Gradually, then suddenly

Sevenwoods Epiphany CGC RN RA RE CD CRN CRA CRE CCD

9-28-2005 – 7-21-2021

Pippa 2021

So. You may have seen Pippa, even if you never linger over dog pictures I post here or elsewhere. It’s Pippa who appears in my author photo, here:

Pippa 2008

That was a good while ago. We were both so much younger. She was, oh, about two or three years old She was beautiful – even if you don’t know much about Cavaliers, you can see that. When I sent that picture to my editor, she said she thought the dog in the photo might be artificial because she was too cute to be real.

Pippa was beautiful all her life. I never showed her in the breed ring because her bite was off. She gave me one litter of puppies, but I didn’t keep any, unfortunately. Then she had pyometra, which put an end to any chance of another litter. Her puppies were doing fine last I heard. They’re thirteen now, I guess.

That’s hard to believe, even now, that Pippa’s puppies are old. That she was old.

Actually, I’m not sure she was old. She wore her years lightly. It wasn’t her age that brought her down.

Pippa was such a happy dog. She made me laugh. Her attitude really was “The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!” Pippa decided when she was born that the world was arranged just right, with herself at the center, and she never had reason to change her mind. Also, she was amazingly photogenic:

Pippa wasn’t just beautiful. She was also the best performance dog I’ve ever had. “RE” stands for Rally Excellent, and that is a tough title to earn. The exercises are complicated, like “Heel – standing stop while handler continues forward – turn and face your dog – sit your dog – stand your dog – return to your dog – heel forward.” I’ve only ever put that title on two of my dogs. The one who enjoyed performance most was Pippa. She could literally learn a new exercise ten minutes before we went in the ring. She did that now and then, when AKC added a new sign to the rally ring and I hadn’t realized. I’d get to the show, look at the new sign, quickly watch a video of how to do that exercise, and teach it to Pippa right there at the show. Then we’d go in the ring and she’d do it perfectly.

She had four or five RAE qualifications too – that is where you show in Rally Advanced and Excellent on the same day and qualify in both. It may tell you something about Pippa that her first time in the ring for RAE, we went in the ring for the Excellent round and I gave her the signal to sit at heel, and the judge asked – they always ask this – “Are you ready?” I said, “Ready,” and Pippa leaped in the air and whirled in a circle and I thought, Oh, whoops, not ready, not ready! She did the whole course about twenty feet in front of me. She took jumps the right way and then spun in circles and came back to me across the jump the wrong way. I have no idea what our score was. Zero, conceivably.

I took her back in for the Advanced round. I told the judge I knew we had non-qualified for the day, but I wanted to show that Pippa truly was trained and really did belong in AE. Of course she did every exercise absolutely perfectly. At the end, the judge said, “Well, I guess she really is trained – your score would have been a perfect hundred!”

Both performances were just … so Pippa.

Pippa remained my demonstration dog for all kinds of obedience until she was fourteen. It didn’t matter that she went deaf early, when she was seven. I use lots of hand signals anyway, and Pippa knew to look at me to keep track of what I wanted next. She loved people, but she knew how to ignore distractions and watch me. You wouldn’t have been able to tell she was deaf unless you knew. I could take her anywhere and she would enthusiastically greet every single person and then focus on me and do a fabulous demonstration of silent obedience exercises. I could use tiny, practically invisible signals for her. She was such an impressive performer her whole life!

I didn’t breed Pippa. I got her when she was a tiny puppy. She could practically disappear, especially since we had lots of snow the day after I brought her home:

She had such tremendous attitude right from the first. Once, ages ago, when we were at a show, I opened the window of the hotel room because the a/c was broken. Then I left Pippa and my two Papillons while I went down to get stuff out of the car. When I returned to the room, the two Papillons were sitting in front of the door, waiting for me to get back. Pippa had jumped on the bed, on the windowsill, out the window onto the balcony, and then up onto the balcony railing, three stories up, so she could look down at me in the parking lot. There she was, balanced on that railing. I called her, she jumped back onto the balcony and trotted back to the window and jumped back into the room. I closed the window. I’m not sure I ever mentioned that to Pippa’s breeder. I expect you’re reading this now, Sue, so let me tell you, that little incident probably took ten years off my life. Obviously it didn’t take even a minute off Pippa’s life. It takes a lot to faze a dog that confident of herself and her place in the world.

She never had a significant heart murmur. Cavaliers mostly do, eventually. Pippa didn’t. The cardiologist used to listen to her heart and exclaim, “Oh, right, I remember this dog!” Pippa went gray, but she never lost her vigor or liveliness. At fourteen and a half, she could still leap to the back of the couch, which was one of her favorite perches.

