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The Story of Tori – Loving and Losing a Great Friend

Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Every true story ends in death“.

Well, this is a true story …

It was 18 months ago, on a Monday in May, that I innocently opened an email …

“My name is Penny”, the email began, “and my neighbors Bonita & Larry used you as their estate attorney last year and I know you have had Keeshonds in the past …”. 

Penny continued … “I show Keeshonds and I have an older female that I got from my breeder in Canada and I need to find her a permanent lovely home with a couch to finish out her days.  Her name is Tori and she will be 13 years old on Oct 13 this year.  I currently have 10 dogs but only actively show 4 of them, so I need to get down to a manageable number and I would like to see if perhaps you would consider taking Tori for me …”. 

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the Keeshond breed, you are not alone – I had never heard of the breed until my wife, Lee, brought home our first one, Micki, back in 1995. Keeshonds are medium-sized dogs (see photo of our dogs, below) who come with an impressive gray, black, and cream coat and a distinctive plumed tail. They were known for years as the “Dutch Barge Dog” because of their roles as companions and guardians on barges and small boats on Holland’s many canals and rivers. Today they are one of the best companion dogs around – smart, loving, and loyal.

And they have been patrolling our household for over a quarter of a century.

When I received Penny’s email last May, we already had two Kee’s at home – Murphy, who was nine at the time; and Mandy, who was six. They represented our fourth and fifth Keeshonds over the years … and we weren’t looking for number six.

I wrote back to Penny and told her that our homeowner’s association only allowed for two dogs per household, but that we would look into getting permission for a third. Determined to do something for Tori – still sight unseen – Lee wrote to the HOA directors, explaining that we would only have this elderly rescue for six months or so, and asked if we could be allowed to have an extra dog for a few months.

Much to our surprise, our request was granted.

Penny brought Tori over soon thereafter, and introductions to Murphy and Mandy were made. Tori was quiet and a little scared. In addition to being slowed by her almost 13 trips around the sun, she had lost some of her sight and some of her hearing. She was friendly, but cautious.

And there was no way we were not going to keep her.

The transition went well and fairly quickly. Murphy absolutely loved having his own little harem, and Tori took to him right away. Mandy was a little jealous at first, but she and Tori soon found common ground.

Our Keeshond family – Mandy on the left; Murphy center; Tori on the right

Once settled, Tori wanted to do everything that the other dogs did, including our regular walks. It was readily apparent, though, that the old girl would have trouble keeping up, so I limited her walks to days when the conditions were just right – not to hot or cold; not too much rain or snow. Tori slowly made the trip whenever given the opportunity – it was hard on her, but her smile reminded me that she was loving every moment (Keeshonds are known as the “smiling Dutchman”, so when I say Tori smiled during her walks, it’s not an exaggeration). On those walks when I tried to slip out with Murphy and Mandy while Tori was sleeping, she was invariably there at the door waiting for us when we returned, none to pleased to have been excluded.

As with every family who has dogs, there are rituals. When they go out, when and how they are fed, where they position themselves when the humans settle in for the night.

And it was no different in our household.

One ritual I started with the dogs shortly after Tori arrived was one I called “Campfire” (if you are a longtime fan of NCIS, you may recall that when Tony DiNozzo, played by Michael Weatherly, was in charge of an investigation, he would gather up his agents to compare notes. He called the gatherings “Campfires”). Every night, when we were ready to call it a day, I would get down on the floor next to our bed, and gather the dogs around me. I would spend the next few minutes petting the dogs, scratching ears and rubbing bellies, telling the dogs how much we loved them.

While the “Campfire” served the purpose of reminding me to spend a little quality time with the dogs each day, there was also a second, sadder purpose.

I knew that someday – and with Tori that someday was in the not too distant future – I would again be down on the floor, kneeling next to our dog, scratching behind her ears, stroking her fur, whispering to her that she was a good dog and that that she was loved … and that I’d be doing it for the last time.

We have gone through the sad event of putting down one of our Keeshonds three times in the past, and we knew what was coming when we took on taking care of Tori. She was almost 13 years old when we got her, already nearing the end of a typical lifespan for the breed.

I have zero doubt in my mind that Tori’s original owner took good care of her. I’m sure she was well fed, and had a warm home. I also know very well that Tori’s first rescuer, Penny, had loved her dearly.

But Tori had never had the chance to be a part of a small pack, a member of a close family … And we were determined to give her that experience.

For the most part, I am comfortable in saying that we succeeded. We told the HOA that we were only expecting to have a third dog for six months or so.

Then the spring of 2019 turned into the summer. The summer turned into the fall, and Tori turned 13. We got through the winter without issue (Keeshonds are furballs, and love the snow … and Tori had lived her entire life in Alberta and Montana, so it wasn’t as if she hadn’t experienced cold weather before).

A milestone came this past May, when we made it to a full year with Tori in our home. In October, Tori was still with us to celebrate her 14th birthday.

But there were signs that Tori’s time was coming.

Katie, my legal assistant/secretary/paralegal/office manager/best friend for over 30 years, was a dog lover long before I ever became one. Attached at the bottom of every email she sends, there is this:

“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price.” – Dean Koontz

This fall, Tori started having problems with her kidneys. Some medication and special dog food helped. But the visits to the vet became more frequent, the spans of time without problems became shorter and shorter.

