A Eulogy for Ella.

Carrie Poppy
9 min readOct 22, 2023

I found you on the side of the road, almost sixteen years ago.

I was twenty-four. I had almost no money. I worked in the animal rights movement. The country was going into a major recession. I saw two tiny eyes in my headlights, on highway 32. I stopped to try to help you. You let me pick you right up. You fell asleep in my lap on the way home. Boy, that was it, brother. I loved you immediately and completely. You claimed me, and I felt it.

I had another dog, Tummi. He was 27 lbs, but next to you, he looked like a horse. For the first five years, you put up with this angsty, angry menace of a dog.

He would bark at the mailman and you would try to get mad alongside him. But you were too good natured; you could only pretend to be pissed off. You were a lover, not a fighter. I always thought, “I will get to know Ella better when Tummi is under control.” You were a sweet shadow, waiting for my full attention.

I finally put him down, ten years ago, for both of us. I knew you and I could be okay, kid, and gosh we were.

You shone as an only dog. You had loved Tummi, but you loved this even more. You forgave me for five years of deeply divided attention. Now you were the center of it, the sun in my sky. There was only one thing you always wanted more of: me. Imagine anyone reflecting this to you. It is magic. You are given the chance to be someone’s god, and you can only try to make it count.

There are rules to being a good god. You do not put them through any horror you can shield them from. You try to maximize their time here, and minimize their suffering. You get the ratio wrong because you must. Because there is no other possibility.

You slept in the crook of my arm for at least a decade. We would wake up and gaze into each other’s eyes for ten full minutes. We called it Gazing Time. Your patient daddi would wait this period out, a saint. You loved him; sometimes you even choose him over me, for a nap or a TV show. He was safe, he was reliable, he was loving. You reflected to me what I had in him. You picked him with me.

You came with me to Farm Sanctuary, to PETA, to graduate school, and to countless lectures and investigations. You went to South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, and all over California. Your first home was a rented, roach-infested, one-bedroom house in rural farmland. Your final home was our own house, with a backyard, in Los Angeles. You moved on up, kid.

I got better at my job with you in my lap. You don’t know about any of that.

I went to Harvard classes with you in my lap. You don’t know about any of that.

I began to write my first book with you in my lap. You don’t know about any of that.

I hosted a podcast that got me a little bit famous with you in my lap. You don’t know about any of that.

When the world became more “virtual,” you benefitted with more lap time. It was the perfect time to be an old chihuahua. We barely ever separated.

And here’s something weird, Ella: People on the internet felt like they knew you. This is very hard to explain, but you were a hashtag. Think of it like being very popular, but only through a window. I was with you, in the real place. The interior, the safe space behind the window. You were never my accessory. Every chihuahua should have the right to be a dog first.

Countless interviews were interrupted because it never occurred to me to keep you trapped in another room so your sounds wouldn’t interfere with the audio. So you trotted to your bowl, and ate food noisily, and we paused the recording and waited. Everyone just learned to be patient with it. Why not, really? Isn’t that a better way to live? You taught us a better way to live.

I was able to be in two worlds, because of you. If it weren’t for you, I might have gotten trapped in this other world, the world of thoughts. You wouldn’t let that happen. You refused. Stay here, for me, you said, and it saved us both.

When you got sick or injured, I learned you were a fighter, after all. You almost died of a uterus infection when you were two, but you clawed your way back. You fought when you got kidney disease, you fought when you got heart disease, you fought your way through a stroke, you survived brain cancer — possibly for years — without us spotting it. You even survived eating a rock the size of a guitar pick. You had a back problem starting when you were six. You had a BB gun pellet in your ass before I even met you. But none of this slowed you down until age fifteen. FIFTEEN! That’s when we first noticed the stuff that signaled decline.

You got kidney disease, and I thought “This is it!” But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. We took you to a specialist in San Diego. We got you on the right diet. We stabilized numbers we were told would move any minute now. You were slower, you were losing your vision. You started walking the wrong way when you heard my voice. But it was simply obvious to me that you were still loving every minute, even if there were new challenges, new sensations, a new way to experience existence. I kind of couldn’t believe it, Ella, how much you still loved all of it. For a whole year, your body failed and your spirit didn’t.

I realized, for the first time, that I believed in your right to be an old dog. I wanted you to know the feelings of aging, to see the world change, to become a new person, as we all do at the end of life. I believed in your right to age as much as I believed in your right to a painless death, and so my job would be to find the exact moment between the two: the moment when you had lived as long as I could offer, and could die before the pain began.

But you kept FIGHTING! I was shocked by it. Each time, you clawed your way back. “Wow!” I thought, “look how much she loves to be here!” And so we fought with you. “All right, kid, we are in this together.” We ran ourselves into the ground, doing this with you, for you. Neither of us considered any other route. It was a sacred honor.

I said from the beginning that the way we would know you weren’t yourself any more was if you stopped wanting to interact with me. But this literally never happened. Up until the last day, you wanted to make eye contact with me more than you wanted anything else in this world. Maybe even more than a solution to your pain. I’ll never know.

You try so hard to figure it out. The exact perfect day for your child to die. You aim so carefully at the calendar. Maximimize the time, minimize the suffering. I had heard so much about the suffering and not much about your right to time. Your right to live here as long as you want, as long as it’s bearable. So I pushed for time. I had seen you want it, want more time.

