The Heart of Dixie

Dixie and me in 2001
I missed the President’s State of the Union address this evening, even though walking out of my building after working late made it impossible to avoid.
Since I work just a few blocks away from the Capitol, my building was surrounded by police officers, police cars, police motorcycles, and black vehicles with tinted windows, preventing anyone from getting close, but allowing me to leave, of course.
Clearly, given this city and the constant media coverage, the SOTU address was the talk of the town.
But as I left my building and made my way home, all I was thinking about was breaking the news to my girls that our beloved Dixie was put down this afternoon.

I say “our Dixie” even though she really belonged to my Dad and stepmom Linda.
They adopted her when she was a puppy just over 14 years ago. Her parents were English cocker spaniel show dogs, and she was gorgeous. My parents named her after their favorite Cincinnati chili parlor. At the time, I was 18 and already enlisted in the Air Force when they got her, but Dixie always seemed to know who I was regardless of how long it was since my last visit.
To my kids, there was never a time without Dixie, and she was as close to a canine auntie as a dog could be to three little rugrats. She loved covering them with kisses, sniffing their faces, and chasing them around the house during our visits. Sometimes, Dixie came out here to DC, too, spending her holidays and vacations with us.

She accompanied my parents on countless walks, road trips, and visits to nursing homes to let the residents scratch her ears and play with her. She loved nothing more than to kiss all the grandbabies when they visited, and let them cling onto her fur without a single complaint. And while she took her job as resident security alarm very seriously, her favorite place to hide was under my Dad’s bed or bury her nose under his armpit as he slept.

The past year, we adults knew that her time was getting close. Though her playful spirit never wavered, her body started giving out on her. Her hearing faded, and her fur turned gray. Her hips became wobbly and weak. Last night, my Dad texted Martin and me, explaining that she could no longer stand and move on her own.
He texted me throughout the morning, too, lengthy descriptions of those final hours spent with an animal he considered his favorite daughter. He gave her pizza and cheese for her breakfast. Spent time holding her and loving on her. Said she never stopped being spirited and sweet, shaking her tail and licking their hands right up until the end.
Then, shortly after they arrived for her appointment, he texted just two words.
“Very hard.”
Dixie is the first pet my family owned from puppyhood to death.
Of course, this is very hard.
When I got home, Martin and I sat down with the girls in our family room. I broke the news, describing things as simply and matter-of-fact as I could. Having just been out there for Christmas, the girls knew Dixie was old and weak, so this wasn’t a total surprise.
But still.
They both burst into tears, and for the third time in just over a year, we grieved for our loved one, talked about death and heaven, and how everything has a time and a season. And just like they did when their Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ passed away, those two had a lot of questions.
There’s never really an easy way to explain this stuff.
But Martin and I did our best, assuring them that it was completely appropriate to feel so sad about a dog, and to express those feelings through tears and words.
There were smiles, too, as we talked about the things we knew Dixie enjoyed so much, and the things she did that drove us nuts. We like the idea of a heaven that’s just for dogs, and we came up with a list of things Dixie definitely earned during her life with us.
Like, a field of grass covered in fluffy snow (her favorite) with an abundance of squirrels she could chase, and all the pizza and Cincinnati chili and table scraps she ever longed to eat.
We love you, Dixie, and we’re going to miss you!
Dixie and Miss C in 2011