a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Feb, 2024

The legacy of Piper Tomkins

Posted by andrea tomkins in: dog stuff

Some of you reading this might already know that our dog Piper passed away on February 22. It’s taken me this to gather my thoughts about it, although now that I’m writing this I don’t even know if I’ve fully processed everything, and if I ever will.

It’s February 29. It’s a leap year, so we have this ONE extra day in our lives, and if we are lucky, we can choose to do something special, different, or amazing, something that sets the tone for the rest of the year, perhaps. What would you do if you had one extra day in your life?

I took the day off work and will be doing something nice for myself later. Right now I’m here, with a hot cup of tea. It’s cold and bright outside today and I’m sitting in a sun puddle with the laptop. Piper would approve.

If you’ve ever lost a cherished pet you are familiar with the feeling. It’s like a piece of yourself has been violently torn away without your permission. You are left there, cold, bereft, with an essential part of you just… missing. Forever.

It’s strange but this has got me thinking of the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramic pottery and glass. I had to look up what it’s called: Kintsugi. Gold lacquer is used to glue the broken pieces together again, an act of repair which results in something that is more beautiful and, maybe even stronger than it was before.

I cried at the dentist’s office yesterday. I walked in, and our dentist – who, I should say, has known our family for about 20 years – was sitting in the receptionist’s chair. How are you, she asked. My face fell. Oh no, what happened?

We bought Piper at a pet store. It was during March Break. Here’s a post I wrote at that time. What I didn’t mention is that although it was love at first sight I really wrestled with bringing a pet into our lives. I knew she was going to die someday and I was going to be shattered.

I can say Piper was the best dog but everyone says they have the best dog. Piper was the best for our family, the best for me. She was such a funny little thing, always a twinkle of mischief in her eye. Terriers are known to be stubborn and single-minded, and she fit the mould. Sometimes this was frustrating, but it was also a level of independence that we admired. She was her own dog. She was a quick learner with a repertoire of impressive tricks. She was incredibly smart but only when it suited her. I once taught her how to ring a bell so she could let us know that she needed to out without scratching the door. She quickly figured out that she only needed to ring the bell if she wanted a treat, regardless of whether she actually needed out or not. We gave up on the bell soon after that.

Once someone in a wheelchair gave her a treat. For MANY years afterwards she’d approach people in wheelchairs with hopeful attention.

Other times, she was incredibly un-terrier-like. She ignored squirrels and wanted to play with cats and wild rabbits in our yard and neighbourhood. She was an incredibly kind and gentle dog. Always curious, always alert.

She liked the outdoors. We’d take her for walks in the woods, or down by the river. She was in her element here, enjoying the experience to the fullest. It made us enjoy our walks more too, for what is life about if not simple pleasures? The sun on your back, the wind in your face, the smell of the forest around you. We learn so much from our dogs. These are lessons worth learning, and remembering.

How many times will I turn around expecting to see her cheery face, only to realize she’s not here anymore? I look for her, curled up in any of her favourite spots. Never again will I be greeted with such enthusiasm when I come home. When I’m walking down the sidewalk my eyes still fall downward, expecting to see her trotting along beside me, with the occasional glance over her shoulder to make sure I’m still there. My memory of her is so strong I still see her everywhere.

I have often referred to Piper as a furry family member, but as I write this I wonder, what was she exactly. Sure, we adopted her. We owned her, but who owns who in this relationship exactly? Can you really own a living being, or just promise to take responsibility for it? We cared for her, but didn’t she care for us in her own way? The word companion does not seem good enough.

On Wednesday night I took her for a walk after dinner. She is usually a slow walker, she had always set a slow and deliberate pace – sometimes frustratingly so – because she was a big sniffer and had to investigate every detail along our route. But that night, she wasn’t tip-toe prancing with ears bobbing as she normally did. She was plodding, one paw at a time. I picked her up, but instead of turning around and heading home, we finished our walk but with her in my arms. I felt it was the least I could do.

