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Her name was Phoebe. She was the broken the little bird who broke our hearts.

I will never forget the day my daughter and I went to pick her up. We found her on Craigslist. We were told we’d be meeting a man in a parking lot at a mall about a half an hour away from where we lived. This was a huge red flag, but I was colorblind. Our senior dog, Kali, had recently died and our other young pup, Lucy, was now terribly lonely, so we were determined to find her a new friend.

The ad showed pictures of two beautiful black lab puppies, one male one female, age listed as eight weeks old. They were the last two of the litter and anyone interest in either of them was told to act fast for they were already fielding calls.

I acted fast, but the man from the ad took his time. There were multiple phone calls exchanged before he agreed to meet with us. He repeatedly told us he would only accept cash. Two hundred and fifty dollars in exchange for this beautiful baby which I happily and repeatedly agreed to.

All morning long before leaving to pick her up that day, it felt like a vice was tightening its grip on my guts trying to warn me that something about the whole thing felt wrong. When I questioned others as to why this person would want to meet me at a mall parking lot, I heard the same thing over and over; this was the way it was done. When buying anything from Craigslist, you meet in a public place instead of inviting a stranger come to your home. It made just enough sense to overcome my unease.

We waited almost thirty minutes after we arrived before a large man approached my daughter’s car, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

He asked us if we were ready for our puppy then handed us a tiny brown puppy with wavy hair that looked nothing like either of the puppies in the ad, saying, “Here he is.”

We both looked at each other then looked at him and reminded the man we were interested in the black female like we had agreed to over the phone.

He apologized saying he must have gotten us confused with the next person he was there to meet, then instructed us to follow him. Somehow, I never noticed the plain silver minivan parked a few cars over before that moment.

The back window was broken with a large piece of cardboard covering the hole. He opened the door, put the brown puppy back into a cardboard box and pulled out an even tinier black puppy – the female – he assured us, and said, “Here she is.”

The pit I’d been feeling in my stomach all morning instantly became a chasm that engulfed me.

“Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time.” – David Whyte Consolations

Wherever I went when I fell into that vast void emptiness, I stayed there a little too long.

At some point I snapped out of it when I finally heard my daughter, who was holding this tiny little creature in her arms, repeating, “Mom? Mom? Well? What do you think? Mom? Are you OK, Mom? Hello?”

I remember looking at this pathetic puppy then looking into my daughter’s pleading eyes then looking into this man’s eyes then looking back at the puppy then saying “Yeah, you said cash, right?”

I knew at that moment that I would never let this tiny defenseless creature alone with this monster for another moment.

We walked back over to her car, exchanged the cash for the puppy, then I asked him for her medical records. The advertisement said the puppies had been given all their shots and had been vet checked.

What I got was a single piece of white paper with some words and dates scribbled on it. The words didn’t make any sense. Nothing about it made any sense. Incredulous, I took the paper from him and watched him stuff the money into his pocket as he walked away.

My daughter kept asking me if I was okay. Kept asking me where I went and why hadn’t I answered her for so long. I was not okay, nothing about this was okay, but I just shook my head and stared down at the little baby she was holding, watching it shake as it covered her hands with tiny kisses.

We would later learn from our vet, that she was approximately only five weeks old. She came to us infested with fleas, suffering from malnutrition due to a belly full of worms, and would need to be fed milk from a syringe.

Here she is, being carefully inspected by some of her new canine friends who seem as dubious about her as I did.

After repeated baths with dishwashing liquid to rid her of the hundreds of fleas that called her tiny body home, came multiple frustrating attempts to try and get her to drink puppy formula from a syringe. If she managed to get an ounce or two down, we celebrated while assuring each other she was going to be okay because well, she had to be.

I spent that entire first night cradling her in my arms while feeding and rocking her in the recliner just like I’d done with my babies. Her breathing was extremely shallow and raspy, and I was afraid that if I left her alone even for a moment, she would die.

I knew the first few days with her were going to be critical to her survival, so she never left my side. When I ran out of her formula, she was swaddled in a blanket and tucked into my shirt for safekeeping while I sprinted up and down the aisles searching for it. Whenever I could get her to eat even a few bites of scrambled eggs, I was positively thrilled.

Her situation was still tenuous at best, but she was now a part of our family, so she needed a name. By the end of day two, we settled on Phoebe, naming her after the little birds that nested in our horse barn every year. She was our little bird that left her nest way too soon, and we had become her surrogate family.

Even Lucy, our young pup, was finally warming to her, though she still didn’t know quite what to do with her, given how tiny she was.

By the end of our first week with her, she had gained about eight ounces which I considered real progress, but in the coming days, she would lose what she had gained and then some.

