No one epitomizes that more than my beloved basset hound, Sydney. She wasn’t even supposed to come home with me 12 years ago, but somehow, that little runt of the litter wasn’t taking no for an answer.
I was at the breeder’s in St. Mary’s County, paying my puppy one of the numerous visits I’d make before she was old enough to leave her mother. I’d picked Shelby out when she was barely five days old — the beautiful lemon-colored pup with the soft, sweet eyes — and while I noticed the scrappy runt with the distinct red markings that made her all-white body look like she was wearing pants – I never dreamed she’d be anything more than a memory when looking back at Shelby’s puppy days.
But that day — as I was trying to interact with Shelby, her sister, Sydney was there, licking my feet, playing keep-away, barking — making sure I noticed her.
“That runt is still available, you know,” the breeder said. “You could take her instead. She is my only one left and she sure does seem to have taken a liking to you.”
Shelby, on the other hand, was more cautious, preferring to keep her distance.
“Take ‘em both out in the big yard and see how you get along,” he said.
I obliged, but felt certain my first choice would remain my choice for the best friend I’d waited so long for. I was moving home, taking a job at my local paper — and decided I would cushion the blow of giving up my dream of a career in the big city with a new pet.
The pups joined me in the yard and as predicted, that little runt — who had not gotten all of her markings yet and was a stark white with the aforementioned red markings — was in her glory. I fell in love with her playful spirit.
“I’ll take this little monkey,” I said.
At that instant, Shelby came over to me, looked up at me with milky brown eyes — and rested her chin solidly in my lap.
“You know, two litter-mates are often easier than one,” added the breeder. “I’ll give you both of them for just $100 more.”
I looked at my mother, who had accompanied me on this visit — since the pup and I would be staying with her until I got on my feet, this was her decision too.
“I’ve heard two can be easier than one,” she said. “If you think you can handle it, I don’t see why you can’t bring them both home.”
So my journey of being the food slave to two Bassets began. I named that scrappy runt Sydney – Saint Sydney Bean Basset, to be exact – and prepared for their homecoming. Double the gear, food and veterinary costs – how bad could that be, I thought? I was single and mortgage-free at the time, so they would have access to all of my disposable income.
I’ll jump ahead a bit and say that Sydney’s inability to take any kind of response that does not completely cater to her needs has been her modus operandi for the past 12 years. Over the years, that feisty spirit has manifested itself into some not so lovable habits. A stubbornness about stepping out for potty breaks in anything but perfect weather conditions. Her uncanny ability to time her desire for an early mealtime with one of the two-legged children’s naps. A propensity to tear into anything at almost any height that has even a remote scent of food on it. A nightly serenade of nonstop barking during mealtimes. But somehow, her character makes all of those less than lovable traits easy to forgive. I wonder sometimes how I can love her so much — obstinance and all — but the fact that she makes me love her so much despite her transgressions just adds to the character I’ve grown to adore.
I’ve nearly lost my “little Bean” as I’ve called her throughout her life — first when she was only 2 years old and her littermate ripped off a large chunk of her ear over a scrap piece of food. I came home for lunch and found Sydney, laying protectively over the aforementioned food, bleeding profusely. About $2,000 later she was all better (minus about a quarter of her left ear ) but I knew that had I opted not to come home for a lunchbreak that day, we might have had a different outcome. Fate.
Our next scare came barely a year later when Sydney suffered a mysterious crash that nearly killed her. She spent a scary day at her vets and as she continued to deteriorate, was sent to the Annapolis veterinary hospital with a very grim outlook. I’ll never forget the moment — the veterinary tech greeted us at the entrance to carry a limp and lifeless dog into the emergency treatment area — Syd looked up at the tech and gave her a swift lick. The tech turned to me with misty eyes and said to me “Going to do everything to save this little sweetheart, she is a special one.”
A week’s hospital stay and several thousand dollars later, we got the diagnosis of Addison’s Disease, a highly treatable disease that she would have the rest of her life. She could live a normal life, I was told — but any number of complications could prevent her from reaching her full life expectancy.