Piper had been on a steady decline – with an unsteady gait and increasingly poor appetite but she was back on her anti-cancer meds as well as a liver support medication so we thought she might stay the course for a while but things took a turn. Wednesday night into early Thursday morning was bad. Mark and I had been taking turns sleeping on the pullout sofa downstairs to be closer to her in case of emergency. (Piper never really wanted to sleep upstairs for some reason!) She was incredibly restless and barely able to walk without her legs giving out. At one point I brought her into the sofa bed with me. Her heart was racing and she was panting but she eventually settled down, curled up right next to my face. She licked my face. Was it an apology? A note of thanks? A reminder? Was it love?

Our pets love us unconditionally, perhaps that’s part of the reason why this kind of loss is so deep and so terrible. It’s like a bright energy source you’ve learned to depend upon is suddenly torn away, leaving you feeling hollow and empty, alone in the dark.

Thursday was probably one of the longest days of my life. To preserve some of her dignity I will spare you the details of her sharp decline.

She stopped eating almost entirely. She had four seizures in the span of a few hours – this had never happened before and was terrible to witness.

Piper at the back door

At 2:30 the situation got worse. I told myself I’d wait until 3:30 to call someone. Maybe she’d get better? But it became clear I couldn’t wait. At 3 p.m. I called a mobile vet service our vet recommended. Dialling that number was one of the hardest things I have had to do. The first one I called was Dr. Carmen Purtscher of Lindenlea Mobile Veterinary Services. She said she couldn’t come today and gave me the names of two other mobile vets but then as we were ending the call she asked me to call her back if no one could come. I called the two, and then some others, breaking down on the phone each time. No one could come, so I called Carmen back. She said she couldn’t come until late, and was apologetic about it.

Piper and I watched the sun go down.

Watching the sun go down

We sat on the front porch together because it was one of her favourite things to do.

Porch time with Piper

She had ice cream for dinner. She poked around in the snow a bit:

Poking around the snow

I rocked her in my arms while walking around the house, like you would if you were holding a baby. It was the only thing that soothed her. I’d stop in front of the mirror so I could memorize her face. Look at us, I’d say.

Me and Piper

I can’t tell you about Piper’s last moments with us because it hurts so much. I can’t tell you how many tears I cried. But I can tell you that at the end all her pain went away and she died peacefully, knowing that she was loved. It was exactly 10 p.m. when I looked at the time.

Carmen was so gentle and kind. She was the perfect person. When it was done, she wrapped Piper in a blanket and took her away, holding her closely as if she were her own.

We will choose a warm spring day to scatter her ashes.

I will share something here with you, a detail I was going to actually going keep to myself. Carmen had gone to her car to put some things away, leaving us alone. I took out my phone with the intent of taking one last photo of Piper. Internally, I debated with myself. Would I regret taking it? Not taking it? The room was darkish, lit mostly by candlelight and whatever light was coming in from the kitchen. I took the photo but as I did so I noticed it was not responding properly – it was glitching somehow. I took another, and another, and then satisfied (if that’s the word) I put my phone away. The next day I looked at my photos and it wasn’t there. The photo never took. I’m a science-minded person, and maybe it’s silly but I can’t help but think that it wasn’t meant to be, that something that we don’t understand, intervened.

The universe speaks to us in mysterious ways. I can’t tell you how many people reached out to let me know that the New York Times Wordle on Friday was PIPER. I do the Wordle every day, but I didn’t do it Friday.

As some of you know, Piper is on Instagram. I could write a whole other post about what it’s been like to be part of the #dogsofinstagram community.

Piper had surgery in Montreal last year to remove two cancerous masses from her liver. Her Instagram friends supported us, not just emotionally, but financially, donating over $16,000 to a GoFundMe set up in her name. This alleviated so much stress at a terrible time and it allowed us to make some decisions that would have been very difficult given the associated costs, such as a CT scan (which is how we found out she had three tumours, not just one as they had thought: two in her liver and one in her esophagus) as well as two blood transfusions.

I will never forget the immense kindness of these virtual strangers – people from around the world who fell in love with our dog on Instagram. I am forever changed because of her, because of them.