A return trip to the vets was in order due to her sudden inability to stand on her own. She would shake and wobble then collapse, so I feared something more was going on.

He confirmed a previously undiagnosed tapeworm and begrudgingly treated her for it while warning me that he suspected something neurological might be going on and that I might want to prepare myself for the inevitable. In lieu of euthanasia, his only other suggestion was to take her to an animal hospital nearby for further evaluation.

Fuck that, I thought. Nothing about this dog was inevitable unless I gave up.

Her condition was worsening daily, so I fought harder. I convinced myself that the tapeworm must have been robbing her of any and all nutrition, so it was no wonder she was so weak. I bought her an extra small life vest with overnight shipping and placed her in a warm bath in the kitchen sink to help strengthen her legs. Had I let go she would have drowned since she was too weak to even kick her legs hard enough for her head to stay above the water line, and I think it was in that moment that I began to let go.

When I gently placed her on the ground the following morning so she could pee, her tiny head hit the ground first followed by the rest of her body as she toppled over while relieving herself down her legs. I called my husband and my kids to let them know I would be taking her to the animal hospital that day. I tried in vain to prepare them but they weren’t having it, and I was told to do whatever it takes.

In the end, it would take every bit of determination I had left to defiantly push open the heavy double doors of the hospital hours later with my little bird cradled in my arms.

I agreed to an initial evaluation fee and to the costs of tests they required to confirm she wasn’t contagious before they would treat her. They agreed with my vet that the problem looked to be neurological and was more than likely something called Canine Cerebellar Hypoplasia where the cells of the cerebellum do not mature normally, causing poor balance and incoordination which will progressively only get worse and never better. We discussed euthanasia, but I was told they wanted to run more tests first. I asked to see the bill before I agreed. I learned it was already costing me hundreds of dollars and if I agreed to them keeping her overnight in an oxygen tent, the costs would run more than a thousand dollars more.

I told them I wanted to take her home. I was forced to sign something saying I was refusing treatment, however, when I was finally allowed to see her again and was given the final bill, it was now almost six hundred dollars. They explained they had run more tests before they had brought her back out to me and that was why the bill was so much higher. I explained I never gave my permission for those tests, and they told me I needed to pay my bill before I would be allowed to take her home. I agreed to their hostage demands, and she was given back to me. I was walked to the front desk and paid my bill.

When the receptionist picked up on the discrepancy between what I was charged and what I was paying for I was asked to wait there a moment. When she left to consult with the doctor, I turned and pushed past the doors into the parking lot. I was shaking like a leaf, literally making a run for it while clutching her close to my heart.

I dug the hole in the backyard before leaving for my vets the next morning. My daughter and I were allowed into the backroom with her, gently stroking her baby soft fur as she not so peacefully left this world. We were sobbing uncontrollably by the time it was over, and the kindness that was shown to us by him by allowing us to stay with her body until we could pull ourselves together is not something I will ever forget.

My daughter and I had brought her into our family, and we saw her out, together. The sight of my daughter holding her wrapped in her blanket just before we gently lowered her into the hole was the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever seen. We were burying a baby.

In the coming weeks, I would learn that I was being sued by the animal hospital for refusing to pay my entire bill. We had already spent over a thousand dollars altogether trying to save her, only to watch her die, so my attitude was, bring it on. When I threatened to counter sue them for malpractice and pain and suffering, they dropped the suit and waived the balance.

I also tried (in vain) to go after the scumbag who did this to her. Within an hour after coming home with her that day I tried calling him over and over, but the number was already out of service. He had gotten away with it, and despite repeated calls to the local police and MSPCA, I got nowhere.

We were all heartbroken. We had attempted to rescue this puppy, but in the end, we were the ones who needed rescuing from our overwhelming grief.

“Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose. It is the hidden DNA of our relationship with life, outlining outer forms even when we do not feel it by the intimate physical experience generated by its absence; it can also ground us truly in whatever grief we are experiencing, set us to planting a seed with what we have left or appreciate what we have built even as it stands in ruins.” – David Whyte Consolations

Her absence in our lives felt like the void I had fallen into when I first laid eyes on her. But even as we buried her that morning, the seed of our desire to rescue another – which was all we had left – was planted.

About a month later, we welcomed another rescue into our family.

That’s when Charlie, or Charlie Brown as I’m fond of calling him, rescued me.



About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

2 Replies

  1. Linda

    Oh my God Amy. We knew about Phoebe but again , you really do write so well!! The subject matter can sometimes be tough, like this one was but you have a talent for sure!!!
    Love you!

    1. Yeah, this was a tough one for me to write. I still miss my little bird, but I’m glad she was able to feel loved for the brief time she was with us.

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