Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since you haven’t greeted me at the door. Or followed closely nearby. Even if I were still half asleep, you and your sister would be so happy to see me in the morning. You would both run to the kitchen, but you always turned back to walk behind me—every single day.
Last year while the world tuned into politics on Election Night, I went downstairs to test my Christmas lights. There is nothing worse than setting up a tree and having lights not work. It was early, but I felt I was to do it.
When I plugged in the first string, I heard,
“We will take good care of him over here, Chris.”
I didn’t get it.
“He will be leaving soon, Chris. We will take good care of him here.”
I sat there in total silence. This could not be possible. My dog of twelve years just had developed a slight limp. He was eating fine, maybe sleeping a little more but went into his usual high energy bark mode at everything that passed by the front window.
“What?” I asked.
“He’s leaving you, Chris. He’s coming to the other side, and he will be taken really good care of.”
“No. I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “No way. He just has a limp.”
He had this same issue many times, and the vet had told me eventually he might need a knee replaced. He wasn’t a dog who gracefully jumped from couch to chair, but he flew without his feet touching the ground. If there was something for him to guard us against, he was in the air leaping.
I tried to stop this behavior by buying a set of dog stairs, and he jumped over them. It was just in his DNA to fly to his next location. This had taken a toll on his joints. I gave him a supplement to help, but his mobility would show signs of weakness every once in a while.
I sat there wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was a case of worry, and I imagined the worst.
“Chris, it’s true. He’s leaving soon.”
Suddenly I realized that what I heard was coming. I crawled into the bathroom and shut the door. I lay on the floor as tears streamed down. I was hoping I was wrong.
“Where’s mom?” I heard someone say from upstairs. I had to pretend all was well. I was probably just making this up in my head. I splashed cold water all over my face. I have done this so many times in my life. Just cover and don’t say a word. I had gotten very good at it.
Slap on a smile and give a good performance.
When I got upstairs, no one would have guessed what I knew. I glanced across the room to see him sleeping so peacefully. See? You’re wrong.
I decided to text my younger daughter, and I just couldn’t say the words out loud.
“Do you think he is leaving us?”
She looked at me with a frown and shook her head no. Oh, good. I was wrong.
The following day he wouldn’t eat, which helped me decide to bring him in.
“We are going to have to do surgery on his back leg. And we took blood. Once that comes back, we can go ahead, but we have to make sure the anesthesia will be safe for him to have. Other than his leg, he is really healthy, and I think he has at least another 5-8 years to live. You have taken such good care of him.”
I had known this vet the entire twelve years of our dogs’ lives, and his advice has always been trustworthy.
“I’m going to give you some pain pills for him, and that should help with his eating. Once the blood sample is back, I will call you.”
I took him home and started on the medication. Just like I was told, he began to eat again. Not as much, but I figured it was a good sign. I kept pushing away the still, small voice. Nope. It wasn’t right.
The next day, he was back to not eating again. I made another call to the doctor. It was late in the day by the time he got back to me. He has a busy practice.
“I need you to bring him into my office tomorrow immediately. The blood work shows he has no red blood cells. This is impossible. He shouldn’t even be here right now. I want to take another sample and read it under a microscope myself. We had the other sample sent to the lab, and I want to be sure it’s right. I’m leaving medication for him at the front for you to pick up tonight. But you have to promise me you will bring him back in tomorrow morning right away. I normally don’t come in on Saturday, but something isn’t right.”
I gave him the pills to get his body to produce red blood cells and the pain medication. I tried to stop the inevitable, but I had to, and I continued to ignore the other thoughts.
What didn’t help was that my daughter, who initially said I was wrong, now thought I was right.
“I don’t want to be right,” I said after his first dose. And it was a fight to get him to take it.
The next day, I took him in. This was during the shutdown, and usually, I had to wait in the car. But, they had made an exception. Sitting in the exam room all alone, I couldn’t get away from what was happening, and there was nothing to distract myself with.
“He has no red blood cells, and I saw it for myself. Please continue to give him all the medication over the weekend and see how he does. Do your daughters know that he is very sick? I’m shocked. Until I saw the bloodwork, I would have never guessed.”
“They know everything you have said.”
“I will call you Monday. The medication can really help.”
They handed him over to me, and he relaxed into my arms. He never was a big fan of going there.
By Monday morning, I knew for sure we were about to say goodbye. I had left my bedroom door open on Sunday night, and he had gone into the kitchen, which he never did. He slept with one eye open by me every night. For him to not stay with me was his way of trying to spare me.