I don’t think I’ve managed to read all of the comments on her last post.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Piper (@pipertomkins)

Grief is love wrapped in a heavy coat. Sarah said this to me after Piper died and it has stayed with me. As much as I grieve Piper’s loss I am grateful for the gifts she gave us… the ability to strip a moment down to its bare bones, to the sun, the wind, the love in our lives, the food on our plates. Gratitude for a warm blanket, fresh snowfall, a belly rub. I will treasure her memory and her gifts, always and forever.

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35 Responses to "The legacy of Piper Tomkins"

1 | Mari-Beth (Tessa’s mom?)

February 29th, 2024 at 1:07 pm

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Your words moved me to tears. Bravo to you for having the courage to capture all of these beautiful, heartbreaking emotions so exquisitely. “ We learn so much from our dogs. These are lessons worth learning, and remembering.” Truer words were never spoken. Thank you from the bottom of my broken heart. ?

2 | Maryann Brzoska

February 29th, 2024 at 1:07 pm

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You were blessed to have such a loving and beautiful creature to grace your life. Over the course of my 62 years, I have had the privilege to be the caretaker of 5 Wire Fox Terriers. Your essay about Piper’s life were the words I couldn’t find when I was faced with the same moments as their lives ended. I read somewhere that losing a pet can be more painful than losing a loved one (person). It is inexplicable the feeling of loss. Perhaps, it is, as I read they are God’s reminders that angels are present. I promise you the pain, while it never leaves, does become dull. The days of laughter remembering her antics will return. Those are the days to hold fast. It is true dogs love us unconditionally, which is all the more reason I believe they are what God had intended, angels in a “wirey” coat. Peace and love to you??

3 | Liina

February 29th, 2024 at 1:13 pm

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Now I’m crying again.

I think you’re right. There’s no real ownership with a dog, just love and responsibility.

4 | Abitbolou

February 29th, 2024 at 1:17 pm

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Beautiful

5 | Cassandra Castrellanos

February 29th, 2024 at 1:27 pm

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Thank you for sharing this beautiful summary despite your silent pain. I also have a wire-fox terrier who is now 12. I’ve always known having a pet can bring just as much sadness as it can bring joy. Beloved pets are only on loan to us to teach us about appreciation and love. They teach us about patience and kind understanding and they mold us into better human beings. Piper built her legacy around courage, love, and family. When our pets are gone they give us a chance to see and appreciate the world through new eyes. It is then that their existence is acknowledged because they helped change the world through each heart that they touched. Piper was and still is the legacy of Courage, Life, and Love.

6 | Cec

February 29th, 2024 at 1:29 pm

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Thanks for sharing ?????. You are amazing with words Andrea.

Take your time to let the instant grief cling off, but then I think you should write a book about Piper P Tomkins. ????

7 | Cec

February 29th, 2024 at 1:31 pm

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The emojis turned into question marks. It was hearts and a dog. Definetely not ”???”

8 | Mari-Beth (Tessa’s mom)

February 29th, 2024 at 2:09 pm

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Same :) <3

9 | Simo

February 29th, 2024 at 1:42 pm

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Oh my god I’m in tears

Thank you for sharing this story!

10 | Brenda Wybee

February 29th, 2024 at 1:56 pm

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What a lovely tribute, as I sit here with tears streaming down my face. Piper, and you as her voice, were so very special and always provided a laugh, or a thought provoking comment.
I have a 13 year old Westie and I just dread the day he has to “cross over the rainbow bridge”.
Take care of your selves and know that we all cared about Piper and all her antics????

11 | Tammy

February 29th, 2024 at 1:58 pm

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What beautiful words. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear Piper.

12 | Julia Pratt

February 29th, 2024 at 2:26 pm

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Hi Andrea, once again I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful (and tear streaming) piece you have written. Piper was a very lucky girl as well as a good one! I only had to look at her eyes when I saw her on Instagram and I knew I would love her. I have a 4 yr old WFT who amuses us with his antics daily.
Thank you for sharing this with us. I can imagine how hard it must have been to relive. Take care. Rest in Peace Piper.

13 | Lynda

February 29th, 2024 at 2:27 pm

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So beautifully written. Thank you so very much for sharing it.