I learned that day the true meaning of worry — and since then, Sydney has had a propensity for adding gray hairs to my scalp as well as hers!
When Sydney was diagnosed with Addison’s in 2002, I vowed I would get her to her 10th birthday. No measure of time seemed enough but I wanted to see my girl reach a double digit birthday.
Just days after Sydney and Shelby celebrated their 11th birthday, we came as close as we ever have to losing her. She refused to eat and I knew something was wrong. (To say Sydney is food-driven is quite the understatement!) By the time we got her to the vet, she could barely walk, she was so weak. Our vet decided to treat her with fluids and an extra dose of her prednisone — and wait. I headed home and barely five minutes later, received a frantic call, letting me know that Syd had almost died on the table and her story was not looking good. Taking her back to the Annapolis hospital was an option — but unlike those days when I had no other responsibilities, I had no means to pay for the costly visit across the bridge. The boys and I headed back to be with her – to say goodbye — and prayed that our vet’s care would be enough to get her through the night.
The next day, our vet called with a great deal of joy and surprise in her voice. Syd had rallied! Remarkable. She went home a couple days later— and I was once again reminded just how meant to be this best friend of mine was. She wasn’t ready to leave me just yet — and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, either. We’d been given a gift — it might be a day, a week, a month — whatever God was willing to give me with my sweet, now-senior miracle dog — I would gladly take.
This morning I was awakened by my husband, who had discovered our carpet covered in bloody diarrhea. Sydney bounded downstairs, eagerly calling for her breakfast service. I exhaled.
Bloody diarrhea can’t be good, but thank goodness she sure seems like Sydney, I thought.
I called her vet — who seemed concerned but not overly alarmed — and got ready to take her as soon as the office was available. Within moments of hanging up the phone, her situation was bad. Sydney was pale, weak and lethargic, and could barely walk to the car. Her vet — who has seen her through so much — was reassuring but honest with us and kept her at the hospital to treat her.
“No news is good news, “ he said. “I’ll call you if she deteriorates but otherwise I will call you at noon with a status update.”
You never get used to waiting for the phone to ring with news about a loved one’s health and today was no different. The phone rang at 11:16 a.m. — way earlier than I’ d hoped — but I was grateful when he immediately followed his greeting with the words I was afraid I would not hear “Sydney is doing much better — I’m very relieved.”
Me too. [Exhale.] (sort of).
As I write this, Sydney is hopefully resting comfortable at the hospital and will have an uneventful night of healing. I don’t know what her long-term outlook is — she is a 12-year-old Addisonian dog with what seems to be a recurring bout of colitis. I know this is not a recipe for longevity and I’m pretty sure I’ve sprouted a few new gray hairs and wrinkle lines in just the past 12 hours.
I’m hopeful Sydney will come home to me tomorrow — that our date with destiny will give us a few more magical days, months or years together. I’ve wanted to write down her story for so long and just never seem to get around to it. I want to write this when it is still a tribute — not a memorial. How else do you thank a devoted best friend who has been by your side, loyally for almost a dozen years? A friend who picked you to be her best friend and guardian for life? A companion who has never so much as bared a tooth at myself or my rowdy children, even as they have ridden her back, stepped on her tail in their roughhousing or startled her out of a sound doggy daydream? There are simply not enough rawhides or treats to begin to pay off that debt.
I’ll never be able to truly repay her for that love she has given me so unconditionally through the years and I know that whatever time God has left for her will never be enough. I often tell my husband that I won’t get another dog after Sydney’s journey here with me is over — I just couldn’t bear such a profound loss of the pain of beloved friend. As I say that. I’m reminded of the lyrics of a Tim McGraw song that played on the radio on the night I almost lost Syd nearly a decade ago. It just about sums up how many of us feel about the ones we love the most, doesn’t it?
Just to see you smile
I’d do anything that you wanted me to
When all is said and done
I’d never count the cost
It’s worth all that’s lost
Just to see you smile…