Cooking for Zoë


Sorry for the silence this week; it’s been a tough one. What time I’ve spent in the kitchen has been devoted to cooking not for us but for Zoë.

Zoë is our 12 1/2 year old shepherd mix, a gorgeous lanky girl who back in the day could run like an arrow, pluck a tennis ball out of the air, and keep on going into tomorrow without missing a step. Stationary she was gawky and uncoordinated, but once in motion she was a canine ballerina, slim and muscled and graceful to watch. Her penchant for racing after deer caused us to install a couple of fences, but eventually it was old age, not chain links that slowed her down.

These days arthritis keeps her confined to the couch, or the blanket under my desk, arthritis and the kidney failure she was diagnosed with nearly six months ago now. That diagnosis came two weeks after we lost Daphne, one of our sweet yellow labs, to liver disease. Daphne’s primary symptom was that she would not eat and though I cooked her every good dog thing I could think of, she just turned her head away. Feeding, of course, is what I do, what I need to do. But for Daphne I could do nothing at all but hold her and love her and say goodbye.

So Daphne died, and then Zoë got sick and at first it looked like we would lose her right away. She too lost her appetite, and there was I, back at the stove, trying to concoct just the right mix of ground beef or roast chicken with rice and broth to get her juices flowing again. By the grace of a good vet and a little internet research we got her stabilized and relatively healthy –- a three month rally that was a total joy. From the middle of May to just a week or so ago we could practically pretend that nothing was wrong with her, except that we were cooking a lot of chicken and buying huge sacks of rice at Sam’s because chicken and rice is all she would eat. But eat it she did, and this summer was good.

Boy, said a friend, hearing of our culinary efforts on Zoë’s behalf and clearly thinking we’d gone over the edge, she is one lucky dog.  Maybe. Not as lucky as we are, though, and for all that these furry guys have given me, I’d roast a whole world of chicken thighs and simmer an ocean of rice.

Because it’s true, as all dog lovers will understand, that every dog who has lived at our house has been wiser than I in some fundamental way, and has shared that wisdom with unstinting doggy generosity, asking only the occasional, stinky pigs ear in return. Max, beloved little schnauzer dogging my steps, taught me about faithfulness and loyalty, Clio about scrappiness and the value of telegraphing don’t-mess-with-me right from the start of a difficult encounter. Daphne Alice was the essence of fun, a joker of a dog, and she taught me not to be afraid of playing the fool once in a while if it makes you feel good and gets you a laugh.

Zoë, oh my dear Zoë, has taught me about gusto and zest – not just for bread and pizza but for hugs and kisses and every good thing that comes your way. Regina Marie (Gina for short), Daphne’s litter mate, is as queenly as her name, though age has given her a less than regal limp. Gina reminds me of the
importance of dignity and boundaries, and of knowing when its time to cast both aside. Ginger, dog of my heart, has a fearless soul, an intrepid spirit (except when it comes to thunderstorms, when it’s my job to protect her from the big dog in the sky.) When I need a role model for guts, I carry Ginger in my heart. Bandon, little bear of a dog, tells me to speak in a loud voice and to be sure I am heard. He’s louder than I’ll ever be, but it something to aspire to.

I’ve saved a lot of dollars in unneeded therapy with this pack of dogs I have loved. Lessons learned, hurts healed, tears shed and more laughs than I can count. I don’t know how I’ve deserved it, but the luck is all mine.

With Zoë the summer’s respite is over. She is feeling crappy and very little tastes good to her. I shred some chicken, cut up some roast beef, pull apart some bread (once her favorite), give her the crusts of my pizza broken into tiny pieces (this for a dog who once scored an entire fresh tomato pizza off the kitchen counter all by herself.) She is still sweet and affectionate and clear-eyed, but she is teaching me yet something else. You’ve fed me well, mom, now it’s time to let go.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. braingirl says:

    What a lovely tribute. Zoe will always be lucky to have had such a wonderul human as you. Peace to your wonderful dog.


  2. scott says:

    Oh Christine, my heart aches for you. Loving and losing a so bitter-sweet


  3. Very sad and I am sending all good thoughts. I can fully relate. We lost a 10 year old briard in February this year. Amazing how attached we are to our dear pets. What a lovely tribute of you to her!


  4. Fenton says:

    It is so wonderful to see your life with your dogs. They give us so much and ask so little. Zoe is a wonderful dog, and I am happy to know her. You are doing so much to make her comfortable and loved.


  5. Liz says:

    Lovely. We also watched our dogs, once vibrant and lively, grow old (they had no right!). My father cooked for them with the same love and affection he used when he cooked for us because they were part of our family and deserved it for brightening our lives the way they did. Cheers to Zoe and to you.


  6. sam says:

    Beautifully written, and so sad. I am housesitting two dogs this week and quickly becoming attached to them. It is not going to be easy for me to give them back after just 10 days, so it is hard to imagine giving up a beloved hound for ever.
    My thoughts are with you.


  7. rori says:

    Bless you for being such a good dog mommy. All my wishes for the best.


  8. i’ve never read your blog before, but was directed here by matt armendariz to read about your beautiful girl zoe. as a dog lover, my heart breaks and aches for you and i wish i knew some words that might make things easier. it sounds though, like maybe you already know all the right words. my heart is definitely with you and your sweet zoe. certainly you are blessed with zoe, and certainly zoe is blessed with you as her dogmom. i wish for you nothing but beautiful time with zoe, whatever time you have left.


  9. Mae says:

    Christine, this is such a loving post and a sad one too. It really touched me and i hope however much time Zoe has that it would be so beautiful. You are and have been a great mom to her.


  10. Kevin says:

    I just finished reading your post and I find that familiar lump and closed throat sensation setting in. I lost my best buddy of 12 years just 3 weeks ago. Your post is beatiful and so incredibly true. My Harpo taught me much about loyality and the excitement and pleasure that exists under each bush, around every corner, and in every flower. What I have now is the knowledge that we brought a ton of joy into each other’s lives. It sounds like Zoe totally gets that. You are both “lucky dogs.”
    *sigh* Dogs. Rotten little wonderful scoundrels. 🙂


  11. Harry says:

    Accept our condolenceses. Such a beautifully written tribute to a devoted friend. I’m fighting back tears reading this, relating your loss of our beloved Schnauzers, Oprah and Demi, both gone within a matter of months. Bless you.


  12. Yes, meals, and life, should be good to the last bite.
    Sometimes we wipe the plate clean with a treasured crust. Sometimes we push the plate away with a lingering gaze and the knowledge we’ve had enough.


  13. jared says:

    We don’t deserve all that they give us, do we? Lovely writing.


  14. Charmaine says:

    There is something so special about dogs — they teach us so much, but you have to be a willing student. Your tribute to Zoe and all of your other canine friends was so beautiful.
    I feel so blessed to have our black lab, Winnie, just 4 years old and still full of spunk and mischief.


  15. Karen says:

    This is such a poignant story which brought tears to my eyes. Zoe & Daphne were blessed to have you as you were blessed to have them.
    I pray for you and for your dearly departed dogs. I know how awful it feels to lose a dog, as I have lost a few.
    Now, I have 3 more & they’re between 5-7 years of age. I’m fearful of how age will get to them, yet I am grateful for everyday that they’re by my side.
    God bless u & your canine family!


  16. Alanna says:

    I love my alpha animal last week, 17 years of paws-around-the neck hugs and making room for herself on the desk between me and the laptop. Tearing up again now … pets to the dog and to you.


  17. Zoë

    Christine has lost her faithful and beautiful friend, Zoë.


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