A Smile from Phoebe

A Smile from Phoebe

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

A Smile from Phoebe

Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a bit out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well.

Bonnie Wilcox

About to begin my first teaching job, I moved out to Colorado completely alone, ready to reinvent myself in a new place. At the school where I was teaching, I soon met warm, friendly people with similar interests, but I found myself returning to my empty apartment each night with a keen sense that something was missing. Another teacher suggested that I get a pet—an older dog who would not need to be trained and would be ready to be a devoted companion. I scheduled a visit to a local animal shelter, eagerly picturing how wonderful life would be with a loving face to greet me every night.

The shelter was large and loud. I briskly walked up and down the aisles, stopping in front of one of the last kennels. I felt my throat squeeze tight with emotion when I saw her staring up at me from the cement floor: a beagle with a completely white face and a tail running on a motor. Her shiny eyes met mine as her head tilted back at an angle that caused her ears to hang straight out on either side. When I smiled at her, it sent her into a foot-to-foot shuffle. That was all it took. In no time the paperwork was completed and I was on my way home with an eleven-year-old beagle with no name.

Phoebe, a name I had never thought much about, seemed to fit the old girl all too well. My new friend nestled herself comfortably into my life. Often I would return home stressed by my work as a first-year teacher, but Phoebe knew how to change my mood instantly. She would stretch her neck backward and balance her head just so, until her ears stretched out perfectly on both sides of her white face. My little old beagle would suddenly become a plane ready for takeoff, and I would smile and forget my bad day.

In the light of the happiness that was spilling out of this eleven-year-old dog who had been bounced from home to home, my own small annoyances faded away. I resolved that it was only right for me to spoil her to the best of my ability. Phoebe was no stranger to the occasional table scrap, and her dog bed seemed to go empty when she realized mine was bigger and warmer. We were a perfect pair, each finding exactly what we needed in the other.

Our new life together was blessed in so many ways, but soon I began to notice that Phoebe was struggling to climb stairs and to run. Our visit to the vet brought news that twisted my stomach: Phoebe had severe arthritis in her spine that could not be reversed. The vet consoled me, and we discussed a plan to keep Phoebe comfortable and in as little pain as possible. On the ride home, Phoebe sat in the front of the car with me, a look of intense concern on her face as she watched me fight back the tears.

I resolved to make the best of the time Phoebe had left. We walked to her favorite park every day, and I massaged her ears whenever she pulled on my hand with her paw. I also took many pictures of her around our home and at her favorite places, though I never managed to capture her perfectly balanced “ready-for-takeoff” ears on film.

Unfortunately, none of this guaranteed me more time with her.

One fresh spring afternoon I returned from work, excited to take Phoebe to the park. We couldn’t even make it down the stairs. I called the vet, who asked me if she was still having more good days than bad. Once off the phone, I looked into Phoebe’s eyes as if to ask her. Our eyes locked and the answer was clear.

I took the following day off from work and spent that time petting Phoebe. I felt numb during the trip to the vet. As the vet prepared to put Phoebe down, I whispered all the thanks I had into my dog’s ears. I told her how much joy she had given me. She sighed in relief just moments before her head became a weight on my lap. As a look of peace came over her, an emptiness swelled inside me.

Every day brought new reminders of Phoebe’s absence. Whether it was a hidden bone or a paw print on the kitchen floor, it left me helpless with grief and in need of comfort. I tried to focus on how peaceful she had looked, but I still agonized over whether I had made the right decision.

I found solace when I started making a collage of photos of Phoebe. To complete my project, I picked up the photos from the last roll of film that I had taken of her. When I opened the envelope, the picture on top of the stack made the corners of my mouth twitch. It was a terrific shot of a white-faced beagle with her head tipped back, ears hanging to the sides in perfect symmetry. It was my Phoebe, asking me to smile.

Beth McCrea

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