“I want a beagle,” were the words that my brother, Jonathan, uttered at some point in 2001. I never knew the whole story behind how or why he got his own dog. All I know is that on Christmas Eve of that year, everyone was excited because Dad was surprising Jonathan with a trip out to a farm to pick out a beagle puppy. I remember watching through the living room window as he got out of the car, carrying a tiny, black ball of fur.
At first, I didn’t know what to think. It was his dog, and I’d never been around a beagle before. He said that he’d chosen her because she had a short, stumpy nose compared to the others in the litter. When he told us her name – Penny Lane – my face cringed. What a strange name for a dog, I thought. Over time, I came to cherish the name…and the dog.
Her first night in the house, we kept her in a box in the kitchen. That only lasted for a couple of hours before her insistent howling motivated Mom & Dad to let Jonathan keep her in his room. She seemed to calm down as long as someone else was with her. It was like that the next night as well. I can’t really remember how long it took for her to outgrow that, but all her life, she always preferred to be in the company of people.
When Jonathan got married and moved to an apartment, he left Penny at home. Why? I never really understood. There was something about her being too high-strung for him, and it was probably a good thing to not keep a beagle in an apartment. At home, she had a huge backyard to run around in, and she was less likely to bother the neighbors with her barking.
She loved to bark, especially whenever someone came home or company came over. She’d get so excited to meet a new person, and if she’d been big enough to tackle me and give me kisses every time I came home, I believe that she would have.
With Jonathan gone, she became the family dog. While everyone loved her and paid attention to her, it was me who managed to bond with her the most. I suppose it was because I didn’t push her away when she tried to lick me, and I would talk to her to the point of having conversations sometimes. We enjoyed walks together, going to Shelby Farms, rides in the car, playing fetch with the tennis ball, playing hide and seek, chasing each other around the house, and just relaxing on the couch together. She used to lick my feet, and I loved it because after a hard day of standing for long periods of time, it was like getting a foot massage. It was as if she understood that, and night after night, she rarely failed to curl up on the couch next to me and slowly ease the ache in my feet.
She was always very obedient. Being a hunting dog, her first instinct was to chase the cats whenever she’d see one. So, the arrangement came about that the cats would stay upstairs and she would stay downstairs. It wasn’t difficult to train her not to go upstairs. A handful of times in her 12 years, we’d catch her halfway up the stairs, on a mission no doubt to eat the cat food. However, she usually would not attempt to go up the stairs, and even after the cats were gone and she had permission to go upstairs, she refused to do it on her own. I’d have to carry her up so she could hang out with me in my room. After a few weeks, she would hesitantly go up the stairs with some coaxing…but that’s obedience.
We had an understanding with each other – I could talk to her and she’d know what I was saying. I loved watching her run the fence in the backyard, trying to get to the dogs on the other side. She’d do that for an hour…running and barking. Nothing you did would distract her. Sometimes she would stand on the back patio and point when she saw a bird or a squirrel that she wanted to hunt. Even though she was a city-slicker, she was a hunter at heart. Whenever she was outside, she had her nose to the ground, tracking any scent she’d pick up.
Squirrels were her main nemesis. They’d relentlessly tease her, and she’d run as hard as she could to catch one before it dashed up a tree. When it had safely made it to the tree branches, Penny would literally try to climb the tree to get to it. No matter how many times she missed, she never gave up. Occasionally, we’d find a dead squirrel amongst the bushes or hidden in the grass. Penny would come in smelling awful, and that was usually a clue that she’d killed something and was getting into it. We would have to give her a bath and then try to find the dead animal, which we were not always successful in doing.
Speaking of baths, Penny hated them. She was scared of water and would shake with anxiety anytime she was placed into the tub. It was one of those deals where I’d be wetter than she was by the end of the bath because she’d try to jump out any chance she got, splashing water everywhere. You’d think that after years of getting baths, she’d figure out it was nothing to freak out about, but even into her senior years, she’d hate it. However, she always made up for the fear by thoroughly enjoying the process of drying off.
When Penny was 9 or 10, I decided to try and train her to do some tricks. What possessed me to do this at her age, I don’t remember. Maybe I’d been inspired by one of those dog training shows on Animal Planet. In the space of two days, I managed to teach her to stay when there was a treat in front of her, and to only eat it when I gave her the ‘okay’. The I taught her to lay down and roll over. She was too smart for me though, because she learned that she would get a treat if she rolled over. So she eventually skipped the whole laying down part and immediately rolled over for her treat. If I had a treat in my hand and had no intention of doing a trick, she’d just roll over on her own for the treat.
At some point, she started singing with the piano. For the first 9 years of her life or so, she never did this. Then one day when I sat down to play, she sat behind the piano bench and howled at the notes coming from the instrument. It was a new trick, and I could never get her to do it when someone else was there. So, I decided to record it one day just to prove that I wasn’t making it up. For some reason, I don’t have it on YouTube, but when I find it, I’ll add it here.
When she was 11, I was scratching her under the chin one day and felt a lump that hadn’t been there before. Dad was standing next to me and he reached down to feel it as well. At first, I didn’t think about it being anything serious, but after asking Dad what it could be, he suggested the possibility of cancer. I cried that day, not knowing what it was yet, but afraid for the diagnosis that I felt in my gut would be bad. My pup who was always the life of the party was suddenly struck by a terminal illness out of the blue. I wasn’t prepared for it. She seemed immortal and so full of life. How could she be anything else?
