppies for sale in Oakdale.” My mom and I made the trip and arrived on a ranch where there were six puppies in the yard. The first one I picked up I immediately knew it was the one I wanted to take home. She was a plump, blue and black puppy with a contagious smile and was truly happy to be scooped up. I paid the lady and was on my way home with the newest member of the Cruz family.
On the car ride home my mom had asked what I wanted to name her. I told her that her name was Phoebe (I am a huge fan of the television show Friends). Phoebe and I were inseparable from that moment on. As a puppy, Phoebe was full of energy and had a great personality. We lived on a farm in Patterson and she loved to chase chickens, ducks and as in her nature, the cattle as well. She loved to go for jogs down the long country roads and at the end of each night, she loved her treats. My dad taught her a few tricks including how to balance a milk bone cookie on her nose, how to dance on her hind legs in a complete circle and how to sing/howl for her treats. Phoebe continued to do these impressive tricks until her final year.
When Phoebe was nine years old she and I were living in Turlock. I had moved into an apartment where pets were frowned upon. I kept her a secret at the apartment until I took her for her morning walk before work at a nearby dog park just blocks away from the apartment. My landlord saw me exit the apartment with her and when we got back a note that read “We need to talk about your furry friend” was placed on my door. I could not afford a new place at the time so I attempted to keep her under wraps there for as long as I could, mind you I also had a Siamese cat living there too. The following month I received another, more threatening letter on my door. “We asked you nicely to please abide by our no pet policy. We saw the dog and cat through the window during the day hours and now we are asking you all to leave. Consider this a 30 day notice.” Ouch. That was a major blow and I did not want to leave my apartment but had no choice at this point. My girlfriend at the time suggested that Phoebe stay with her and her sister until I got settled in my new apartment (which was also not pet friendly) but affordable. Phoebe stayed with them for a few weeks. I picked up Phoebe and noticed she was not quite herself. She was not eating and did not seem interested in going to the dog park anymore.
My buddy Neal and I took her to the vet where the vet said she contracted a rare case of “adult parvo.” I had never heard of adult dogs getting this and it threw me off. He said she would not make it much longer if she did not eat or drink. Devastated, I took her home and prayed that she would make a recovery. After days of not eating or drinking I called my then friend, who later turned out to be my wife, and asked for her advice on Phoebe. I had asked her if it was selfish of me to keep her around when she was suffering. Lindsay said she understood my situation and that she would be doing the same if it was her dog. The very next day, I woke up to take Phoebe to the vet but to my surprise she was drinking out of her dish and turned to me with that happy smile and greeting that I fell in love with nearly a decade before. Neal and I took her back to the vet and the vet was in disbelief. Phoebe had made a full recovery!
In 2011 I moved to Tennessee for school and knew it was only temporary. I left Phoebe behind with close friends. Their young daughter was battling cancer and she loved Phoebe almost as much as I did. They took care of her for as long as they could and Lindsay and her mother went to pick her up from them later that summer. I tried desperately to get back to California and to Phoebe but as luck would have it, things did not go to plan. I was delayed for about three months but made it in the fall.
Phoebe was a large part in Lindsay and I getting married and even me living in Oakdale now. Lindsay had lost two of her dogs and when Phoebe came into her life, it helped her cope and provided that missing something in her life as well. Lindsay and I got married in 2013 and Phoebe was a big part of Lindsay’s mother’s speech at the ceremony. Everyone loved and knew Phoebe that was at the wedding.
Alas, shortly after, Phoebe’s once quick and playful steps began to slow down. Her eyes became foggy and her nightly tricks were becoming more demanding on her body. In 2015 Phoebe went to the vet for a routine dental visit. The doctor called me and told me they noticed a cyst in her gums and that it was potentially cancer. The doctor’s diagnosis was confirmed just days later and I felt helpless. It was like 2010 all over again with the fear of losing my best friend. We gave her medicine on a daily basis and kept her comfortable. Although Phoebe was sick, she was never unalert. In September of 2015, when I was walking my wife out to the car I left my famous tri-tip sandwich on the table (yes a tri-tip sandwich from The Corral at Oakdale High School) and when I came back in the house all of it was gone except the bread. In disbelief I looked around and saw Phoebe trying to waddle away with crumbs on her fur. She had eaten my sandwich. As time went on the medicine was not working as well as it once had and we could tell the quality of Phoebe’s life was not what it should have been. She deserved better and that meant we had to end her suffering.
We took her to the vet and said our heartbreaking goodbyes and held her paw as her eyes closed for the final time.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for Phoebe. She was my best friend, my accomplice and my child before the birth of my son Austin. I love and miss her every day. The thing that keeps me positive is knowing that she is no longer in pain and is enjoying herself up in Heaven with my mom and other pets that have passed.
Dennis D. Cruz is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.