14 | Lori Dunbar

February 29th, 2024 at 2:50 pm

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This was so beautifully written. I am so sorry for your loss. I loved Piper’s posts. I have gone through saying goodbye 5 times. I felt like Piper was 6, even though I’ve never met her or you, I grieved like she was one of my own. Thank you for sharing her with us. She will truly be missed ??????

15 | Maggie

February 29th, 2024 at 2:55 pm

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Hi Andrea.
Thank you for sharing with us the details of Pipers last days. You’ve put your love for her in beautiful words. I can feel your pain through this heart-wrenching piece. It is so accurately said that “grief is love wrapped in a heavy coat”… Many of us know what you’re going through. All I can remember from the days after losing my previous WFT was the huge feeling of emptiness. My mind was in a dark and quiet place… My kids (who were very young at the time) were laughing in the garden,and I just sat on a chair feelig totally disconected from their happines … I felt as if my heart had a huge missing part, that can never be replaced. Maybe it is weird to some people,but I mourn the loss of Piper with you. I adored that girl. She was funny, quirky and stubborn in the cutest way. I will miss her so much, but I find peace knowing,that you gave her the best transition to the other side, that any dog can get. Thank you for sharing stories of Piper on Instagram and making her the part of my life. Know that you are in my thoughts every day, and I wish you nothing but better days ahead. Hugs. Maggie.

16 | Renata

February 29th, 2024 at 3:15 pm

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Andrea, thanks for sharing Piper‘s legacy with us. Your words touched me so deeply, that I’m crying again. Beautiful words!
I knew Piper’s IG page 8 months ago, I also have a WFT, and Piper’s page was a suggestion from IG. Since then I have been following Piper and I loved her posts. A sweet Very Good Girl.
Take care.

17 | Tricia

February 29th, 2024 at 3:26 pm

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This is a beautiful post and tribute to sweet Piper. I sat and read it, tears streaming down my face, and hugging my own WFT a little tighter. I feel like I’m grieving with you. Piper had a connection with so many. Thank you for sharing her with us. Sending much love and thoughts to you. Piper will always be with you. ??

18 | Tricia

February 29th, 2024 at 3:27 pm

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The question marks are supposed to be hearts.

19 | Donna Whitfield

February 29th, 2024 at 3:35 pm

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What a beautiful post about sweet Piper. I too know your feelings when my Skipper a Parson Russell passed away. Skipper I believe couldn’t see near the end. She was in her dog house backwards. That never happened. She didn’t want to eat but did drink water. I gave her chicken broth in a syringe ? over the weekend. Skipper was proud til the end. She’d walk outside to the bathroom and I’d have to carry her back inside the house. On Monday morning I went to school hoping and praying Skipper would pass away before I returned. I knew I had to take her to the vet to have her put to sleep. I called the vet’s office and they were expecting me. My principal let me leave school early. When I arrived home Skipper was still breathing. I hugged her and told her we were going for a ride. Before I drove the block to the main highway Skipper passed away. She waited for me like she normally did each day. I was devastated. My Girl was gone. My principal told me stay home. I told him no house is too quiet and too dark. I went to school to be with my students who helped me through this awful time. Skipper had done her job being my pal through the deaths of both my Granny and mom. I lasted 2 weeks before I purchased silly Sandy my cockapoo who is the joy of my life. You are stronger than you know. ????????

20 | Isabelle

February 29th, 2024 at 3:42 pm

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Hi Andrea
I’m French and it’s difficult for me to express all my feelings as I’ve read your wonderful tribute to Piper. We have a lovely fox terrier too, named Jade, nevertheless my husband and myself felt in love with Piper at first sight like we did for Jade.
What an extraordinary good girl she was..
These likkle furry animals get into our life for ever.
I was in tears reading your words, because I know the trauma it is to loose a beloved one.
You’ve been dedicated till the end and allowed her to leave in peace.

21 | Jenn Jilks

February 29th, 2024 at 4:11 pm

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I am so sorry for your loss. It really is tough. We rehomed two cats, and that was painful, as well.
All the best.