Then, in August 2020, she developed symptoms consistent with a brain tumor. Phenobarb got the obvious symptoms under control immediately, but slowly – very slowly and gradually – Pippa began to lose her sense of balance and – I think, though this was harder to tell – her eyesight.

She still was not old. She would run up the stairs two at a time. I just had to be ready to catch her if she lost her balance and fell. Because she was moving so fast, when she did fall, she would really fall – a high-velocity tumble right at the top of a flight of stairs. Not very often. But I spotted her up every single time and caught her when it happened. And remembered to close puppy gates so she couldn’t go up or down without me.

She jumped to the back of the couch even then. I had to lift her down and ask her to stay on the couch seat with me. She stayed off the back of the couch just to humor me long before she lost her ability to jump up there.

She loved to go for walks. She could trot fast as long as the ground was level. She loved to play with her “Buster cube” type of toy. I could take her to the park with other dogs and make our usual circuit – I’d forget she might have trouble and we’d be halfway around the park before I remembered. She did fine.

Gradually her sense of balance worsened. In December 2021, I was carrying her down flights of stairs. By May, I was also carrying her up. By June, she was trotting less and walking more. This wasn’t weakness. She wasn’t old. She just did not have the sense of balance she needed to trot. If another dog trotted right next to her, then she could trot too. You hear sometimes of one dog acting as a seeing-eye partner for a blind dog. It was a bit like that. Dora would sometimes trot shoulder-to-shoulder with Pippa and they would both move out pretty briskly. But any kind of uneven ground was tough for her. She began to lose her balance walking on tile floors. I’d hear a sort of sliiiide-thump and look around and she’d be lying on the floor because she’d lost her balance and her feet just slid out from under her. Sometimes she needed help to stand up again.

You know, we often think, or imagine, or hope, that a much-loved pet might die in her sleep, gently, when she is ancient. That we’ll be spared the need to make that kind of decision. I always knew, from the first seizure in August 2020, that that wasn’t likely for Pippa. She wasn’t in pain. There was never any urgency. It was always a matter of adding up Things Pippa Can Still Do and Enjoy and deciding whether those things were enough. This July, that list finally seemed to get too short. She wasn’t uncomfortable, though, so I set a date for the end of the month. I figured that would give me time to prepare.

(Nothing ever gives anyone time to prepare.)

Last night after dinner, I took the puppies out, sat with them for a bit, carried the first one back up the stairs … and found that Pippa had suffered some sort of crisis. The details are unimportant. I don’t know whether the brain tumor caused this, or whether it was something else, but it was a crisis. It was enough. I called my vet’s emergency number and asked her if she minded coming in right then, that minute. Fifteen minutes later, she met me at the clinic and let me in and, well.

Pippa still felt pretty good. Right up to the end. She was happy to say hi to my vet. She licked my nose when I put my face near hers.

I buried her in the woods near my house, where all my lost pets are buried, just as the sun went down, burning red through the trees.

That’s all.

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19 thoughts on “Gradually, then suddenly”

  1. I am very sorry to hear this. She was a special dog, and your stories and photos capture her well.

  2. I’m so sorry.

    Your account was beautiful. My special girl passed five years ago, and I still think of her every day.

  3. I’m so sorry. She sounds like a lovely spirit. She enriched your life, and I’m certain you enriched hers.

  4. I am so sorry. You clearly loved her so dearly, and over the years as you’ve shared her stories and pictures here, we loved her too.

  5. Words become so inadequate to show sympathy at times like this. I’m so sorry for your loss, and so moved by your beautiful tribute. What a good life she had.

  6. Reading your story, seeing the pictures, she was a very special good dog. I’m sorry for your loss.

  7. This post brought back all my memories of the day I had to let my beloved dog go. That still makes me tear up. And now I’m feeling sad about a beautiful dog who knew she was loved all the days of her life. Or rather I’m feeling sad about her absence, for your sake. But I’m glad you had the chance to love her.

  8. Pippa was so lucky to have you and you were so lucky to have her. These friends of ours write their lives on our hearts and it hurts so badly when they have to leave.

  9. Pippa sounds like a rare dog, a once in a lifetime friend. The confluence of a great student in the hands of a great trainer. You honor her with this memorial.

  10. Heather Borland Wallace

    I too have a beloved King Charles, we will both be 63 in May, so his abilities are slowing a bit like mine!
    He is my soulmate, loyal loving companion, so He 100% get your story.. Luca my wee lad and your pippa would have been friends for sure… You have borne her passing well. I can’t even contemplate how I will be when Lucas time comes .

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