Farewell Faithful Friend

Sometimes doing the right thing is gut-wrenching. That is the case when you have to euthanize a dog.

We brought her home as an eight week old puppy and watched her grow right alongside our daughters, who adored the little bundle of fur. She became a playmate, a partner, a companion, and a member of the family.

Her jobs were simple, but important:

  • Greet family members each time they returned home, toy in mouth and tail wagging
  • Greet friends and relatives when they came to visit, toy in mouth and tail wagging
  • Take the family for a couple of walks each day to make sure they get their exercise
  • Greet neighbors on the daily walk, tail wagging
  • Bring back the ball that people had obviously, errantly tossed away
  • Keep lookout over the back yard from the patio doors
  • Growl menacingly at any chipmunks, cats, or other dogs that entered her back yard kingdom
  • Bark at the yappy little dogs that walked by on the street each day
  • Run laps around the house in the snow to demonstrate how it feels to be truly free
  • Stare at her bowls at meal time to be sure that we could all dine together, maintaining all social graces
  • Roll over for a belly rub to provide a complete dog experience
  • Nap just enough during the day so that when we dragged ourselves home from an exhausting day of work or school she would be ready to play and ease our stresses
What she loved most of all was just a little attention from her people.

What she loved most of all was just a little attention from her people.

At age five she developed chronic pancreatitis. But with a little tender loving care and constant vigilance over her expensive dog food diet, she kept going for another six years. Then, about six weeks ago she developed new and different symptoms and a routine blood test showed the beginning stages of kidney failure. She held her own for several weeks; and then she grew increasingly lethargic, developed a cough and labored breathing, couldn’t keep food down, and finally was moaning or whimpering in pain. Even though we have spent a bundle on her since her diagnosis, this decision was not at all about the expense. If there was even half a prayer’s worth of hope that she could improve and live a little longer without pain, we would spend more. But there was no more hope, only anguish for her and for us.

So today we made that hardest of all decisions. When your devoted companion is in failing health and constant pain and there is no good outcome on the horizon, you choose to end their suffering because no one should live in misery when there is no longer quality left in their life. We owed it to her to ease her pain. We stayed with her while they administered a sedative and watch her drift into a very peaceful doggy sleep. We said goodbye, and we said thank you, and we told her we would always love and remember her.

I left one of her most important jobs off the earlier list: comforting her humans. She could sense when one of us was sick or especially sad. If we were feeling bad she would come and sit near us – close enough so that we could pet her, because petting your puppy always makes you feel better. Sometimes she would stand close enough to be petted, and then sit down without realizing that the act of sitting put her just barely out of our reach, and that made us smile. Sometimes she would nestle her forehead between our knees so that we could scratch her ears, and that soothed our worries.

Now she is permanently out of reach and not here to handle that most important job of providing comfort. So I write this through tears that won’t stop, without the warmth of my dog by my side.

To say that we will miss her is an enormous understatement. She has left a dog sized hole in our hearts and our home. Now we know that our beloved perpetual baby is no longer hurting. Her torment has transferred to our broken hearts and turned to grief, which we will gratefully accept in thanks for her faithful love for eleven years.


Love Letter on Four Legs

Puppy love is real, and I am not talking about the kind between twelve year olds.

We had a dog before we had children.  Kelly was our first baby.  She was a beautiful mutt with a long coat and people used to ask all the time, “What kind of a dog is that?”  She was the cutest puppy ever and turned into a gorgeous dog that perpetually looked like an Old English sheepdog puppy.  She was our practice before we decided that we were ready to have children.  We felt that if we could handle the responsibilities of a dog, then maybe, just maybe, we could handle the responsibilities of children.  I guess we could, because we went on to have two children and they grew up okay.

Kelly never really warmed up to our daughters.  I’m pretty sure she always felt a little displaced by them.  She wanted all attention on her and no one else but her.  But when she died at the ripe old dog age of fifteen we were in serious mourning.