22 | Wendy Fortin

February 29th, 2024 at 4:25 pm

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Oh Andrea it’s so sad to read your words she was such a spirited little girl and I loved her “words” written by you. Why do things happen when you need help and all you can do is wait for help. My Jet a standard poodle was having seizures and it was terrible nothing they could really do but finally he had a stroke in the middle of the night I got him back in the house and tried to wait for help he finally passed on his own and all I could do was comfort him and cradle him until he left thank goodness it was very quiet and at 13 kind of expected. We also called an at home vet for our Piper and they are so kind and professional and she was happy to see them. Absolutely heartbreaking knowing what was coming. So I guess a lot of us understand you pain and loss and it stays with you for quite awhile. You see them , you hear them , your routine is so empty without walkies :(
Thank you for sharing this story I hope it helps to know we all loved Piper too and are bereft. I loved that she was so sweet with the bunnies truly not a trait of terriers in my experience with several of them Woody wft, Lola, Brillo Flynn. So thank you for the followup very kind of you to share her last day. It’s the happiest day when they come to us and the saddest when they leave.
Other people said write a children’s book and I think that wb delightful. People who knew my wft Woody said the same thing so many funny stories and they look like toys! Saying I am sorry seems inadequate when you guys brought so much joy. I followed her for literally years she will be missed.

23 | Dixie Lewis

February 29th, 2024 at 4:40 pm

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Hi Andrea – I am crying as I read Piper’s legacy as I can relate to every single comment. I know I should try to be more comforting. I cried at every doctor appointment I went to for at least six months after we lost Ellie Mae. Enough of my grief – I’m just so happy that I got to know you and Piper P over the years but I feel that I’ve lost a best friend. I am hoping you decide to adopt another Wire, not as a replacement for Piper, but for some new adventures for you, and your family and all of your followers. ??????

24 | Ania

February 29th, 2024 at 5:37 pm

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What a beautiful tribute to your beloved sweet Piper. Tears going down my face reading your touching words. I loved watching her adventures on instagram. She lived a happy life with you. Thank you for sharing your cherished memories of her with us. Sending hugs and strength from Toronto.

25 | Cheryl Ladyga

February 29th, 2024 at 6:12 pm

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Andrea,
Thank you for sharing Piper’s legacy! I know as I said before I’m just a stranger from Instagram but I wish I knew you cause I would give you a huge hug. Your words are beautiful and I believe Piper was the best girl.. tears are flowing down my face once again… Better days are ahead and Piper will always be in your heart ?? thank you for sharing Piper, letting her be part of my daily instagram routine. I truly miss her smiling face! Take care, hugs Cheryl

26 | Denise G. @augiepaws mom

February 29th, 2024 at 7:19 pm

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Piper was blessed to have you there with her in the end. I know first hand how difficult that is. There is no place I’d rather be than with my baby. This is a beautiful tribute to Piper. We miss her! Hang in there. ????

27 | Liz

February 29th, 2024 at 7:51 pm

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This is such a beautiful piece, Andrea. A truly remarkable love you shared with Piper, and she for you. Her spirit lifts from the page as we share in your loss for a wonderful soul. Smile with every treasured memory of Piper. Forever.
Liz and Hoover xx

28 | Roksana Bahram

February 29th, 2024 at 11:57 pm

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Hugs to you Andrea! You gave a voice to little Piper. The love you both shared for each other is so special. Thank you for writing so beautifully about her. We all loved little Piper and share in your grief even though we have never met. Do take care. All of us are holding good thoughts for you and your family. xoxo

29 | Anne Webb

March 1st, 2024 at 5:50 am

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I read this with tears in my eyes. What a beautiful life Piper had with you and a dignified ending. You write so well.
Your “last photo” story – there are so many things that happen in this world that we can’t explain. We had Jessica and Bas’ (daughter and partner) dog Leia for 2 weeks this February while they were on winter sports. No problems, but on the Friday afternoon, the day before they were to come home, Leia started to shake and pant, so much so that we took a video of her and sent it to Jessica (we were so worried.). Jess and Bas are vets. Jessica finally replied with some ideas but didn’t say that at that EXACT moment Bas was in hospital having scans for possible neck/head problems after a snow boarding accident. He had to stay in overnight. Leia stopped shaking soon after and acted normally after that. I’m sure she knew something was up!
Please keep the Instagram account going with photos of Piper. Especially the early ones me and Monty missed. Love from the Netherlands.

