Four-legged Goodbyes


The children, just this morning, were asking me about my beloved Chow, Dakota (the picture above) who I had to give ‘the most selfless gift’ to more than four years ago.  He had been with me for fourteen of his sixteen plus years of life.  It was love at first sight.  I adopted him from a shelter in Maine, and never ever had a moment of regret in all the wonderful years he gave me.  When I was happy, he wagged his tail. When I was sad, or sick, or hurting….he laid right by my side…if not on my feet.  His was the most ‘human’ canine soul I have ever encountered.  He was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ pets. He wasn’t just ‘loving’….he was ‘love.’

Even non-dog people loved him.  Whenever I had a vacation to take or just someplace I was going that it wasn’t possible to have him join me…I had a line of people looking to take care of him. He rarely barked, was completely house trained…not at all aggressive or destructive…and a gentle, caring companion.  It’s not that I travelled much, but when I did, he was always very well cared for and gave as much in return as he was given.

As he aged, I kept making sure he was in the best shape he could be, and that I wasn’t ‘keeping him around’ longer than was humane for him…his vet noted how remarkably well he was for a dog his age, and was obviously doing okay, even in his senior years.  He told me ‘you’ll know when it’s time’…..and he was right. I did.  As terrible and gut-wrenching as it was…I knew when it was time.

I awoke in the middle of the night to hear him whimpering and laying on the floor. I at first suspected a bad dream (they do have them) but then realized he was awake.  He’d been piddling a little between outings….and walked a lot slower…was having trouble getting in and out of the house with the few stairs we had…all signs that the ‘inevitable’ was nearing, but this was a big indicator that his time had come, and he was telling me.  He was hurting.  How could I possibly allow that to continue?

I spent the night on the floor with him, alternately comforting him and crying, knowing I had to let him go.  Knowing that the years I’d dreaded this had flown by in such a short time, and no matter how ‘not ready’ I was to be without him…to not feel his furry mane pressed against me…to not come home and see his tail wagging through the window knowing I’d come back, I HAD to be ‘ready’ to do it, for him, even if a part of me would die right along with him that day….

I called in the morning to make the appointment. The vet clinic very kindly told me that they would fit him in that day, rather than make him suffer.  I called my ex, whereas we had adopted him together, although Dakota had stayed with me after our split, and let him know if he wanted to say goodbye, this was it….he had to come that day. He drove down and spent some time with Dakota, and even asked to go to the appointment with me and with my husband. I of course said yes, it only seemed right, and the more love surrounding Dakota as he left us, the better for him.

In the room where I saw him drift out of this life, the vet gave him a sedative to relax him, and asked if I was ready for her to administer the final shot for him. I requested she give me a minute, that I had to make this time last for the rest of my life, and she very compassionately left the room. My ex patted him and said goodbye….my husband spoke to him and said goodbye.

And then it was just me and him left.  My sweet little angel….so old, so frail….so ready to leave…..even if I couldn’t go with him.

I said my ‘goodbyes’ to him then. I thanked him for all the years together. I apologized for not being able to take this away for him, and promised him I’d never forget him.  He’d gone mostly blind by that time.  He laid his head on my lap and looked up, though neither of his eyes seemed focused on anything.  I kissed his head, and he licked me.  I told him how much I loved him, and then had my husband bring the vet back in.  I laid down with him on me, holding him, and looked into his eyes.  She put the shot in, and in that last moment his eyes, so cloudy with age, cleared completely, and the last thing he saw before his heart stopped was the face of the person who loved him most in life…and who would miss him for the rest of his own days…..he saw me clearly, without those years that had passed and the accompanying vision problems in the way.  He saw, I am certain, that he was loved.

Today my ex is saying goodbye to his ‘fur-child’….a standard poodle who has been with him for fourteen years.  I talked to him on the phone and heard the heartbreak in his voice when he was letting me know that ‘today is the day’.  There is no ‘good day’ to say goodbye to a loving, loyal companion.  There’s no way to explain to our beloved pets what is happening, to ask them if there is a last request or an enduring wish that they have, like we do with people.  There’s no way to explain to non ‘dog people’ the heartbreak some of us feel when we lose them.  It’s one of the greatest injustices that they have less than two decades of life to live.  It’s the hardest decision ever, no matter what, to know you have to say goodbye to them.

I miss my Dakota still. I have another dog who I do love, though Dakota was my ‘once in a lifetime’ dog. That’s just the way I am. It’s nothing against the furry little man I have now, but part of my heart went with Dakota and I’ll never get it back.  I have his ashes. When I die, I want them mixed with mine, he’ll be back in my arms then, and nothing will keep us apart any longer.

To my ex, who is one of my best friends….I get it. I get how much this sucks, and what all the emotions are you are feeling right now.  You and I both know it’s ‘the right thing’ and yet it’s the hardest thing….it sucks, plain and simple.  I know the pain you are in right now.  I’ve been there before.  It won’t ever ‘go away’…you just learn to put it someplace where you can live your life day to day and ‘visit it’ when you need to, when you’re really missing them, and let the tears fall.

RIP, Sebastian……thank you for giving my friend so many good years. He loves you, and this is breaking his heart, but he knows it’s the right thing to do for you.  I’ll talk him through it as best I can, even though I know from experience there are no words to take away the grief really……but I’ve got his back…..I know you’d want that for him.

And please….if you see Dakota, tell him I miss him….tell him how much I love him, and that he’s never forgotten, and never far from my mind…..since he’s always in my heart.  Play and run with him……..be good to one another……and tell him I can’t wait to see him again one day.


3 thoughts on “Four-legged Goodbyes

  1. Cris says:

    This post brings tears to my eyes not only because I know this pain but because I could have written it. Moses was my “once in a life time pet”. He was in my life for all but 2 days of his 13 year life. He had cancer and one day it was just he and I out on the back deck together and something told me it was time. I made the call but it was after hours at our vets. That night was hell wondering if it was the “right” time. The next day, I watched Moses have trouble jumping onto the bed for the first time ever. I knew then it was the right time but you’re right, Brad it sucked and still does.
    I too have his ashes and I too want them mixed with mine when I’m cremated (I thought I was the only one strange enough to request this)! My vet was/is a great human being told me that someday when I was ready another cat (yes we cat people feel like dog people about our 4 legged furry children) would come into my life and would break my heart again…but it is SO worth it. He is right. I currently have another “once in a lifetime” cat, Mischief. I swear he is Moses reincarnated as they share so many of the same idiosyncrasies. I would be so like Moses to try to get back to me. I miss him everyday even after 5 years. I hold onto the hope that someday I will see him and all my other fur babies. It’s the only way I can continue to put myself and my heart out there and love them.
    So give your friend a big hug from me and Mischief. I bet even Moses will be there across the rainbow bridge to run with Sebastian and show him the ropes…

  2. Jeanne says:

    I feel your pain and your ex’s. our fur babies are unique, cannot be replaced. I’ve had t make that inevitable decision twice so far, for my big orange boys, Copper 19 and Cruiser 8.5. It is coming in the near future as my girls are 18 and 14. We are so lucky to have had them in our lives. Hugs!

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