My husband and I were not ready for another dog.  We felt no creature could replace our beloved Kelly, and we were in the midst of a major home remodeling job.  But our kids desperately wanted the puppy experience, since our old dog had been well past puppy-hood by the time the girls were born.  Then suddenly our remodeling was done, we had moved into our new space, and the pieces fell into place.  A teacher at school had a dog that just had puppies.  So, with actual written promises from our kids that they would walk, feed, clean up after, and help take care of a puppy, we succumbed to a beautiful husky mix and our girls named her Lexi.

We were a little smarter this time around.  We determined right away that we would not have another dog on the furniture, and that we would get a crate to keep her in when we were not home.   As it turns out, both were excellent decisions.

Did you know that huskies shed for about six months every year?  Six long months.  Keeping her off the furniture was exactly the right decision because it is hard enough to get the dog hair off the carpet during this very long shedding season.  But she has never been on the couch, a chair, or a bed (except for her own.)

She was just eight weeks old when we got her and she missed her puppy siblings very much.  So the first few nights that we made her sleep in the crate she cried.  She cried a lot.  I am a soft touch and couldn’t take the whimpering.  So I slept on the floor right next to her crate for almost a week.  But she grew to love the crate, and leaving her in it when we weren’t home meant that she had very few accidents in the house as a puppy.  They could pretty much be counted on one hand.  Now her crate is where she goes when she is afraid of the thunder, or when there are fireworks in the distance, or when she thinks we are about to give her a bath.  That’s her comfort zone.

Lexi was a very rambunctious puppy.  When she started to chew on the oak baseboard molding that I had stained by hand, I yelled so loud that she never went near it again.  She nearly failed puppy kindergarten.  Actually, I’m pretty sure she was too young for obedience training when our youngest daughter and I took her, and I’m certain that if we had done more at home to train her it would have been more successful.  But we were suckers for her lovely puppy eyes and adorable face and then training was not so important anymore.

Don't let the regal look fool you.  She is puppy-problematic.

Don’t let the regal look fool you. She is puppy-problematic.

She also wanted to run.  A lot.  I’m pretty sure that’s the husky in her as well.  She used to run laps around our house, especially in the snow, and she loved to play ball in the backyard.  Now, at almost age eleven, her arthritis stops us from playing ball with her and we keep her leashed so she can’t run and injure herself.  But she still loves to walk and needs at least two walks each day.  That is usually my husband’s job.  He seems to be the preferred walking partner and the puppy playmate.  I am the preferred person to pet her, and she likes to sit close by when I am reading or sewing.

Now that our children (who promised in writing to take care of this dog) are grown and almost never at home anymore, this dog is completely ours.  Even on our worst days in the workplace or when everything else is going wrong, she will greet us at the door with tail wagging and usually with a toy in her mouth.  She is always happy to see us.  She is happy to see everyone.

It is absolutely true that if you want unconditional love you should get a dog.  We have taken that plunge a couple of times and wouldn’t change it for the world.  Our dogs have loved us every day of their all too short lives.  We hope to have this one around for a while yet.  If she wasn’t here we are pretty sure our kids would find more excuses to not come home.  Even when they are on Skype with us, the one they really want to see is the dog.  Admittedly, that does not give them the full dog experience, since it lacks the fuzzy dog feel and the distinct dog smell.

This beautiful, warm, loving dog has become our third child and our problem child.  She is an integral part of our family and I believe we love each other more because we also love this steadfast, four legged, furry, more-than-friend.

Honestly, I don’t know if we will ever get another dog.  With our kids headed to far flung places, my husband and I would like a little more flexibility in our lives to be able to pick up and go somewhere for a day or two without having to worry about who will take care of the dog.

But for now, she is the only baby we have left at home.  So she gets treated very, very well.  We have an understanding.  We will love her, rub her belly, feed her, and take care of her all the time.  In return, she will love us just as we are, with all of our flawed humanity and our challenging personality traits and our good days and bad days.  Unconditionally.