30 | Natasha McReynolds-Nicholl

March 1st, 2024 at 3:40 pm

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My god reading this is heartbreaking. December 1st was the as you describe longest day of my life, we lost out beautiful WFT hazel. Pipers final moments are almost identical to Hazels. It has been 3 months to the day and I’m reliving all of the moments i probably shouldn’t be but I am glad instagram lef me to your post. Two quotes I have read since Hazels passing that have helped me is “ You were never mine, I am yours.”

And the most helpful has been “Don’t look for me in the places I used to be.
Look for me where you can still see me.” It will take some time the grief is so intense. This was a beautiful tribute to Piper. Sending you so much love from Hazels Mum in Ireland.

31 | Janelle Brown

March 1st, 2024 at 10:07 pm

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Dear Andrea
Thank you for sharing Piper’s story with her followers. I empathise with your grief and emptiness as I lost my 14 year old Westie last November and I miss her everyday. Only time will ease your sadness and you will look back at the joyous times you spent together. In time you might consider getting another pet and offering them the wonderful, happy life you gave to Piper. Sending my best regards to your family at this very sad time.

32 | Carla Slocum

March 2nd, 2024 at 9:17 pm

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I am sitting here yet again crying at your loss. We have known that loss with Asta the WFT our first pup but now have the enormous gift of Stryker the WFT. The love a dog is as significant as the love as any other living being because they love and support us unconditionally. They will forever be a part of our souls. ??????

33 | Christina Banuelos

March 3rd, 2024 at 12:34 am

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Thank you for sharing Pipers life with us. Your posts of Piper brought me joy. Every time I see your post and see what kind of mischief Piper was getting into, it would remind me of my little fox terrier named Rebel . Piper and her had the same personality. Maybe it’s the personality of the fox terrier, but I loved every bit of Pipers adventures. When you posted the passing of sweet Piper my heart sank and I started to cry. I hold you and your family dear to my heart ??. As I do for Piper who was much loved??????

34 | Karen

March 6th, 2024 at 10:35 am

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Dear Andrea, Mark and your daughters
I am so very sad for your family xxx Piper was/is my favourite Instagram post. You shared with us so intimately and amusingly her enormous and so-sweet personality. Sadly for us humans she has many little friends wherever she is, including four of our terriers who crossed the rainbow bridge over the years.
As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem The Power of the Dog, beware of
“giving your heart to a dog to tear.” Yet we will go on doing so eternally, as these pups utterly enrich our lives.
I feel for you desperatly with your torn hearts.
Thank you for sharing the life, love, friendship and joy of your little girl with us.
Karen, near Oxford, UK

35 | Jinjer

March 12th, 2024 at 1:10 am

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I am sobbing reading this post. And you’re right, companion is not enough. Little furry treasured gifts that they are.

Thanks for sharing cutie-pie Piper with us. She was such a little joy on the internet.

Hugs to you and your family.

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  • Jenn Jilks: That is really exciting! Break a leg!
  • fun88: I was excited to discover this page. I want to to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also
  • Gretchen Humphrey: I had a beautiful bee& birdbath filled with a solar fountain and dozens of antique marbles that were suddenly disappearing. At first I thought my
  • Jinjer: I am sobbing reading this post. And you're right, companion is not enough. Little furry treasured gifts that they are. Thanks for sharing cutie-pi
  • Karen: Dear Andrea, Mark and your daughters I am so very sad for your family xxx Piper was/is my favourite Instagram post. You shared with us so intimately
  • Christina Banuelos: Thank you for sharing Pipers life with us. Your posts of Piper brought me joy. Every time I see your post and see what kind of mischief Piper was gett
  • Carla Slocum: I am sitting here yet again crying at your loss. We have known that loss with Asta the WFT our first pup but now have the enormous gift of Stryker the

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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