Getting extra raw this week.
Last year on this date, I lost my baby girl, Ursulla- my family dog and I couldn’t bring myself to post about anything else but her.
She blessed me and my family with 17 years of unconditional love and loyalty.
Most of people say or think “wow she lived a long and happy life, that’s great!” And yes it is great, but 17 years seemed like a blink of an eye a year ago.
Now, this wasn’t our first dog ever, throughout my life we had several dogs. Often it was a dog that someone was getting rid of and we took in. We probably had at least 5 or 6 dogs prior to Ursulla, but I never saw them from puppy to end of life. For a reason or another the dog left with a sibling, a family member, and one of them ran away.
I was 16, it was summertime, and my parents had just bought their first house. The house had a huge front and backyard and the neighborhood seemed to be infested with feral cats. These cats were breaking into our laundry room, sneaking inside the house and leaving their feces all over our property. So my mom was determined to get a dog that would help chase the cats away.
My mom had visited the local shelter a few times and was insisting I go with her to pick out a dog. She had mentioned a particular Dalmatian she’d seen and expressed how she’s always wanted a Dalmatian. I was 16 and not paying too much attention to the whole thing. I was a sophomore in high school with my first part time job, taste of freedom, and cheerleading- running an errand with mom wasn’t really a priority. But to the shelter we did make it eventually. My mom took me to see the Dalmatian which wouldn’t even come close to the gate- there was no connection for me and he seemed kinda snobby tbh. I walked the isles in a bit of annoyance that my mom was pushing for that dog and not seeing any other that I liked. I was walking the isles of the shelter looking in each cage when out of no where here comes running this tiny little fur ball. She was so excited, giving me so much attention and love; kissing my hands through the gate, jumping and what I didn’t realize back then that I do now, is that it was true love at first sight. Checked her gate’s tag and she was 6-8 weeks old, German Shepard/Chow mix, picked up somewhere from the streets and available. “THIS ONE’S IT!” I said with excitement to my mom, I knew she was the one we had to bring home. My mom was hesitant with her Chow mix but I won this one.
This is a county shelter, so in order to bring her home she had to be spayed so we were instructed to come back in three days. These were the longest three days of my life. I remember at “check out” we were told we had 7 days to bring her back if we changed our mind, and I distinctly remember thinking they were crazy! Who would return this sweetheart. The three days were up, we picked her up and she was a bit out of it since she’d just had surgery earlier that day. She rode in my lap on the way home, peed on me and slept. When we arrived home, I had a basket for her with a fluffy blanket for her to sleep on (which she did- until she literally broke the basket because she got too big for it). From this day forward, I had a true best friend.
Now naming her was funny- why Ursulla? If you’re thinking there’s a connection to The Little Mermaid’s sea witch, you’re right. I wanted to name her Bella or Bambi, and my mom insisted that wasn’t a suitable name for her because she was a chow mix and would likely grow a lot of fur on her head and neck and well Bambi didn’t have to characteristics. For days she was nameless. Being sarcastic I said “well what do you want to call her then, Ursulla?” and that stuck.
At home, Ursula was full of energy and did a great job at chasing away the cats, mice, raccoons, squirrels or whatever other intruder tried to enter the property. She was incredibly loyal and always came to my mom or my rescue in kissing away our tears when we were upset.
She was also feisty and very jealous. She did not care for other pets in the house. When I say pets, I mean a goldfish and small turtle. My mom had to move the fish bowl out of reach for her because she was caught throwing the fish out of its bowl on more than one occasion. A few years later my high school boyfriend found a tiny turtle on the sidewalk so he gave it to me. It was one of those half water half land tiny turtles. So I’d put Ursulla outside while I gave the turtle some free time roam around the house. Long story short, someone opened the backdoor, Ursulla got the turtle and killed it. I remember being so upset with her for doing that. To this day, I think about my turtle that somehow survived whatever it went through to end up on the sidewalk of a busy street, got a brand new home and then was killed by the family dog.
My mom worked at a school cafeteria at the time and she often brought home leftovers. Most of the time she would drop them by a food kitchen and donate them, or hand them to homeless at the gas station; but from time to time she still had many left by the time she got home and would treat them to Ursulla. It was usually breakfast or lunch burritos. Uruslla would always be excited and eager to eat the first two, maybe three- but sometimes my mom would try to feed her five and she would come to the door so reluctantly, receive the burrito and later we learned, was burying them in the backyard! When my parents finally did landscaping in the backyard, they found countless burritos buried all over the backyard, it was hilarious!
Years later we moved out of that house and although she was acting normal, she didn’t poop for 4 days! We did move a few other times after that and the same thing happened. Later in her life I took her to work with me a few times and same thing- this girl liked to poop only in her own yard.
Eventually I met my now husband who also had a dog, Bailey. Bailey is not dog friendly, she loves people, and has grown to love and accept Bear and Hunter, but does not like other living things. Things were going really well with this guy, and I thought, maybe Bailey will like Ursualla because he and I like each other and that’ll be a clear sign he and I are meant to be. Well no. Their first meeting ended with me spraying water on them and my husband as he was trying to break up their fight. They both drew blood, but luckily no major injuries. From that moment on, they hated each other. Bailey always started the aggression, and Ursulla made sure to put her in her place. Mind you, Ursulla had about 20-25lbs on Bailey. We tried everything! Taking them on walks, treats, toys…. nothing worked. Eventually as Ursualla got older, she started simply avoiding Bailey which was HUGE progress. So now we only had to worry about keeping Bailey in check. I would say the last five years or so of her life they were finally able to be in the same room together both relaxed. At this point they both were avoiding each other but this was a big win! I could have both my girls in the same room, finally!
