Chick Wit: What shifts with a pet's passing

Posted: January 23, 2011

Today I have sad news to report.

No joke.

My oldest golden retriever, Angie, passed away over the summer. I've been putting off telling you because I've been putting off telling me.

And I was there.

The good news is that she was healthy all of her long life, then she got cancer. The bad news is, though she fought it, she didn't win.

And we lost.

You might remember Angie as my Zen golden, the unsqueaky wheel who was soft and fluffy, with a coat the hue of creamery butter. If you remember the column about her, she was the one who helped me figure out why my dishes were cloudy, until we heard from plumbers that what she and I figured out was impossible, pipewise.

Still, what can you expect from a dog, much less a woman?

After the diagnosis, Francesca came home, and we took Angie to chemo for weeks, trying to save her life. She cooperated, too, trying to hang in there, and in the end, we were all sleeping on the floor together, day and night, until one of us needed to rest, forever.

What's interesting now, a few months later, is how this has affected the other dogs, especially Penny. You may remember that Penny is my other, and last, golden. They say that a dog is man's best friend, and that's true. But it turns out that dogs have best friends, too.

Penny's best friend was Angie.

They played and hung out together, every minute. They usually rested side by side, their postures mirror images; in fact, they were half-sisters, having the same father. The only difference between the way they slept was that Angie liked to keep her ball in her mouth. Evidently, dogs like pacifiers, too.

And though Angie was quiet and Penny rambunctious, together they seemed to make halves of the same doggy whole.

Their favorite game was playing fetch, and Angie loved her red Kong ball, pockmarked by teeth. When we threw it for her, Penny would run to chase it down and always reached it first. We'd have to load the dice, by throwing the ball closer to Angie or even holding Penny back to give Angie a head start. Truth was, we did that more for us than for her. Angie wasn't the competitive type. She was just happy to run around in the sun with her pal, collecting a lot of love, if not beating anybody to a ball.

There might be a lesson in that, but I have yet to learn it.

And now that Angie is gone, Penny, the dog we thought was noisy and not at all sensitive, has changed. Specifically, Penny won't come out of the coat closet.

Again, no joke.

Since Angie's death, Penny has spent much of her day sleeping in the coat closet, which is something she has never done before. None of my dogs has. They're all at my feet, on my lap, or standing in front of the television while I try to change the channel with the remote.

I encourage Penny to come out and play fetch, and she rises to the occasion, cantering toward me with the ball, but it isn't the same. You would think she'd revel in always getting the ball and never having to share, but that isn't the case. Instead, she lies down after a time, tired sooner than she used to be, and today I realized that Penny was never trying to beat Angie to the ball.

She was showing off for her.

And now, her audience is gone.

Bummed yet?


But the truth is, I'm getting more and more used to losing things I love, as are we all, as we get older. That is, if we're lucky.

If we're not the ones getting lost.

And I don't think we get past any of these losses, whether they're dogs or people or horses. We just tuck a little ache into a heart that gets softer and warmer with time, like dough kneaded by skilled and loving hands.

Penny won't get over Angie, and neither will Francesca or I.

We're not meant to.

We'll just carry her around inside us, and she'll be a dog that reminds us of just how human we really are.

Lisa Scottoline's and Francesca Serritella's essays have been published in "My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space" and "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog." Lisa's new novel, "Save Me," will be published April 12. Visit Lisa at

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