Journal Gen X: It’s a Dog Life
I’ll always be a dog person. I’m the one on Facebook posting the adorable puppy photos, the tear-jerking dog rescue stories, the funny videos of dogs who can’t catch. Living with dogs makes me a calmer and happier person. When I get home every day, there are two creatures at the door, over the moon to see me. Nothing else matters to them at that very moment, except that they must show their affection to me and that affection must be returned.
My husband and I have two dogs, Toby and Ollie. Toby is “my” dog, meaning that he is more attached to me, and vice versa, and Ollie is my husband’s dog. Ollie must know where my husband is all the time, focusing on him like a laser. We each love them both equally though and would do anything to ensure their quality of life and well-being.
Toby is an Australian Shepherd-Husky mix that we rescued from a shelter in Athens, Ohio. He was so scared when we walked up to his kennel, he squeezed himself into the corner as far as he could go. His head was down and he wouldn’t look at us. We went there for another dog that we had seen online, as a companion for Sadie, our Black Lab mix. But when we saw Toby, we knew he was the one we had to rescue. He’s 12 now, and incredibly smart. We must spell words around him because he pays close attention to what we are saying and waits for the magic words. If I say ‘treat’ or ‘ride’ and don’t follow through with the delivery of those things, there will be trouble.
Toby was Sadie’s constant companion until she died. Sadie was a black lab mix and my husband’s dog before we met. Like Toby, Sadie was also rescued. She was found by shelter workers alone in a backyard with no food, water or shelter – abandoned by the home’s previous tenant. She was a sweet, gentle, and loving dog. She patiently taught Toby everything he needed to know about being a dog. She was the alpha to his beta. She would let him grab the other end of a rope she held in her mouth, then drag him across the floor. He idolized her. They ate out of the same bowl, because Sadie was not possessive of her things. They formed a tight and special bond and I am fortunate to have witnessed it.
The Rainbow Bridge
Dogs, like people, grow old. They get arthritis and other ailments. My husband dutifully took her to acupuncture, lovingly guided her through home-based physical therapy. We bought her little shoes so that she could get a better grip on the road when we took her for walks. When her bladder gave out, we bought her doggie diapers. She continued to grow older and weaker. The one comfort through all of this was our veterinarian, an incredible man with a small office and a huge heart. He genuinely cared about Sadie, and because we didn’t know how to navigate this confusing maze of illness, he compassionately guided us through it.
One day I received a call from my husband while I was at work. He was upset, his voice breaking. He had just gotten off the phone with our vet, who had told him that we needed to start thinking about end-of-life plans for Sadie. She stopped being affectionate, she stopped eating, wasn’t walking too well, and was incontinent. And yet we were both stunned by our vet’s suggestion. Even though it was right in front of us and had been for months, we weren’t ready to see it. Our veterinarian was brave enough to mention it. He talked about quality of life and we understood. We made plans, but still weren’t ready. I don’t think you ever are.
There is one afternoon that will live vividly in my memory forever, and it’s wasn’t the afternoon we helped Sadie travel to her permanent peace as you might expect.
It was one of those days you wish would come every day. One of those days that makes you want to curl up on the patio and day-dream. The sky was bright blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds. It was warm, and an occasional slight breeze blew by.
Breezes are something we tend to take for granted unless we’re cherishing the temporary relief from the stifling heat. In our everyday lives, how often do we let a breeze blow by without noticing how it feels on our skin? Without trying to detect any fragrance from nearby trees or flowers? On this day, I remember the breeze was slightly warm with a hint of honeysuckle.
I noticed her from the bedroom window as I was putting away laundry. Sadie was in the backyard, alone. She was sitting in the grass, face turned up to the sun, eyes closed, ears gently blowing in a passing breeze. When the breeze would pass, she would open her eyes and look around the yard. When a new breeze cycled in, she would close her eyes, lift her chin, and start sniffing, as if to experience again the full force of the wind. She couldn’t have known that afternoon would be one of her last on this earth. She didn’t know that within a matter of days she would be at our vet’s office, breathing her last breath. Yet she seemed to be cherishing this day like I hadn’t witness her do before.
On this afternoon, I finally understood what it means to truly let go of a loved one who is done with this world. And, I learned a lesson about embracing the life you have, while you have it.
When it was time, we took her to our vet’s office. He explained the process. He gave us plenty of time to become comfortable with what he was saying, then he proceeded.
We stroked Sadie and talked to her the entire time, until we heard her last breath. Then he left the room and gave us a few minutes alone with her.
I will never forget and will be forever grateful for our veterinarian’s care of Sadie during her life and during her final minutes. Without our vet, we wouldn’t have known when it was time to let her go. Without our vet, we wouldn’t have been able to understand how to care for her in her final months and days.
After a few months, it was time to rescue another dog, a companion for Toby, who had spent entire days for two months in a corner of our bedroom, clearly mourning the loss of Sadie. We adopted Oliver (Ollie) from the shelter in Oklahoma where we lived at the time. Sadie was the patient guide to Toby. Toby was neither patient nor a guide to Ollie. He would corner Ollie, barking and growling, seemingly for no reason. It was horrible for a few months. Eventually it got better. Now, a few years later, they are much closer. They lay close to one another, they’ll even share a bed at night. They whine when the other goes somewhere solo, and they wait dutifully by the door for their companion’s return. They need one another now.
I’ll always be grateful to Sadie for two things: for showing Toby the ropes in his formative years; giving him a loving, kind and generous companion that made his life easy and fun. And, I am grateful to her for showing me that everything in life is a wonder and should be cherished – even the slightest breeze.