I was undecided about what to do. He was weak but sleeping. His breathing was somewhat off, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. At 9 am, the vet called.
“How is he?”
“I think he is leaving.”
“You can bring him in. And I will be here to help. You don’t want him to suffer.”
“This is happening fast. I need to think. I will call you back.”
“Okay. You let me know. If I weren’t so busy, I would come to your house.”
I started looking up in-home pet agencies that would come and assist us with end of life services.
“Wait until noon, Chris.” That still, small voice. I put my arm around his neck as I lay on the floor by him, and he rested his chin in the crook of my elbow.
“If you need to leave. You can, and I don’t need you to stay. We will be okay without you.”
I felt I needed to give him permission to go, and so did my daughters. We each told him it would be okay.
I continued to look up emergency services as the clock ticked.
He got up and moved into the kitchen, and I followed, putting him on my lap. He had been avoiding me most of the morning. My daughter sat next to me.
“You can go. We will be ok,” I said again.
“I think he is going to leave,” she said.
“He’s giving us a gift, so we don’t have to make the decision.”
He took a deep breath, and we knew. I looked at the clock, and it was exactly twelve.
For a brief moment, I felt peace, just like it should be. I saw him leap into heaven, from my lap into the arms of God.
The next part was one I didn’t see coming. His body shut down, and blood poured over my legs, ankles, and feet. I found out later this is common, but I panicked. I moved him off of me, and I knew it was over. I couldn’t breathe as I lay on the floor. I felt myself begin to blackout.
I suddenly was leaving my body. I wanted to go with him, and he just couldn’t leave me. It hadn’t even been a week since I had heard what was about to happen.
My daughter put her hand on me to call me back, and I could barely hear her voice. I just wanted to go with him. How was I going to go so long without him? He was my watchdog and guardian.
When I was sick once with a high fever, I hung on to his paw, and he let me while I had drifted into and out of sleep. He was the one to make me laugh when I didn’t want to and scratch my hand when he wanted attention. I couldn’t imagine being without him. He had arrived after my divorce and brought stability to a chaotic house. God had sent him to us, and I didn’t realize the depth of it until he left.
As I came back into my body and could breathe again, I had to deal with the next step. I went into the bathroom to wash his blood off of me. I didn’t want to, and it meant he was gone. I just kept telling myself I had to do the next thing. Step by step, as if in slow motion, I moved. I had to hand him over at the place I had taken him so many times to be made well.
He was cremated, and I took his ashes to the home where he was born. His dad and sister are buried there, so we thought he should be too. That drive is short, but it was the longest of my life. Each small thing felt like a new goodbye.
They say the first year is challenging following a death, and it is. I felt guilty sometimes because I missed him more than some people I knew that had died, and I felt like I had lost a child.
It’s an adjustment, but he lets me know he’s not far away. One night, I had a dream. I saw him sitting next to a little girl who was maybe about two years old. She looked bewildered, like she didn’t know where she was. He was on his best behavior, sitting up straight in guard dog stance. I saw dog tags on his neck, which I never had him wear.
“His job is to welcome in those little ones who get to heaven young. He makes it seem more familiar so that they can get used to it. He earned those tags at your house.”
I wanted so selfishly to say..no! He is mine! But I couldn’t because he never really was. He was on loan to me for a purpose, which he fulfilled.
On a summer evening, I was walking back towards home, and I saw his doppelgänger. All black with the same little bounce and plume-like tail. He turned to bark at me just like mine would have.
“Shadow! No!” The lady said.
I sat down in the grass. He quit barking.
“They get scared when people walk by them,” I said. He came right up to me and sniffed my knee.
Then, he stood with both front paws on my leg and sniffed my face.
“Shadow! He never does this to anyone!”
He started licking my face.
“He usually barks at everyone. He has never done anything like this!”
“Well, he must know I like his kind.”
He had all the same issues mine had…teeth issues, back leg problems, and quickly put on weight if they gave him too many snacks. He is only four, so I was able to tell her what I did to help with some of the problems.
“Does be fly off the couch to get to the chair? Without touching the ground?”
“Yes. You can’t stop him.”
“No, you can’t.”
When I stood up, he licked my hand one last time. Then he barked at me as if he had never met me. Just like mine would have.
His real name given to him at birth before I got him was Stinky. His perfect white stripe down his tummy reminded the breeder of a skunk. To my house, he was Mr. Hairy, Stinky La Rue, Harold, Frenney, my buddy, and whatever else we all thought he should be. He came no matter what we called him, especially if we had food in our hands. But most importantly, he was my boy.