I adopted Lily when she was two and a half years old. I chose Lily after seeing her profile on PetFinder—before I had volunteered at my local Humane Society and met many dogs, before I had developed preferences for breeds or sizes or particular canine personalities. Without any ideas of who I wanted to be my best new friend, I took one look at Lily’s photo and knew she was the dog for me.
I had the privilege of spending life with Lily for the next 11 years. We hiked thousands of miles and went on backpacking trips. Together, we explored eight states and had many adventures: we drove through Yellowstone, spent the day at the beach at Big Sur, and explored Wyoming’s Wind River mountains.
Being outdoors with her human and canine friends was one of Lily’s greatest joys. When hiking, Lily made sure our group stuck together, even if our group had people (canine or human) she didn’t know or whom we'd never hiked with before. If one member of our group fell behind, Lily would stay with them until they caught up to everyone else. And she loved digging in—and even being buried in—sand on the beach. She’d also hunt around the beach for what I termed “sea jerky”—dried, chunky bits of seaweed. We spent many a sunset on the beach together, Lily gnawing away on her sea jerky. And despite likely being part Greyhound and having a fairly thin coat, Lily delighted in the snow. One of the first things she’d do upon encountering snow would be to flip over on her back and wiggle around in it with a big smile on her face.
When Lily was 4, I adopted Ichiro. They immediately hit it off and spent less than two weeks apart in all of the following decade. Ichiro's confidence, assured, and at-ease-with-the-world mojo helped to ground Lily, and with Ichiro by her side, she opened up to the world and new experiences. In return, Lily helped police Ichiro's exuberence; she afforded him his innate Kingliness, but made sure he knew she was the real boss in the house.
Sometimes it was hard going. Lily, like most people and dogs I know, had a few idiosyncracies. I can guess at what her story was before I adopted her, but that’d just be a guess. What I do know is the rest of Lily's story, the story Lily and I shared together, and how she taught me the art of patience and to appreciate a good challenge. She was patient with me as I sought to understand her quirks and never shied away from the challenge of communicating with a human who, at times, probably didn’t “get it” very quickly.
Of course, we had lots of help along our way together. Tom's dog Riley stepped in when Lily needed an older dog to look up to and spend time with, and we enjoyed countless hikes with friends who truly understood dogs and let Lily be who she was with us.
In late 2015, Lily developed a limp after a hike in the snow. X-rays revealed a torn ACL (known as the cruciate in dogs) in her back right leg— and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). After much soul searching, we chose to have the leg amputated, and Lily began chemotherapy treatment. She did not experience any side effects related to her chemotherapy; as our veterinarian explained, the approach to chemotherapy is different for dogs than it is for people. Chemotherapy for dogs, when it works, is palliative and can increase their quality of life; it doesn't "cure." There were some tough days in the first two weeks of her recovery post-surgery, but by week four, she was back on her normal daily walks, getting around amazingly well on three legs.
Lily had always needed to be covered with a blanket in the dark or while she slept. Everyone who knew her knew this, and we all loved it because it was one of those unique Lily quirks. Being under a blanket, couch, or bed seemed to comfort her. When my hand moved towards the switch to turn the light off at night, Lily would immediately dive under whatever she could. After her amputation surgery, she didn’t need to sleep under a blanket anymore. She was now at ease in the dark. I would sometimes watch her as I fell asleep, her profile illuminated by some small remainder of light, as she looked into the darkness of the room in peace.
2016 was all about being outdoors together every chance we got: in the garden, in the neighborhood walking, on backpacking trips, on day hikes. One of my major hopes was that Lily would make it to the summer months of 2016 so that she could lie in the warm sun, one of her favorite things to do. She laid in the sun many times that summer… in the yard, on mountaintops, by the river.
Lily died at sunset on November 14th after a last afternoon in the sun, surrounded by people and dogs who loved her. I laid with her in her bed and, as I did every night for the past twelve months, told her: “Lily, I love you. I am very proud of you. I am glad you are here.”
A couple of days later, I emailed the Motley Zoo rescue from which I had adopted Lily to inform them of her death. In one of the emails we exchanged, I told the folks at Motley Zoo that although I wouldn’t be ready any time soon, I wanted them to let me know if they ever met another dog that they thought I should meet. Motley Zoo responded by giving us an opportunity to foster a stray mom dog and her nine puppies; the foster home they had lined up just backed out. The ten dogs would be flown up to Seattle from California the next day. If a foster home couldn’t be found, the mom and pups might not be put on the flight.
Wow. Could Nik and I do this? Should we do this? We had just lost Lily. The start of the very busy holiday season and our next major design debut were just a couple of weeks away. I’d only ever adopted adult dogs and had no puppy experience. And how would Ichiro handle new dogs in our house? We could tell he missed Lily very much—he was depressed and had lost his appetite. There were many reasons why this wouldn’t be a practical (or even wise) experience to take on. But then I thought about Lily: she'd been there so many times for me, for her fellow canines, for her human family. She was always ready to take on a challenge. She never took the easy road and made our lives all the better for it.
We’ve spent the last two months or so with mom and pups and we're glad for it. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun, just how we like life to be. Ichiro acts like the puppies are weird little aliens that are best avoided, but he seems to enjoy the new canine activity in the house overall and his appetite has returned. Early on, Nik and I decided we wouldn’t adopt the mom or any of the pups—we just weren't ready for a new dog. Then one pup in particular began to stand out. I tried to go back to that frame of mind when I found Lily on Petfinder: I forgot my preferences, threw out the pros and cons, and when my mind was still, I realized that this pup—Fiona—would join our family through the illusion of my choice. (Nik, honoring that I’m a dog person and he’s a cat person, let me pick the puppy as long as we foster kittens next.)
Next week, we’ll introduce you to puppy Fiona. At the time of this post, she’s almost three months old. Here she is at three weeks old, on the very first night we had her:
Many thanks goes to everyone at Blue Pearl Speciality and Emergency Veterinary Medicine: Dr. Megan Breit, Dr. Jennifer Weh, Dr. Liz Anne Bowman, and veterinary technicians Brooke and Sarah. Special shout-out to Shannan, the veterinary tech who noticed that Lily was afraid of the noise the x-ray machine made and thought to put cotton balls in Lily’s ears. Thanks to Dr. Amanda Durrill of Pacific Veterinary Housecalls who provided hospice services for Lily. This amazing team of compassionate, talented people gave us another beautiful year with Lily. And thank you to author Aaron Freeman, who in this piece gave words to something I feel and know so keenly.
Thanks goes to Motley Zoo Rescue, the folks who brought Lily into my life over a decade ago, and who brought Fiona to us just weeks ago.
And thank you, whoever you are, for reading this. Thank you for knowing Lily too. We will always love her, we will always be proud of her, we will always be glad she is here.
Kaz - November 19, 2019
Oh Darcy, this is such a beautiful essay! Thank you for sharing the story of your life with Lily. It will stay with me.
It sounds as if you and Lily were meant to find one another, and both fortunate. It’s wonderful that you’re able to give your dogs such a well-rounded life with lots of outdoor time. I remember enjoying your photo(s?) of Lily in your post about testing the Hero’s Journey, and thinking about what a great weekend that would have been.
With two dogs who are both ageing, and one cat remaining after her litter-mate passed away a couple of months ago, I know the difficulty of deciding the right steps when a pet is ill, and the difficulty of letting go of a furry mate. All part of pet ownership, certainly, but still challenging. I’m sure that your story will resonate with many, and thus be deeply appreciated.