Seven years ago, we adopted Bear – and he is a dog’s dog. LOVES other dogs, I think more than people. Naturally I was anxious to introduce him to Ursulla and they hit it off immediately! They played in the yard for hours, chased each other, jumped at each other, cuddled; everything I hoped for and more! As Ursulla got older, she still loved Bear, but would hide from him when she was too tired to play. Adorable and hilarious! She’d squeeze behind this tiny above ground planter my mom had, and Bear would stare and playfully yelp for her.
My older brother and sister both had kids and she was intuitively gentle with them, without any instructor from the humans. She was the same with my grandparents. Even though, she always jumped on me or my friends, cousins, parents- she never even attempted with the kids or my grandparents. One of my nice’s in particular would sit on top of her while she was laying on the floor or her bed, or open her mouth and play with her tongue and Ursulla would just sit there and let her.
As years went by and she started showing signs of age like aching hips or trouble jumping I heard a lot, particularly from one person “Wow she’s getting old”, with a kind of insinuation- that while yes, I was always aware she wouldn’t live for ever, really bothered me. It bothered me because, yes, she wasn’t a puppy with puppy energy anymore, but she was still very happy. Whenever we walked in the room or the house, she would do small jumps, run back and forth, and give big smiles. So I always answered, she’s still very happy!
When I got married at some point my husband came across this article written by a veterinarian couple who owned a couple of dogs and they talked about how and when they knew/decided it was time to put their dog down. The article basically said that they picked three of their dog’s favorite things, when he stopped being excited about two of them, they knew it was time. I always had this in the back of my mind. So while Ursulla was clearly aging and not as agile as she once was, she was still very excited about her belly rubs, her tortilla scraps and us. And she truly was happy until just shy of a month before she passed.
When I got married and moved in with my husband, Ursulla continued to live with my parents but was still very much a big part of my life. And as things got easier with Bailey and her, she would spend quite some time at home with me. Early August of last year, Ursulla had spent almost a week with me as my parents were out of town. She came with me to work on most days, which were a bit rough because we had to take stairs, but I got her an aid that helped both of us get her up and down the stairs with ease. The last day she was with me in my home, she’d come to work with me and had been very happy and feisty all day. When we got home, I fed her and she ate a bit but didn’t finish her serving- that was odd because this pup was always hungry and always finished her food. I didn’t think much of it other than she’s tired and will eat when she’s hungry.
My parents picked her up later that evening and she still hand’t eaten. A few days later my mom said Ursulla was not eating. I thought it was because she had gotten used Bear & Bailey’s food and was being stubborn- I didn’t give it much thought or response. A few days later when my mom called again saying she still didn’t want to eat, I suggested she feed her oatmeal- she did and she ate. A few days later trying switching her back to her own food and went several days again without wanting to eat her food and at this point didn’t want the oatmeal anymore either. Very quickly started loosing a lot of weight and body mass and naturally becoming weaker. We switched her diet to chicken and rice which worked for day or two, but then she didn’t want that either. My mom started blending the chicken and rice with broth and practically force feeding it to her with a baby bottle. After a day or two of this, she seemed to be getting bit more energy- which gave me hope she’d simply gotten too weak but would regain her strength. But only a day or two after this she started refusing to eat- whatever little we were able to get in her mouth, she would spit out. And the look in her eyes… I will never forget that. During these very short weeks I was rushing home from work to go be with her. I would lay her on my lap and she would sleep for hours until I left- something she hand’t done since she was a puppy. But the day before her last day, I went over and I knew. She no longer had anything else to give, and certainly didn’t want to give anything else either. She was miserable and wanted to be left alone. My mom tried feeding her and she forcefully rejected it, as weak as she was. I tried laying her on my lap, and again she resisted. I was desperate trying to get her to look at me and she just wouldn’t- wouldn’t respond to anything at all. She would follow my mom and dad with her gaze but wouldn’t look at me. In the brief instant I got her to actually look at me, I saw her pain, discomfort and misery. And I knew, keeping her and continuing to try and force feed her wasn’t doing her any favors. I asked my mom not to force feed her anymore and it was simply our job to try and keep her comfortable until the next day.
Saying goodbye to Ursulla is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
It’s been a year now, and not a day has gone by that I don’t think about her. I have so many regrets, so many things I’d do differently with her; I’d give her 100 times more belly rubs, feed her all her favorite people food, sneak her on the couch every day, I’d appreciate her so much more and I would have done more to have her live with me full time.
While yes, my mind reasons with the fact she lived a long and full live and blessed us with her love- 17 years was just not enough time with her. No time would be enough. She was always so happy. She accepted and loved each o us exactly for who we are. No matter how much slower she was moving, her excitement could not be contained when we walked in the door.
I know I wouldn’t have had my life any other way than with her in it; the joy and unconditional love and loyalty she brought to me and my family is beyond what any words could describe. And while my mind reasons with the fact she was quite old and especially for a large dog- she lived longer than most dogs do- my heart aches, constantly. In tossing Ursulla, I now know true heartbreak.
They say a dog will give you the best days of your life and the single worst day- and this couldn’t be more accurate.
So this is for you baby girl:
Thank you for teaching me loyalty, trust, compassion, and most importantly unconditional love. My heart will always wear the paw prints left by you. I love you for ever.