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Gaffney's Take. The Little Lion. A family says goodbye to a great friend.

POSTED April 23, 2019
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

The Little Lion

This is one of those stories that take me forever to write.

I’m writing about a dog who embodied everything that we love about our furry little friends who bring us such unbridled joy every moment they are in our lives.

This is the story of Lilly, an 11-pound (on a good day) Shih Tzu who was born on April 22, 2007 and came into our lives soon afterwards.

We said goodbye to Lilly on March 5, 2019.

Lilly was our daughter Kimberly’s dog for the first three years before a demanding work schedule led to grandma (my wife Deb) and grandpa (me) taking over the day to day duties of caring for her at our house.

I had never been a fan of small dogs before Lilly.

So tiny, usually so noisy and far too often under my feet where I couldn’t see them.

Lilly changed all that with a personality that lived up to her breeds name, Shih Tzu or translated, “Little Lion”.

This was a dog that had no clue how small she was, often rushing at dogs that outweighed her by 100 or more pounds with a fearlessness that was funny to watch.

Those larger dogs where normally stunned by the brazen, “I don’t care how much bigger you are then me”, approach that Lilly lived by.

If she felt she was protecting her home, or particularly Deb, who was clearly her go to person, she cared not how big the opposition was.

This was a dog who could run as close to the ground as possible at breakneck speed for the longest time for most of her nearly twelve years on this planet.     

She lived in our front window most days and we of course arranged our furniture with her place in the room a priority because, well, we’re those kind of pet owners.

Lilly slept at the base of our bed, always mindful of her duties as a watch dog, sometimes to a fault.

There was no watching one of Deb’s favorite shows, the Westminster Dog Show, without having to listen to the wrath of the little one who clearly thought those dogs were about to come through the television screen and harm us.

Halloween was a nightmare. Lilly had no patience for kids who came to her house, without calling first or bringing her a bone or anything.

She was only a clingy dog when it came to Deb, who has that ability to make her animals feel like they are the entire world, which to her they were.

Come on, these dogs that we have had are not dumb.

Let’s see, this nice lady cooks me meals most nights to go with my dog food and bakes me marrow bones. What’s not to like?

Lilly had a spot in our cars as well, usually the arm rest in the front where she could survey what was going on in the world in front of her.

Lilly and our oldest granddaughter, Skyy Elizabeth grew up together and Skyy would refer to her as her ‘little sister”.

One of the best moments we remember of the two of them came after an unwanted present that Lilly had left Skyy in her room one day.

With an indignant tone, Skyy, all of three or so, came out of her room with her hands on her hips to exclaim that “Lilly pooped on my rug!”

I doubt any of us kept our composure when it came to not laughing at the outrage Skyy was feeling but hey, Skyy evened cleaned it up, a plus in my mind.

Lilly attended many a Memorial Day Parade in Torrington, perched in her own chair or under it when it got too warm.

Coming home to Lilly was coming home to pure joy that included an entire body shake that accompanied the greeting each time.

She had an uncanny sense of knowing what time it was, especially when it was time for Deb to get home from work.

If she was sleeping, all I had to do was say, “Who’s coming?” and she was up and to the top of the stairs.

Forget about say the W word (walk) or asking if she wanted to go in the C A R. Yes, we evened spelled with our dogs.

Lilly has been to Rhode Island, where she stayed at a pet friendly hotel a block from the beach and while the sand and wind didn’t thrill her, spending afternoons near the bay part of the area suited her just fine.

She was there with Checker, a Hospice rescue who we took in and extended her life from the predicted 6-months to over 22 months.

She went to New York a couple of times to visit with family and enjoyed a long trip to Cape Cod with our latest addition to our family, Layla, a nine-year-old Yellow Lab who we rescued from Louisiana.

That ride had both of them, one 10-pounds, the other 60, side by side or butt to butt the entire ride but they made it through. Heck, they were going on vacation!

Over the past five years, Lilly had slowed down a bit, thanks to an enlarged heart and numerous other heart related issues but her fighting spirit kept her going when most animals would have thrown in the towel.

Her heart would pound so hard at times that it would move her entire body even as she slept.

Still, there was no quit in this dog.

Her big heart signified more than a condition, it was an attitude.

She took as many pills in the morning and again at night as most 80-year old humans and getting the medicine into her was a daily battle of the wills.

Lilly could sniff out a pill a mile away, so we had to disguise them in all kinds of foods.

Pill Pockets? Nice try, not a prayer. Liverwurst was a favorite over the last six months but at times she would be so slick that she would lick the pill clean of any trace of the food, while it was in her mouth before depositing it back on the plate.

Her hair acted as a storage unit at times, many a pill was discovered in that tan coat.

We have always been the kind of dog owners that made sure we kept the dogs well being front and center as we never wanted an animal to have a poor quality of life.

Once that happened, it was time.

It’s ironic that a month or so before Lilly left us, Layla received some bad news of her own.

She had cancer and was given just three to six months.

We’re happy to report that she is doing well right now, but we expected it to be Layla, not Lilly that we would have to put down.

Deb and I have put down our fair share of animals over the years and usually went to our vet in Falls Village at the Sand Road Animal Hospital.

The staff has become like family and they get how important our animals are in our life’s and treat the process of saying goodbye the best they can.

Recently though, friends of Deb had found a service that comes to your home to euthanize your pet in the comfort of where they have spent their lives.

At first, I was totally against the idea but warmed to it the more I thought about it.

The vet was always a tough go for Lilly, as it is for so many animals.

They’re not going to get a juicy steak or anything, there is usually a needle of some size or a person putting something where they are not really happy about.

Lilly would simply shake the entire time.  

So, letting the animal stay in their own home for their last moments grew on me.

It was early March when Lilly took a turn for the worse.

Deb had taken Lilly to the vet on Saturday afternoon so we could see if there was something we were missing but there wasn’t anything apparent after X-Rays confirmed that her heart was pushing up right onto her spine, causing her to struggle big time.

Lilly had always been a tough little lion, I don’t think I had ever heard her cry, even if she had her tail or paw stepped on but that Sunday morning, Lilly cried out for 10-seconds or so while on our bed with no one around her.

It broke my heart. I hit the floor in the kitchen after we got her up and lost it with buckets of tears.

It was time to start thinking about the end.

This “Little Lion” was hurting and we couldn’t have that.

So, we called the folks who would come to the house and got them on board with what needed to be done.

The next available day they had was Tuesday, so we set something up for that morning.

On Monday night though, something incredible happened.

I was getting home from covering a Torrington boys basketball game in Waterbury at 8:30 and happened to ring the doorbell when I got ready to enter.

It had a been a while since we had gotten any reaction from Lilly to her enemy, the doorbell, that thing that those Trick or Treaters used once a year and drove her nuts.

Much to our surprise, Lilly barked from the couch, and was full of smiles when I came up the stairs. She had not so much as looked up over the previous couple of days, so this was marvelous.

Her energy level was ridiculous, and it made it very hard to decide whether to go through what we had planned for the next day.

That next morning though, Lilly cried out in pain once again and we knew our decision was the proper one.

Lilly got to say goodbye to Deb, who held her while she was given a sedative to relax her, Kim and myself in her own home.

In her window seat.

Thank you “Little Lion”, you were pure joy.


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