Thursday, July 19, 2007


Two years ago today, Milo died.

He was a year and a half old, and no one is quite sure what killed him. He started out with a huge cyst on the side of his neck in the third week of June and died of pneumonia on July 19, drowned by the fluid in his lungs. The vets ran lab samples for weeks afterward, and they never came up with a conclusive diagnosis. He just got sick and he died, a tough little dog in perfect health.

Milo was my best friend, with no nod to any tired clichés. My ex-boyfriend wanted a Jack Russell and bought him three months before we split up, and by the time we went our separate ways it was clear that Milo was mine. Everyone’s dog is special, but Milo was different, somehow. It wasn’t just his outsized Jack Russell personality, and it wasn’t his evil genius smarts. There was just something about him. People would pull their cars over and get out to kneel down and play with him. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody, except for one person’s husband who will remain unnamed, and I’m convinced Milo was right. I took him everywhere with me, and everywhere he went he made friends.

He was small, just fifteen pounds, but he could jump four feet in the air easily. When I got home from work at the end of the day I could hear him scrabbling frantically on the other side of the door – I was always convinced that sometime after five he’d take up his post and wait for hours, if need be. He was never the kind of dog you felt OK about leaving home, not because he was destructive but because it was clear how terribly he missed me. I would walk in the door and put down my purse on the windowsill, and then I’d clap my hands and he would JUMP into my arms and lick my face hysterically, sticking his tongue as far up my nose as he could. A friend once said he had a spring in his ass, and that was as good an explanation as any. If I held a stick at shoulder height he would leap for it, doing a neat 180 while airborne. Kids in the park would say “WOW, how’d you teach him how to do that?” But I never taught him a thing. It was all part of his uncontainable exuberance.

Our cat, Mr. Bonkers, adopted us because he fell in love with Milo. Milo would bark and bark at him, and the cat would stand his ground until he stopped, and then move in for a cuddle. They would wrassle like a couple of little boys, but they loved each other dearly. Milo loved cats and kids and other dogs, the bigger the better. He thought he was a mastiff and no one ever told him otherwise.

The four weeks he was sick were like a waking nightmare. That was the single worst time of my life, I think. Whereas before there had been all the romance of being A Girl and Her Dog, once he got sick I felt more alone than I ever have in my life. I would wake at three in the morning to feel the little blast furnace of his feverish body shaking next to me. I’d turn up the air conditioner and try to sleep for another half hour, then take his temperature to find it was something horrible. And I’d sit up in bed holding him, wondering if I had to bring him to the Animal Medical Center again, if I couldn’t just give him a cool bath, if he was sick enough for me to have to leave him. And invariably I’d get in my car at four and drive down to 62nd Street on the empty streets, and wait for hours in that terrible waiting room where everyone was always crying. Then I’d drive home without him, sanitation trucks the only other vehicles out besides me, and I’d roll down my windows in the early morning heat and smell the garbage. I’d get home, shower, go to work. Pick him up a few days later and do it all over again. He always trusted me to take care of him – it showed in every look he ever gave me. He trusted me, and in the end I couldn’t. I’ve never felt so useless.

I hemorrhaged money for him. Biopsies, CT scans, IV fluids, two- and three-day stays. And every time they called my name to pay, I’d smile and pull out another credit card and say “I don’t care how many years it takes me to pay this off, as long as they’re years with him.” I ended up spending over a third of my salary that year, which wasn’t much to begin with. It will be another year before I’m done paying, I think. I maxed out all my cards and didn’t even end up with a new car or a cool stereo or a trip somewhere exotic. Just a little dead dog. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. My only regret is that I didn’t take his ashes. It would have cost me an extra $150, and at that point he was gone and I couldn’t see the use. I would like to have them now, though. They did make me a plaster pawprint, and I treasure it.

I can’t talk about the day he died. Just thinking of it chokes me up no matter where I am or how I’m feeling. Up until the day before, I had been sure – everyone had been sure, even the vets – that he would make it. But he didn’t. I will tell you that I have never wailed so loud and so hard in front of so many people.

Something inside me broke into a million pieces that day, and it’s never really come back together. I know that sounds melodramatic. But I’m not the same person I was before he died. I don’t know how a little dog’s passing could tear me up and rearrange me so completely, and why I still ache when I think of him, but I do.

Everyone told me Milo’s short life was a good one, and they were right. If a dog’s chief purpose in life is to make his people happy, then Milo was fulfilled. I woke every morning with him socked tight against my body, his nose on my shoulder, and I was so far from lonely. He would open his eyes, smile at me, roll over on his back and stretch. With his boxy little chest and endlessly long midsection, he looked like some kind of fantastic musical instrument, and I had to bury my nose in his neck and kiss him. He smelled like brown bread baking.

