Monday, December 10, 2012

Godspeed, Little Buddy

I wrote this post for my Facebook friends initially but I wanted to share it here as well because my dog Zooey has been a frequent subject on this blog.  He was both a companion in the garden as well as a pest.  He kept me company while I moved pots around or pulled weeds.  He kept the squirrels and the cats at a safe distance from me and he always barked to tell me when the girls had come home.  I miss him like crazy.

****

It used to frustrate me that people would say, “you’ll know when the time comes” because, for a long time, I didn’t know if it was time to say goodbye to my little buddy, Zooey. I last wrote about him almost a full year ago. I noticed how much older he was. How it was getting harder for him to stand up. But I didn’t ever know when it was time to say goodbye. As the months passed I noticed a few other things were changing. He slept more during the day for one. He barked a little less too. But for the most part he still seemed like the Zooey I had always known. 
 
My family - when we were younger
Friday night I sat down next to him to brush his hair. Back by his tail I noticed some blood. I looked a little closer and saw that he had a bleeding sore the size of a silver dollar. I dabbed it with a paper towel until it was dry.

Saturday morning we went to gymnastics to watch our daughter. While sitting in the grandstands Suzanne told me that Zooey had cried all night. Suzanne’s known a lot longer than I have that it was time, but she was patiently, gracefully waiting for me to catch up.

We had taken separate cars. In the solitude of my drive home, I experienced something close to the “you will just know” moment I had been promised. I didn’t know if Zooey was ready (or if I was truly ready either), but I knew that I could no longer ignore his suffering or downplay it by thinking “it’s just old age” or “he still seems happy.” I couldn’t make him suffer just because I was afraid to make a decision.

When Suzanne came home later that day I told her I was ready. We cried. And we gave Zooey extra hugs and kisses. Suzanne called the vet for me and set up an appointment for Sunday afternoon.

We made eggs for him Sunday morning. Gave him ham at lunch. Fed him treats he didn’t need or ask for. I found him sleeping by the bed and I laid down beside him. I wished I could ask him what he wanted. I wished that I could tell him I would do whatever he wanted. And though we’d learned some of his language in the past 13 years, I never learned what “let me go” sounds like. I wish I had because I’m afraid that not knowing will haunt me.
 
Sleeping in a quiet place on his last day -
something that had become all too common for a dog that used to be in constant motion.

We tried explaining it to our daughter, who is not quite five yet. “Zooey is old and very sick so we are going to take him to the doctor and he won’t come home with us.” 

“Okay. But when will he come home?”


My heart was already broken. I was sad for myself and for Suzanne. Zooey has been with us since the first month of our marriage. But I wasn’t prepared for the sadness of a little girl not quite understanding what it means to say goodbye forever. 

I took this picture a month ago.  They were brother and sister in our family.
After we talked to the vet about the process and signed paperwork we told Bailey to say goodbye to Zooey and then I took her into the waiting room so Suzanne could have a few minutes with him. When she finished saying goodbye, she came out with tears in her eyes and I took her place in the room with Zooey. I rubbed his head as we waited for the doctor to come in. He laid there on the floor, oblivious to what was about to happen. I felt guilty that he didn’t know and that I couldn’t warn him or talk him through it.

As the vet pushed the anesthetic through the catheter, Zooey tried to kiss her. He was loving and calm and he tried to keep his head up like a brave boy. But then his eyes started to close. I told him that I loved him. I thanked him for being my buddy. And I just kept rubbing his head, hoping that he felt comforted. And then he put his head down between his paws and the doctor left me there in that room with Zooey’s body.

I slipped his collar off over his head, taking note of how he didn’t raise his chin to make it slip off easier. I ran my hand down his back, taking note of how he didn’t lean into my touch. I rubbed his ear and kissed his nose and he didn’t kiss me back. And the dog I had loved, I knew, was gone and wouldn’t be back.

We went to the vet as a family of four. And came back a family of three.

There are reminders of him everywhere. His dog bowl by the dining room table, his basket of toys by the fireplace, the hair he shed (which is everywhere). It’s what isn’t here though, that invokes the most poignant reminders. It’s what isn’t here that reminds me what is missing most. 

Zooey's tags: King of the Yard








18 comments:

  1. As someone who is sitting next to her old friend as she types, my heart aches for you and your family. I'm so sorry. What a brave boy; both of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cat. In the aftermath, the hardest part has been keeping a stiff upper lip around my daughter. We're really trying to keep it together so that she doesn't feed off of the saddness too much.

      Give your old friend a pat on the head and a hug for me.

      Delete
  2. I feel for you. When I was a teenager, my parents put down my aged cat that had been with me through so many years of moves and changes. I don't know if I would have ever been ready for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've had a lot of pets in my life, but this was the first time I had to make the decision to put one to sleep. As far as decisions go, I can't think of anything that I've struggled with this much.

      Delete
  3. Oh, Chad. Tears are flowing. You write about this so much better than I ever could. My two dogs are reaching their senior years and I am trying to mentally prepare myself for the day we part, but the truth is, I don't think it's really possible to steel myself against the grief. The love of a dog is truly a blessing.

    Your Zooey was a very special dog, and he was blessed to have your family as his very own.

    Hugs to you all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Karen. I thought I had been preparing myself for this day. I guess I was in some ways. But I agree with you that it really isn't possible to steel ourselves against the grief that comes when the end arrives. Although I wish it was a happier time for me, the depth of our sadness is a reflection of the love we had for him and for that love I am quite thankful.

      Delete
  4. Oh, wow, you have described our experience with our dog to a tee. Some people say, it's just a dog, but I know Zooey was so much more to your family. It is a heartwrenching experience to let go. It just takes time to heal. I hope you are filled with wonderful memories. Take care...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Toni. He certainly felt like one of the family to us. I spent some time yesterday listening to sad music and looking through old pictures of us (an exercise in self-torture, I know). We did have some great memories that I will always cherish.

      Delete
  5. Chad, my friend I have not met. My thoughts are with you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Calvin! I appreciate that.

      Delete
  6. So very sad. It is hard to know how much they are suffering, and that is the hard part. My dog came down with liver disease (I swear he wasn't a big drinker! ;)) and the vet wanted to put him down immediately. But I just couldn't. He turned to my husband and said "Take him home. She'll look at him through different eyes now." And it was true. Suddenly I could see how much he was hurting, and we made the decision soon afterward. I hope your heart soon heals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your experience rings true with me. Nothing really changed that much for our dog . . . it was just that I also, quite suddenly, saw him through different eyes.

      Thank you for sharing and for the heartfelt words of encouragement.

      Delete
  7. Yours is a moving account of loss, but it also celebrates a life well-lived. Well done. And, sympathy for your loss.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Chad, that was a very difficult post to read. It brought back so many memories of when we had to say goodbye to one of our best friends a few years ago. I cried for weeks. It's never an easy decision, but Zooey was so very fortunate to have had such a wonderful, loving, and caring family, just as you were fortunate to have had him in your lives too. I am so very sorry. My thoughts are with you. ~Clare

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Clare.

      I saw a bumper sticker yesterday in the outline of a dog's paw. Within the paw were the words "Who rescued who?" Although I'm not sure about the grammar of that bumper sticker, the message was clear. I think I probably needed Zooey a whole lot more than he needed me. I really do feel fortunate to have had so many years with him.

      Delete