But you fell off the bed. You became paralyzed in your back legs. For two weeks I was by your side every second I was awake. Your uncle Beowulf — a night owl, and an angel in your life — stayed up with you through the night. Your daddi did the same thing. The doctor said to give you two weeks, to see if you’d recover. But you didn’t recover. And then they found evidence of brain cancer.

We set a date. Maximize the time! Minimize the suffering!

We were off by 48 hours. On Tuesday, not Thursday, your pain couldn’t be contained by medicine. You began to scream. We called a vet immediately.

For the next three hours, we gazed at you. The gabapentin kicked in, and the bed was just right. You were serene. But this thing, this pain, could never be allowed back. And it would be back. We knew it. We could only end your direct path toward it.

The vet came. She needed me to move you to the living room. You screamed when your feet touched the floor. Let’s go; we need to go. I didn’t even pause, Ella. I couldn’t; this was for you now. I was your legal proxy.

Your daddi sat in front of you. I was behind you. I had your whole head cradled in my hand. We kissed the crown of your head, and cried, and told you how much we loved you. We promised we would love you forever. He cried and I cried and we had been crying all day and still there was so much water left in us.

You had let me cradle you this way, countless times. For fifteen years and change, you fell asleep with your head on my shoulder, in my hand, on my knee, in my crotch. I hope you thought the euphoria enveloping you was just our love and not the barbituates taking you to sleep; your tiny jawline, barely any weight to it, resting in my paw.

Then panic. “You can’t take this back!” The decision was made by some prior person known as me. This tyrant of a person from seconds ago, who had given the OK to take away my girl. The horror of it! Of being a false god!

And then the horror passed. It had been right, or as right as these things can be. We had made our best guess.

I didn’t think back on the last 16 years together. There was no life review. Instead, a love so rich, you can’t swallow. No images, no words; just this magic, deep love.

The vet listened to your heart. You were gone.

The cemetery came to take you. I waved at the truck. Goodbye, Ella.

Ella. I learned from you how powerful my adoration is. This might be my greatest contribution so far to that great universal calculation: how much did you promote the joy of others? How much did you fight their suffering? From me to you and back to me, we increased the joy in the universe so much that other people noticed. The magic of it! And you weren’t even my species. You spoke to me in a language made of signals no one else quite understood; you needed me to translate. At the end, you had to grapple for ways to tell me that you hurt. Well, I suppose, the fact that we had never developed that signal is a win in itself.

You were so content with the universe that when we gave you a tag line in your own voice, it was “OK, very good.” Everything was always OK. Everything was always very good. You allowed us to make that world for you; not every dog gives you the opportunity.

I changed the weather for you.

I made it rain manna into your bowl.

I unilaterally obliterated your fears.

I chose many of your greatest life events for you: the days you would go to the vet, your vacations, your visits with friends.

I even chose the date of your death.

I was a god to you. I accepted the honor with all my heart, because you were such a rich, rewarding, singular child.

I am, among humans, a very lucky god.

Thank you: Claire Knowlton, Jude Shelton, Abe Hoose, Natalie Palamides, Chad Bond, Megan Fowler-Bond, Jon Peltz, Erich Eilenberger, Ross Blocher, Drew Blocher, Caroline Anderson, Vincey Zalkind, Chris Stedman, Matthew Strugar, Matt Bruce, Chris Holbein, C.A. Meyersburg, Alene Anello, Anna Akana, Catie Vodicka, Leo Snider, Patrick Spears, Lucy Spears, Annie Spears, Michael Spears, Jesse Thorn, Alicia Woempner, Brittany Rackham, Honor Fabun, Ryan Fabian, Evan Bailey, Kerrie Wooten, Gene Baur, Lisa Lange, Jesse Thorn, Heather Faraid, Lindsay Pavlas, Davin Pavlas, Amber Baxter, Alan Mittelstaedt, Stephen Bradford Long, Lucien Greaves, Evan Anderson, Raft, Kate Whitlock, Brad Enlow, Willie and the rest of the loving staff of Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, the staff of Valerie Echo Park, the staff ofMetropolitan Animal Speciality Hospital, the staff of UC Davis Veterinary Hospital San Diego, the staff of West Hollywood Animal Hospital, the staff of Beverly Oaks Animal Hospital, Dr. Sabrina Chapman DVM, Dr. Cedric Dufayet DVM, Dr. Jeremy O’Neill DVM, Dr. Elizabeth Yi DVM, Dr. Daniel Avenick DVM, the “Oh No Ross and Carrie” listeners who raised $1,605.65 in Ella’s name for Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (wow!); and every dog, but especially: Tuna, Kiwanis, Goose, Foster, Lola, Scooter, Jenevieve, Arc, Inky, Rosey, Sophie, Sofia, Franky, Billie, and Tummi. Thanks most of all to Beowulf Jones and Drew Spears, for doing the absolute most anyone could do for this dog, right alongside me, when things got toughest.

Ella, age 16, with her final non-human companion, Golly Spears. There was a rift, and then a truce, and then tolerance, and then love. Ella could win anyone over.
Memorial for Ella Poppy, October 21, 2023, Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park (Calabasas, CA). Photo by Ross Blocher. Ella’s headstone will arrive in early 2024. The park is open to visitors.