Rest in peace, little buddy. I loved you so much.



Anonymous Miss T said...

Oh honey, this broke my heart. I so understand. It's never okay.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Kaethe said...

I think Milo was the best dog ever. He must have been marvelous, he inspired love in everyone who ever saw his picture.

3:03 PM  
Blogger lewarkk said...

Milo had the greatest friend and mom.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Cara deBeer said...

Aw, yeah. Some shit just leaves scars forever, you know? It's not like you stop breathing and eating or anything but it never really gets fixed the same way it was before it broke. I guess I'll take the inevitability of heartbreak in return for the joy of loving, but knowing that doesn't make heartbreak any easier to deal with when it comes. And pets are a special case, since they're so dependent on you and the bond is so pure.

It just sucks. I'm sorry.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Tana said...

Awwww. I know how much you miss him. I don't blame you. He was the best little doggie in the whole wide world.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous bookowl said...

Milo was a Good Dog.

I'm happy to have had the pleasure of the full facial Milo-greeting, though - some souls brighten up the place just by being themselves.

Love to you, sweetie. You were Milo's best friend, too.

7:26 AM  
Blogger techgeisha suess said...

I had many comments to leave on other entries that I just caught up on, but having just posted a nearly identical (but not nearly as well written) entry on my own blog, I can't think of anything else.
I never had the sweet pleasure of meeting little Milo in person, yet I felt such a profound loss when he was gone - he touched me through photos and emails from you and things you wrote about him.
So typical of a bodhisattva to flit through our lives so quickly, so intensely and burning us with their love that changes us forever - like being dazzled by a meteor or shooting star...I'm sure that was his purpose and your purpose was to love him, and you both did what you were meant to do, brilliantly.
All my love xo

11:22 AM  
Blogger Lyzzard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Lyzzard said...

Oh ((((Lisa))))
I'm so sorry.

That was an awesome tribute. He was a good dog.

Love, Lysne

1:59 PM  
Blogger MotherWeary said...

Oh Lisa. Oh, my dear. I can't add anything. Here I am, crying for a dog I didn't even know.

When my beloved cat Zipper died, I bought the most beautiful stepping stone I could find as his gravestone. When we moved, I took it with me. I still sit by it sometimes (it has been over 10 years) and can feel him in my arms, and it makes me feel better. Someday, remembering Milo will make you feel better, too. The pain dissipates, but the love our pets give us never goes away.

5:20 PM  
Blogger nbm said...


5:02 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

I never met Milo in person, but I had a dream I was walking down a street in New York City and there was Lisa and Milo (I hadn't met Lisa at the time). Milo bolted down the street to greet me, running and wagging and smiling like the happiest dog in the world. Which he was, because of you, Lisa.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thank you, everyone, for your sweet thoughts about Milo. He really was a little shooting star, wasn't he?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Oh my god, I am sitting here at work and I almost started crying. I know how you feel about dogs, because I am the same. You gave him a good life, though.

Here's something that will sound bizarre to everyone else - except the dog lovers out there. You know how at the end of yoga class they have you lay still on your back and close your eyes and have your mind go blank ? Savasana ? I never do that, exactly. I lay there and imagine that I am in a big open dog park with all the dogs I have ever loved and they are playing, happy and healthy, and running around with each other. Even the ones that didn't get along with other dogs in life (Ahem, yes, that's you, Scout.) Because this is MY perfect fantasy and all my dogs are happy and healthy and with me. It's my time to visit dog heaven, where they play with each other the rest of the week when I'm not in yoga. I play with Cinderella, Amber, Cherie, Burt, a couple retired police K-9s that I have had the honor to have known, and sometimes Scout, because I don't think it's bad luck at all to imagine her up there in dog heaven, just for a visit.

Milo will be there, too, in my mind, next time. He will be having a blast !!

9:34 PM  
Blogger lynn said...

Marc just called and asked "What's wrong!" because I was crying. To this day, remembering Milo's death and what you had to go though make me weak at the knees. Your good heart, and your ability to write about Milo and yourself allowed so many of us to share in both the joy and terrible, terrible sadness that came with that remarkable little dog.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Oh lynn, now I'm crying too. Sigh.

kristin, that's a really lovely thought. A bunch of dogs all playing and getting along is such a joyful thing to imagine... kind of a rowdy update on the Rainbow Bridge. I like it.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Lisa - I can't find your e-mail. Can you send me a message via my blog ? I have a photo for you !!

7:54 PM  

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