Jessica Day George

Sunday, October 28, 2012


This is going to be hard to write, and I'm mostly doing it for me, so if you don't want to read any further, I will understand.

My Pippin, my little baby dog, died last Sunday, October 21st.

She had been sick a long time, almost two months.  She'd lost a fourth of her body weight, which is a big deal when you only weigh five pounds.  She'd had two surgeries, one to remove a benign mass from her stomach and the other to attach her intestine to her gallbladder, when the scarring from the first surgery compromised the valves from her gallbladder and liver to her intestine.  Over the past two months, her stomach had stopped working, her kidneys, liver, and gallbladder had all started failing, and finally her little heart could not take any more.

I'm glad that my little girl isn't hurting any more, but I'm so heartbroken that she isn't here with us.

Mike and I got her when she wasn't even eight weeks old, in March of 2003.  We didn't have kids then, and she was our baby.  A week after we got her, she had a hypoglycemic seizure and we rushed her to the vet.  The breeder we bought her from had sold her to us before she was properly weaned, and she hadn't been eating enough.  I remember speaking calmly to the vet on the phone, then turning to my husband and wailing, "They might have to keep her over night!"  I bawled all the way in, holding her wrapped in a fleece blanket.  Even after just one week, she was my little girl.

But her true favorite in our house?  Mike.  He refused to be called the dog's dad, so he insisted in the beginning (half-joking) that he be called Master, and it stuck.  She loved Master, and they truly had a special bond.  Even when she was sick, towards the end, if I said that Master was home when I heard his car in the garage, she would hurry to the door to greet him.  If he sat in a bedroom to rock a baby, she oozed in the door to lay by the rocking chair, or if the door was shut, she would lay outside the room and wait for him. If she was on the bed with Master, she laid on his lap or on my side of the bed, even on my pillow.  She never laid on Master's pillow if he wasn't there.  Instead she would lay at the foot of the bed and wait for him.

She couldn't fetch, she couldn't jump on the couch, and after years of trying to get her to play dead when I pointed a finger and said, "Bang!" she would only leisurely lie down.  Not because she didn't understand, but because she refused to demean herself.  She would sit to receive a treat, and she knew exactly when she was due for a treat.  At noon and dinner time she would sit in her spot at the edge of the carpet and wait, and if we didn't deliver, she would woof at us.  And it sounded just like that, "Woof."  If I was in another room at noon, and showing no signs of heading to the kitchen, she would come and get me.  She was an expert at getting you to follow her, she would look at you until she had your attention, run forward, circle back, run forward, circle back, drawing you after her to the back door, or the treat cupboard, or the front door where she swore she heard an intruder.  After she got brushed or came back from the groomer, she would stare at you, quivering, until you said, "You look so pretty!" then she would rush to the kitchen for her reward.  (Pretty girls get treats, of course.)

Her tail was a mood barometer.  It curled up over her back when she was happy, or well, and if it went down you knew something was wrong.  If she hung her head plus having her tail down, you knew she was ashamed of something . . . perhaps an accident (though they were rare) or she'd gotten sick.  When she wagged her tail it tended to stay on the right side of her back, and made her look like a lady fanning herself with an ostrich plume fan.  She could give you "five" and kisses, and she was nocturnal.  All day she would walk around, nap, and eat, but as soon as the kids were in bed, she would come alive.  She would lure one of us over to the love seat and we would have to chase her around it until we caught her.  Then there was often a rousing game of slappy paws, until she started nipping, and we would tell her, "Oh no, puppy is sharp!"

She was an alpha female.  On a walk when she was a puppy, we started to pass our neighbor's cocker spaniel, which probably weighed six times what Pippin did.  Pippin immediately veered toward the larger dog and locked her joints, strutting up to it with her head high.  The cocker cowered and slinked away, and Pippin strutted back to my side.  She was locked in a constant, hilarious bid for dominance with my mother-in-law's equally alpha toy poodle, Zsa Zsa.  Pippin used to cruise by Zsa Zsa and swipe at her, then run off when the other dog growled.  Once she strutted up to Zsa Zsa and sucker punched her.  Greatest thing I've ever seen in my life.  Pippin went up, lifted her right front paw, and when Zsa Zsa looked at it, Pippin whacked her on the nose with her left front paw.  (Pippin was a southpaw.  I should have warned Zsa Zsa.)  I laughed until I cried.  Not that I don't love Zsa Zsa, but c'mon: that was hilarious.  My mother-in-law's other poodle, Sasha, is not an alpha female, and Pippin would wrestle with her with great delight, always ending when Sasha clearly rolled over and allowed herself to be pinned.

Pippin had a cluster of spots on her pink belly that were almost exactly the shape and size of her own paw.  It looked like someone had stamped her with a pawprint, and we used to joke that she was the Chosen One.  She was a Maltese, an ancient breed from the island of Malta, popular with the Romans, and I used to make up stories about how her ancestors would work together to bring down deer in their natural habitat, with bones stuck in their hair instead of bows.

She had an "excess of personality," as my sister said.  Pippin had friends and admirers, and she knew them by name.  If we said that my sister was coming over, she would go check the spot where my sister would leave her shoes and purse to see if she had arrived yet.  She loved all her extended human family, but she adored my mom in particular.  If she heard anyone say that Grandma Day was coming, she would wait by the door until she arrived, and follow her through the house every minute my mom was here.  When we went to visit my parents, she would try to get into the car the minute we started packing, to make sure she wasn't left behind.  And, while she was quiet for most of the ride, she seemed to know when we were almost there.  Once we pulled off the freeway, she would start to rustle around in her crate.  Once when my book club was at our house, Pippin was making the rounds greeting each person.  One of the women, who is not a "dog person," pointed a finger at Pippin and said, "You're cute, but that doesn't mean I like you."  I watched the rest of the evening as Pippin circled wide around this woman, going over to sniff the others and be petted, but not even looking at non-dog-lover.

Pippin is in the DRAGON SLIPPERS books.  She is Princess Amalia's little lapdog, who seems rather put out with her mistress, and in later books she belongs to the dragon Fenuil, which suits her better.  I tried to capture Pippin's excess of personality in the books, and I hope that I succeeded.  She was one-of-a-kind, a companion and friend who cannot be replaced.

She will be missed so very, very much.