A Little Dog

I first saw her face through the mesh of a cage. I was in Quebec posing as a buyer at what was considered to be a municipal pound. I had been sent in by other rescue groups to evaluate conditions as it was suspected of actually fronting for a puppy mill. There were specific things I had been instructed to look for and ask about because authorities had raided the place the month before and in addition to demanding changes be made they had seized twenty-one dogs. We had accepted six of those dogs when asked for our help which is how I became involved.   

On arrival at the facility I asked the owner/operator if she had any small dogs and was told she did not. We were shown through a building where the adoptable dogs were but I had been instructed to wander the property. Under the guise of walking and assessing a dog I made my way to the back corner of the property as one of the items on my checklist was to see if cages far back had been raised off the ground. As I approached I saw that the deep mesh cages had indeed been set on stilts but I also saw a small white and black Shih Tzu moving frantically within one of the enclosures.  She ran gleefully in circles as soon she saw me and I wondered just how long had she been watching and waiting for someone to approach. She looked to be about six months old and she clearly had an injured eye. I spoke softly to calm her but was unable to touch her through the mesh of the cage. I peered into the cage next to hers and saw another Shih Tzu, this one white and tan. She moved slowly from the very back of the cage and there was little expectation or hope in either her expression or body movement. She looked at me with a sense of defeat and all I could do was repeat the words “I’m sorry” over and over again. As I spoke, her expression changed to one that seemed to ask for help. She was dripping milk so it was clear she had just had puppies but there was no sign of them. Only a few times since have I felt such sadness.

I ended my visit to that Quebec pound / puppy mill by purchasing four dogs. I don’t imagine that was ethically correct but emotionally it was all I could do. I drove away that day with a Yorkshire Terrier who had been chained to the door handle of a rusted out old car that sat in a large puddle of mud and rain water; a Brittany Spaniel that had been chained to a dog house so far away she had been forgotten long ago and the two little dogs I had discovered in the raised cages at the far back of the property.  

I met with fellow rescuers the next day and only then was I told that the raised cages at the back of the property were there to contain dogs about to be discarded. That was why, when I asked about small dogs, I had been told there weren’t any. The two I had discovered on my own hadn’t mattered. The method used to get rid of them was to literally throw them to wolves which were housed on the same property. That way there weren’t any carcasses to account for or vet bills to pay. I had unknowingly saved the two little dogs from a sure and horrendous death.

I drove home with the four dogs and when we crossed the border into Ontario I pulled into a rest station to let them out. One by one they got out of the car, sniffed about and had a drink. When I took the white and tan Shih Tzu out I accidentally dropped the lead. I hurried to pick it up again in case the new sights and sounds spooked her but when I looked down, and saw her sitting next to me, I realized she had no intention of going anywhere. I was so moved by her immediate devotion that I picked her up and we danced together, at the side of a trucker’s parking lot, all by ourselves. I named her Trillium in honour of Ontario’s flower and to commemorate that moment of trust, hope and glee.

Once home the first step was to get all the dogs groomed as their coats were ratty and tangled. The next step was to have them vetted, spayed and neutered. We had to wait a few weeks before Trillium could be spayed because she had recently had pups. Still, when the time came, there were complications. She had a seizure during surgery and while they were able to stabilize her we realized this must have been an ongoing condition and why the puppy mill was discarding her as a breeding bitch.

I told myself we were keeping Trillium due to her ongoing medical needs but in truth, this little girl and I shared something I didn’t quite understand yet.

Many of us have travelled an unexpected path with a dog and that was the case with Trillium and I.

Trillium fit in perfectly and completed our pack. She slept on our bed and whenever I sneezed she would make her way to my face to ensure I was still breathing. I read somewhere that when we sneeze, we come close to the state of death because everything in our body shuts down for that split second. Maybe Trillium sensed this because my sneezing concerned her greatly.

For over a decade she was my constant companion. She didn’t need a collar or lead, she simply followed me. I found her comforting. Trillium centred me and I came to rely on her for a sense of balance. If Trill was alright then nothing much could be wrong with the world. She became my heartbeat.

Trillium had always held her own with the rescue dogs we took in. She was a little warrior and was not to be underestimated. Big dogs and small respected her.

The rhythm of the house was broken one afternoon though when a rescue dog attacked Trillium. The dog had been with us for six weeks and never given us any reason for concern. Trillium, who was street smart, had not been alerted to anything in her either. On this day, however, Trillium walked in the room and was attacked without warning. I reacted quickly but still, Trillium was in the big dog’s mouth and being shaken. Fortunately, it took only moments to free her and Trillium walked away seemingly unharmed.

The true damage became apparent two days later though. Trillium began having seizures, one every hour and a half throughout the evening and night. They were violent but there was little we could do. I stayed close and talked her through each one but I doubt she was aware of much. At one point, Paul sent me from the room so I could be spared witnessing some of the horror this little dog was going through. I had become emotional and it wasn’t what she needed from me. He told me later, that when I coughed Trillium managed to lift her head and look in my direction, still checking to make sure I was alright.


In the morning we drove her to our vet and I held out hope until she seized again on the way. Paul stopped the car and put a blanket down at the side of the road. I lay her down gently and talked her through it as I had the others. When this one finished she turned her head and looked up at me. I had seen that look before, from behind the mesh of a cage.  She was again asking for my help and I understood. I bent close to her and promised this would be the last of her suffering. For the rest of the drive I spoke softly to her. I told her she had given me everything I needed and that it had been enough. I thanked her for filling a place in me that had needed so much. I told her I loved her.

Trillium died that day, June 29, 2016. As soon as she had my permission to let go, she did.

My heart beats differently now. I wander more and my thoughts, too often, are vague. There are times, when I am alone, that I cry and repeat the words, “I want her back” over and over again.

I can’t help but feel I let her down. I didn’t protect her enough from a dog I brought into our home. Trillium didn’t deserve to die this awful way.

I had to forgive the rescue dog that caused Trillium’s death because whether I understand it or not, she did a “dog thing”. We were very careful in placing her and she now lives in an environment that works for her.

Counting on Trillium’s strength and belief in me was easier than finding my own. She did give me everything I needed though, and it now has to be enough.