Like most other novels, there’s a disclaimer—albeit with a twist—at the beginning of Lost Dogs, my story about two dogs who witness the end of the human world. It goes like this:
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or dogs, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This is a lie.
The truth is alluded to at the end of the book, in the Acknowledgements, where I thank, “Susan Beall and the Animal Resource Foundation for providing us with Cecilia, formerly known as Sally.”
Sally the Beagle/Basset Hound mix in Lost Dogs is Cecilia, our Beagle/Basset Hound mix, which we adopted from ARF, where she was fostered as “Sally.” The character in the book is note-for-note our Cecilia.
We got her in late 2004. At the time, our only other pets were Cookie (a black Lab-mix), and Clawdia, a calico cat. My wife went to an ARF event, saw “Sally” (as she was known then), and fell in love. “Sally” had been found roaming about, as Beagles are wont to do (one pet book we owns says that they are, “naughty little dogs, fond of slinking off’). ARF thought she was about three or four years old.
We brought her home and changed her name, as “Sally” sounds too much like “Ally,” our younger daughter’s name, and we didn’t want to confuse the dog. So my wife pulled out one of her favorite baby names (which I had vetoed for our actual babies), and “Cecilia” settled in.
But she didn’t stay settled. A few months after she came to us, she climbed the fence one afternoon and ran off. Because she had been microchipped, we got a call a few hours later from the animal hospital, saying that she had been hit by a car and was in bad shape.
For three days, she stayed at the hospital and wasn’t able to move her back legs. We feared that her spinal cord has been broken. And then, just like that, she stood up, wagged her tail, and started walking around, as if nothing had ever happened.
Life With Ceci
Cecilia (or “Ceci,” as we called her), quickly took to her “stepsister” Cookie, wisely avoided Clawdia (who thinks little of dogs), and made friends with all the other pets we brought home over the years. In particular, she liked our mouthy (and somewhat neurotic) cat Gandalf: whenever he came in, meowing loudly, she would greet him, sniffing and nuzzling him, and he seemed to enjoy it.
She was calm and quiet, a gentle and affectionate soul, fond of napping on the couch or at the foot of our bed. A finicky eater, she got even picker as she got older, but her favorite was wet cat food (and—to our dismay—visiting the litter box when she thought we disapproving humans were not looking).
She enjoyed evening walks, intently sniffing, tail going back and forth like a spring, as she leisurely ambled along. She would often lie on the couch on her back, paws up, huge ears spread, and wiggle back and forth, happily giving herself a massage. I’d come sit next to her, cuddle her, and tell her that she was a silly, silly girl—very sweet, but very silly.
Whenever she spotted a rabbit or squirrel, she had an instant personality change, going from laid-back house pet to wildly enthusiastic hunting dog, bolting after them, ears flapping, baying with head tipped back. Her greatest pleasure and frustration was to tree a squirrel and wait, trembling with excitement, at the base of the trunk, hoping that it would come down.
“The Eternal Dog”
In the almost 12 years that Cecilia lived with us, she acquired many nicknames: Princessa (which I carried over to Lost Dogs); Cat-Dog (due to her many feline mannerisms); Princess Frecklebutt; the Phantom Widdler (for her habit of surreptitiously peeing in the house). But eventually, we started calling her “The Eternal Dog.”
A few years ago, she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, and a follow-up to a vet cardiologist (yes, they have such things), confirmed that her mitral valve was not closing all the way, allowing blood to backflow from one chamber to the other, forcing the heart to work harder, enlarging it. This is not unusual for Beagles.
As the heart had grown larger, fluid had developed around it, and it had begun to press on her windpipe. She was (then) 12 years old, so we opted out of surgery, but instead, began giving her medication to mitigate the effects. And all went well for quite a while. We jokingly came up with “The Heart Test” to determine how she was doing: if, on a walk, she saw a squirrel or bunny and wanted to chase it, then she passed the test and all was well. If she ever didn’t want to give chase, then that was the sign that it was time to put her down.
She always passed “The Heart Test.” Every time.
However, in May of 2015, she grew listless, short of breath, and would not eat. An examination showed that she had a tumor on her spleen, which was pressing on her other organs. The vet said that Ceci probably only had a few weeks left, but in the meantime, she could give us a stimulant to perk up Ceci’s appetite, so at least she would eat and be more comfortable. Eventually, we were told, the stimulant would not be able to counteract the effects of the tumor, and when Ceci stopped eating again, that would be the sign that it was time to take her back one last time.
The doctor gave us a two-week supply, and we started giving Ceci those (along with her usual heart meds) and the chicken that my wife Joni cooked for her. And Ceci ate, and went back to her old self: going for walks, chasing squirrels, and cuddling up with Cookie, Gandalf, and Joni.
Two weeks went by, and Ceci still seemed fine, so we asked the vet for more. She gave us another two weeks’ worth, and two weeks later, we needed more, as Ceci—“The Eternal Dog,” as we had started calling her—showed no signs of dropping dead from either her bad heart or her tumor.
Ceci and Gandalf
Our vet kept on prescribing the pills, and Ceci—who had been given only a few weeks to live—blithely kept on keeping on. A follow-up visit showed that the tumor had stopped growing (sometimes they do that), and that her heart was not much larger than the last time. Ceci was chugging along at 16 years. True, the meds made her drink a lot, which resulted in us leaving “puppy pads” by the back door (and having to clean up several accidents), but it was small price to pay.
On June 27, 2016, we took her for her evening walk, and when she got home, she settled onto the cool tile floor under the stairs to sleep. At quarter to four the next morning, I came to give Ceci her morning pills and to let her outside, but she didn’t want either. Her breathing was labored, and she couldn’t get up.
We took her to our vet as soon as it opened, and the doctor confirmed the worst. Ceci’s belly was filling up with fluid, and her heart murmur was gone—not a good thing, as it meant the valve had failed. There was nothing left to do but to put her to sleep.
And Now We Are Five
We still have Cookie, Clawdia, and Gandalf, as well as our dog Daegan and my daughter’s cat, Pimienta. But Ceci’s passing has left a hole in our home. Coming so soon after unexpectedly losing her buddy Tiki, my wife is devastated.
Tiki, Joni, and Ceci
I miss Cecilia, too. She was a good and sweet girl, and when I was writing Lost Dogs, it only seemed natural to include her, with all her mannerisms and her temperament, into the story as “Sally,” to complement and act as a counterweight to the protagonist, Buddy.
There wasn’t a dog quite like Ceci, and we won’t be bringing home another any time soon—if ever again. But then, I have thought that before. For now, we will hold close the ones we have, and hold close her memory.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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