A few weeks ago, I contacted Penny. She had stayed in touch from the time we took Tori in, always asking for updates and photos. Penny had told us that she wanted to have the chance to say goodbye when the time came. A week ago Saturday, Penny came over. Tori hadn’t been eating, and had spent the previous night at the vets getting an IV to rehydrate her and get her nutrients.

With Penny on hand, Tori, in what I contend was a tribute to her former owner, starting eating. Tori had rallied once again, and hopes for her recovery sprang anew.

Sadly, though, it was only temporary.

They say that dogs will tell you when its time, and we knew we were getting close.

And so it was this past Tuesday. Tori struggled on Monday night. I got up with her several times during the night as she ventured outside, but peeing brought her no relief. She was panting, and I stayed up with her, petting her and talking softly to her, until she finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Lee gave it one last shot Tuesday morning. She took Tori to another vet to get a second opinion. The second vet did an ultrasound, which revealed tumors on Tori’s liver.

Game over.

The vet did say we could operate, remove the tumors and see how Tori would recover, but it was not recommended. She was 14, and had lived a good life. Continuing treatment would have been for our benefit, not for hers.

It was time.

But there was a problem.

With the COVID restrictions, we were not allowed into the vet’s office. We had to bring Tori in, call the front office, and have someone come out to the car to bring her in for her examinations.

I was coming to grips with losing Tori, but there was no way in Hell that I was going to have her say goodbye to this world in a sterile exam room, alone and scared.

I had been rehearsing for our final Campfire together for 18 months, and there was no freakin’ way I wasn’t going to be with Tori in her final moments.

Fortunately, we found a vet who specialized in handling a pet’s final moments (no chance that I could ever handle that job), and who was willing to come to our home.

I called Penny, who rushed over despite the lack of notice. The vet came to our living room, where Tori was laying quietly, on pain medications to keep her quiet and at peace. The vet administered a relaxant to allow Tori to fall asleep, and the three of us – Lee, Penny and I – spent the next ten minutes petting Tori and whispering in her ear, reminding her that she was loved, and that she was, in fact, a good girl.

Just like I had been doing every night for the previous 18 months.

The vet then administered the final dose, and, a minute or two later, Tori’s heart stopped beating.

I have no way of knowing if Tori was at peace when she left us. She may have been in too much pain, or too drugged up, to know that we were there, and that we were there for her.

But I like to think that she left us knowing that she was loved She had found her pack; she had found a home.

Rest in peace, dear girl …

Our Tori

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17 Replies to “The Story of Tori”

  1. Very sorry about the passing of your Keeshond. As a longtime owner of their smaller Spitz type relatives Pomeranians I know first hand of the loyal and endearing nature that these pals offer willingly to us. What a fine tribute you have written for Tori.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Stuart. After my first dog died (in my arms), a good friend gave me a framed picture of him with an excerpt from Rudyard Kiplings “The Power of the Dog” and I would like to share it here if you don’t mind:

    There is sorrow enough in the natural way
    From men and women to fill our day;
    And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
    Why do we always arrange for more?
    Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
    Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

    Kipling was a dog lover. I suggest looking up the full version of the poem some day.

  3. So sorry to hear of your loss Stuart. As a parent of 14 and 12 year old fur babies, I’m terrified of the day I have to say goodbye. The love of a dog is precious gift. Best wishes

  4. Stuart I am so sorry. There are very few things harder than saying goodbye to our animals. They truly are family and I’m so happy she got to be a part of your family for a short time. God bless.

  5. What an awesome story. I’ve had a dog at least 60 of my 62 years and it’s so hard to play God when the time comes. We have had many St. Bernards and have felt your joy and pain too often but I wouldn’t change that for the world. My condolences Stuart.

  6. I typically only come here to get dust in my eyes when thinking about CU football when in recent years has made me sad. Dogs are awesome and it’s always so hard to say good bye. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great read. Hardest thing in the world to go through. Every time we have gone through it it’s been miserable. Every time, I have gone through about a year where I cried every time I thought of them. But now I just think about them and smile. They all had the best lives and were loved, that’s all you can ask for.

  8. I’m so sorry Stuart. I’ve been through it too, and I know there are no effective words of comfort I can share with you. I’m glad you and your dog family gave Tori a good last home. Honor the memories, and hang in there.

  9. Very touching story. Our cat, Sam of almost 16 years will be checking out within the next month or so (he has liver cancer and is on morphine) and its hard to think of life…post Sam. For me, losing Sam will be more difficult than losing most of my relatives. I guess it just goes to show the unconditional love that a great pet brings to your life.

  10. Stuart:

    Your eloquent tribute to her is the truest measure of just how much you/your family loved Tori. As a dog lover, sending you my condolences is of little solace, I know, but it is the best I can offer. I am glad that you were able to be with her at the end. Having lived that experience myself, I know that there was no place I’d have wanted to be then right there with my best girl. I have little doubt you felt likewise.

    At some point today or over the next couple of days, google John Hiatt’s “My Dog and Me” and give it a listen. I think it might bring a tear or two to your eye but I’d wager it will also bring a smile to your face.

    Condolences,
    Adam

  11. That is a very heart-warming story. Dogs are just so awesome. I’m not sure if you used Home to Heaven, but they were great when I had to put our Lab down. They come on short notice and it is a God send in the difficult time.

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