The diagnosis came back as I’d feared. She had lymphoma, but Dad planned to treat her with chemotherapy, much to my relief. We were going to give her a fighting chance to beat this thing, and if we couldn’t cure it, at least we’d have more quality time together.
The chemo worked. She had a bad few days here and there, but for a year she acted as if nothing was wrong. Her cancer was in remission, and all was right with the world again as far as I was concerned. Though Dad warned that it would likely return, I couldn’t think about that possibility. For now, she was alive, energetic, and as she’d always been. That was enough for me.
The time came for me to move to California, and it meant leaving Penny behind. Though she was in remission, I knew in the back of my mind that the cancer would likely return while I was gone, and I might not get another chance to be with her. Those thoughts ran through my head as we sat on the couch together for a few minutes before I left. She had her rope toy between us, and I played a little tug of war with her, petted on her, and told her I loved her and I’d miss her. I got up from the couch, but was so struck with emotion that couldn’t hug her good-bye without completely breaking down. She was blissfully unaware of what was happening, contently licking her paw as if I wasn’t even leaving. So I decided to not make a scene of it, and I brushed my hand over her nose affectionately before turning to leave.
As I pulled out of the driveway, I wondered if she was sitting at the window like she did a lot when I left the house. Mom & Dad always told me that she’d sit on the trunk in front of the window, looking out longingly for me. This always broke my heart a little, because she didn’t understand where I’d gone. I often wondered if she thought I’d abandoned her when I didn’t come back the last time. Hopefully, not. A big part of me wishes I could have seen her at Christmas just so she’d know I was still around, and still loved her. However, it wasn’t meant to be.
During the last several weeks, my conversations with Dad had him telling me that she was starting to slow down. Her chemo was finished, but her cancer was coming back. The second round of chemo wasn’t working – the lymphoma had adapted. Now, it was unlikely there was anything we could do other than let everything play out.
Last Sunday, to my surprise, Dad said that it was time to consider putting Penny to sleep. She’d gone down hill fast, stopped eating, couldn’t go to the bathroom properly, was getting weak, and seemed to be uncomfortable and in pain. It was like someone had slapped me in the face to hear that about my companion who’d always been so full of life. I cried. The whole night I cried. Penny had been with me for 12 years, and even though I wasn’t physically with her anymore, we still shared a bond that was special and unique between the two of us. For her to be gone was unthinkable.
The next day I cried and tried to reason with myself in my head. It was no use. Death doesn’t make sense to the living. To think that in one moment, you breath in and are filled with the breath of life, and then the next moment, you exhale and then stop. You cease to exist. What was a moment ago aware and alive, is now empty and hollow. Gone. Life is a precious thing that we all take for granted with every breath we take. It’s so fragile.
This morning, Dad found Penny in such a state that she was constantly uncomfortable, and seemed to be miserable with her condition. The enlarged lymph nodes were wreaking havoc on her internal organs, making life very difficult and painful for her. He took her into the clinic for x-rays to see if he could determine what exactly the problem was. He wrestled with the decision to put her to sleep, and finally decided it was the best thing for her. There was no sense in taking her back home only to endure the pain of her cancer longer. That wasn’t any way to live. I read recently that what matters to dogs is the quality of life, not how long that life is. It makes sense. Dogs don’t know time like we do. All they know is how much fun they’re having in the here and now. Dad made the decision to let her go, and he said that she went along with it as if she accepted it was time as well.
He said that he held her head in his hand, and rubbed on her and talked to her as Dr. Stanfill put her to sleep. She peacefully slipped away without fear, and with a family member who loved her. I admire Dad for being able to do that, and for being with her in her last moments. I’m glad he was there and that he’s a vet. It made this whole thing easier for me knowing that he was looking out for her. In a way, I wish I could have been there, because that’s what best friends do – they’re always there for each other. On the other hand, I doubt I would have been able to handle watching her decline in health, and then have to be there when she passed. I probably would have made it through, like I did with Casey a few months ago, but I would have been extremely devastated. Having been away from home for several months, it allowed me to get some distance from her illness, and I suppose that helped somewhat.
Still, that distance did nothing to alleviate the grief from losing her. Today, I tried to put my feelings about her death into words, but I just couldn’t describe why I was feeling the way I was. Then it hit me…
I’m not used to existing without Penny existing.
Though I’ve been away from home, she’s always been there. For 12 years she was there, faithfully waiting for me to come through that door, and greeting me with loud barking and furious tail-wagging each time. She was there sleeping on the couch, snoring away while I watched TV at night. When Sugar and Midnight died, she comforted me by just being there. She always made me smile and relax, no matter how rough life was that day. She was happy, all the time, and we loved each other very much.
I’ll miss her greatly, but I’m grateful for the pictures and videos I have to remember her. Hopefully, it’ll be like she’s still here whenever I watch one, and I won’t forget.
In her memory, I’ve added some of my favorite pictures and videos of her through the years in this post. Eventually, I plan to make a photo album of all the pets we had. Each one was special in their own way, and each was an important part of my life. I’d like to remember them, and keep them close always.
Penny will be cremated at Dixie Memorial Gardens, a pet cemetery in the Memphis area. Her ashes will be spread in the same place where Ashley and Casey’s ashes lie. In a way, they’ll all be together again. I’d like to visit them whenever I return to Memphis. It’s the least I can do to honor them for enriching my life so much.
November 2001-February 11, 2014