Hi Fatty Readers – my husband and I had to put our elderly pug down last night. I miss her so much already.
Below is the letter I wrote to her in preparation for the event. I’m sharing it here as a (human, self-indulgent) tribute to her. I hope you never have to say good bye to a beloved pet, but if you have in past – or one day will – know you’re not alone in feeling utterly bereft.
Ethel Michelsen Miller
July 18th, 2003 – February 8th, 2020
You were a total spaz as a puppy. You had the sharpest little teeth, and even though I wanted to be the kind of dog parent who sleeps with her dog, you just jumped around and nipped at me in bed. So you slept in your crate for the first few months. We made a bed-dog out of you in short order, it just wasn’t the first thing that we accomplished.
In case you’ve forgotten, I named you after Ethel Merman, the old time broadway star. Particularly, the somewhat elderly version of Ethel Merman who kept on belting out scratchy bitter old woman songs and never really retired. You had such a snorty gravelly voice, even as a puppy, so I thought it was appropriate. But of course, everyone thought you were named after Ethel Mertz, Lucy’s neighbor and best friend on I Love Lucy. It worked out, because half the world’s dogs are named Lucy so you had built-in instant best friends in every dog park.
I knew you were a genius dog from the start, by the way. I’ll never forget that morning you kept switching tactics to get me to take you out for your walk – first barking, then whining, then pressing the noisemaker on your lambie-doodle in an eerily rhythmic way. You really earned that walk.
But even though you were clearly brilliant, you also couldn’t tell the difference between a treat in mommy’s hand and just her pinched fingers by her side, so you followed her close to heel anytime she made that gesture. Hilarious.
You were probably born in a puppy mill of some sort – hopefully not the worst kind. By the time we met you were already circling like an insane whirling dervish before every pee and poop, which I suspected had to do with the tight quarters of your crates. But then again, I don’t really know – it could just be a small dog thing (I’ve seen a million other doggies do it). Regardless, you were supposedly descended from king and queen pugs — I have your papers — but I did get you at a pet store that my NYC neighborhood shelter said was the only reputable one in NYC. I still feel guilty about that. I should have adopted some other unwanted dog. But today I am so glad I didn’t because I got YOU.
Ethel, you have so many personalities. Sometimes you’re a cuddle bug. Sometimes you’re aloof (you reminded me of a cat when you were younger, nimbly climbing the backs of couches and just chilling there). Most of the time you had a single mission: more food. The noises you made waiting impatiently to eat still make me laugh. In our world where female humans are oppressed by diet culture and the male gaze, you never ever gave a fuck. I learned this from you. (P.S., I’m really sorry I ever put us “both on a diet”. That was bullshit, for both of us.)
Can we talk about your hair for a minute? Your hair wove itself into all the fibrous materials within a 10 mile radius. I should have saved it all and made a caftan or something. I have a feeling your Dad and I will be finding your hair for years to come. That comforts me today. It will become irritating later, I’m sure.
Do you remember our leash free days in NYC parks? Those were so much fun. You played with puppy labs and raced any dog that would race you around the Natural History dog park. You were such a charmer with your perfect black mug and your gorgeous perfectly round beauty marks on each cheek. They’ve faded away now, but you were strikingly pretty and tiny and everybody loved you instantly.
Then there was that time in our first icy cold winter together in NYC when the manhole covers all got electrified. Someone (human) got electrocuted and died. It was scary. You noticed it (maybe you got a shock??) and from then on never ever walked over manhole covers or grates – you leapt in the air like a gazelle to avoid walking on them.
It took me forever to figure out that if I gave you a small treat for pooping and peeing outside you would never ever poop or pee inside again. To be fair, you were pee-pad trained in NYC so I could leave you while I went to work, so that was a hard habit to break when our circumstances changed. But you learned. You kept on learning and changing.
You survived the horrible summer of 2004 when we moved to Seattle to live with that guy who didn’t love you. He made you stay outside, and you and I had to sneak you inside late at night, and sneak you outside again early in the morning. He was a bad man, and I’m so sorry I put you through that.
However, that jerk didn’t put you off men. In fact, I’m pretty convinced that you love men, in general, way more than women, including me. But you love your Dad most of all. You are a complete Daddy’s girl. When he came into our lives it was like a light switched on in you. He seemed to scratch and pet you in all the right ways (your leg kicks and tail wags proved it). He took you outside if you even breathed in a slightly different way. He never let me be my normal lazy self where you were concerned. In fact, I still regularly plan weekends away and it’s your Dad who says “what about Ethel?” every time. Sorry — I was definitely forgetful about arranging care for you. Anyway, I’m really glad you loved him and it was such a relief to see how happy he made you.
The only solid evidence I have that you knew me as your mom were those times when I was sad. For some reason you always knew when I needed a hug, and you scrambled over to me and calmly, sweetly rested your head on my lap and licked my hands or feet until you were sure I’d had enough love (usually well past the time I was ready for the licking to stop, but I appreciated it.) You also made a show of appreciation after meals. Those crazy post-meal licking sessions really cracked me up, especially if it had been Daddy who actually fed you.
Ethel, I’m going to miss you so much. I don’t know how I will live without you. I’m so sorry you aren’t well, and that you aren’t going to get better. I’m so sorry that we made the decision to put you to sleep. I hope it’s the right decision, but I’ll never know for sure. I love you and I will love you forever. I’m truly sorry for all the times I put off walking you, overfed you and made you uncomfortably heavy in the summer heat, and all the times I stepped on you, especially in the kitchen. I did my best, but I know I could have done better, and for that I’m truly regretful. I hope there is a doggie heaven of some kind. I know your old friends Lucy (pug), Lucy (roommate mutt) and maybe even Peaches (whom you’ve never met) will be waiting for you.
I love you. Your Daddy loves you. We are going to miss you so much.