Cheyenne came to live with us when she was a year old. This sweet little dust-mop terrier mutt (all 12 pounds of her) belonged to my husband’s sister’s family, and we’d met and fallen in love with her one weekend when we were visiting his parents. As we were leaving, we even joked to my sister-in-law, “If you ever want to get rid of this dog, let us know.” A month later, Betsy called, saying they couldn’t take her with them to their new home, so it was meant to be.
Cheyenne was a smart dog; I quickly taught her to sit and stay and come. She was also gentle and well-behaved, deferential to other dogs and patient with the children who invariably wanted to pet her. She had a funny little hitch-skip when she ran, and when she was really excited (“Do you want to go to ride, Cheyenne?”), she did a whole-body wag that was pretty adorable.
An excellent watchdog, Cheyenne raised a surprisingly big ruckus whenever the doorbell rang (whether in real life or on television). People on skateboards and bicycles got her going, too. And squirrels! The rest of the world disappeared when there was a squirrel in her sights. Generally, though, she was a peaceful dog, content to just hang out with us wherever we were. When I had my shop, I often took her to work with me, and she charmed everyone who came through the door.
Cheyenne gave us more than one scare. She got hit by a car one night when we didn’t realize she’d gotten out. She also ran off one 4th of July because she was frightened by fireworks in the neighborhood. But the time we really thought we’d lost her was the night a part-chow dog that had moved in across the street slipped its chain and came into our yard and attacked her. Cheyenne suffered multiple internal injuries, and the emergency vet told us she might not make it, even with surgery. My husband looked at me and said, “Maybe it’s best to just let her go.” Understandable, given her injuries, but my response was swift and firm: “No!”
Luckily, she made it through the surgery and lived for another six and a half years. Afterwards, she developed a habit of sitting for long periods at the base of the trees in our yard, staring up at them in what I can only describe as a zen-like trance. When we were finally able to get her attention during one of these sessions (before this, she typically came as soon as she was called), she would look at us quizzically, with complete calm and a hint of amusement, as if to say, “Can’t you see I’m busy here?” I wondered at times whether Cheyenne had perhaps had the doggie equivalent of a near-death experience, and this was the reason for her “tree meditations”.
A couple of years later, when my husband and I decided to separate, we agreed (because he traveled a lot) that the animals would stay with me. I was relieved, because it would have been hard to part with Cheyenne. Maybe it was because she was my first dog, but I think it was also because what everyone said about her was true—that she really was a “special dog”.
Cheyenne started to develop cataracts when she was around seven, evidently a common occurrence in terrier breeds. She ultimately lost the sight in her left eye to glaucoma, but her right eye served her well for many years. Several years later, she began to lose her hearing as well. The last year of her life, it got a lot worse, and, after startling her a few times, I developed the habit of stomping a bit whenever I approached her from behind, so that she would feel the vibration and know I was coming.
In spite of these challenges, Cheyenne was a happy dog to the end…still excited by my arrival at the end of the day, still eager for dog treats, still relentlessly scouting for the odd bit of cat food that her feline housemates might have dropped in a careless moment. By the summer of her sixteenth year, however, she had begun to slow down in a way that was noticeable. I remember remarking to my sister that I thought Cheyenne might not make it to Christmas. I didn’t have a reason; it was just a feeling.
I think Cheyenne probably had a stroke the day she died. She got sick in the car on the way back from my mom’s on a Saturday in September, and by the time we got home, she was pale and listless and just stood in the yard looking dazed. I took her inside and lay down with her for a nap, but when she continued to look ill, I put her back in the car and headed for the emergency vet.
I had long before vowed that if Cheyenne needed me to help her go, I would, and I was determined to keep my promise. At the vet’s office, her heart stopped, and when the vet suggested extreme life-saving measures, I said no. Her heart started again, but it was clear that it was her time to go. I asked the vet to let me have some time with her; then we would help her move on.
So I sat and held her and cried. I told her I loved her and thanked her for being my buddy. Even after she was gone, I held her and continued to cry. I didn’t stop crying for two days.
The depth of my grief took me by surprise. I’d known she was old and couldn’t live forever. I’d even had that “feeling” back in the summer. I knew this was coming, I was prepared for this, right? Obviously not.
Looking back, it shouldn’t have been so surprising. We’d spent 15 years together. As I’d occasionally joked to friends, my relationship with Cheyenne had outlasted my marriage. She was a constant for me—a sweet presence that enriched my life in a way that’s difficult to articulate but that every dog owner understands.
Even with my two cats still there, the house was empty without her. The quiet was deafening, all of her little sounds—the jingle of her dog tags, the padding/clicking of her steps on the hardwood floor—forever silenced. I no longer had to rush home to let her out, tail wagging, ready for supper. The doggie treats sat unopened on the counter.
At some point in the days following her passing, I had a vision of Cheyenne. I don’t remember if it came to me in a dream or while I was wide awake. It was a vision of a young Cheyenne running full-tilt through the field across from our house in North Carolina, that funny little hitch-skip in her step, happily chasing squirrels. Four and a half years later, this is the way I still remember her.
The photo below, of my Mom holding a three-year-old Cheyenne, still sits on my bedside table. It reminds me of the many gifts this wonderful little furball gave me, simply by being a part of my life for fifteen years. I try to focus on this instead of thinking about the fact that she’s no longer with me—a lesson I need to apply to the “losses” in other areas of my life as well. Cheyenne will always be with me, will always be a part of me, and that makes me smile.
P.S. I have another dog now—Darcey—who also brings a lot of joy to my life. She isn’t Cheyenne, nor could she (or should she) be. Cheyenne was unique, with her own distinct personality, as is Darcey, and I am infinitely grateful for both.