It’s been a few weeks but now I feel I can get this out…
At the end of January I made the painful decision to put our eldest two dogs to sleep. Putting one down is heart-wrenching, but two puts you on the edge of psychosis.
So many people asked why I was doing it, some even looked at me horrified like I was doing a bad thing, as if making this decision wasn’t hard enough. But I loved both dogs beyond measure, and I had made them both a promise long ago that when they came to the point of living in daily pain, I wouldn’t let them suffer. I’ve long held that we’re far kinder to the animals we love than the humans, but I’ll save that for another blog.
My beautiful Pepper. Rescued from the SPCA she was all mutt, 65 lbs of hair and attitude. She channeled Houdini and could get out of spaces her big butt should never have fit through. We’re pretty sure she hid opposable thumbs on those ginormous paws and fully understood “human”. She had a cast-iron stomach and felt she should she live off people food, knowing how to sit-pretty to ensure she would be rewarded. Shortly after adopting her I found out two key things; 1) she was the best watchdog ever, and 2) she had an area of her lower spine where the vertebrae were fusing together. The vet said it would only be a few years before she wouldn’t be able to walk. Pepper was about 6 at the time and I dreaded how quickly she was going to become immobile. Fast forward another 6 years and she was quite happy to prove her diagnosis wrong.
(Me and my girl Pepper)
But at 12, the pain of her back was definitely catching up to her. Always game for a car ride, Pepper was at the point where jumping into the back seat resulted in very ungraceful scramblings. Sitting was a lopsided event because of hip pain, and laying down was met with painful grunting. Those beautiful brown eyes had turned milky white and she had silvered so much around her face and ears. My protective girl barked at everything outside because she couldn’t see to distinguish friend or foe. In the house she became a crotchety old woman, laying at my feet and growling at the other dogs if they came into her space. Having loved this dog for so long, it was evident she was miserable.
Now while Pepper had been adopted into our house, baby Jake had been born into it. Jon’s Buddy Jake was a Golden Retriever, picked out of the litter by my son Jon as a 5th birthday present. Teething, house training, learning to swim, basic obedience – we went through all those fun activities with Jake. Ultimately he turned into one amazing and highly loveable dog, though on occasion he proved not so bright. Hence he was referred to as our beach-blonde surfer boy (think Spicolli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High). He would look at you with an expression that said “Dude..where’s my ball?” “Dude, I’m tired. Where’s my ball?” “Dude, I need to go outside. Where’s my ball?” The retriever instinct was especially high in him. Tennis balls, Frisbees, socks, stuffed animals – all were viewed as “the ball”, and all were fair game as far as Jake was concerned. He was also very devoted to his family. He had no issue with defending us against threatening dogs, including one terroristic little yorkie who came racing over to our yard and was subsequently picked up and shaken like a rag doll. Jake got a lot of playtime and lovin’s for that! (yes the vicious little hairball was fine- and quick to vacate our yard).
(Jake having fun at the dog park)
But as with a lot of large dogs, hip dysplasia set in for our boy. His hind leg muscles atrophied and he became quite lopsided- heavy muscles up front from pulling himself upright, and skinny butt in the back that shook with weakness. Even the four steps on the back porch proved too much on certain days and while he could get down them, he couldn’t get back up and I’d have to pick up his back end and carry him up. He was to the point where he was winded even playing in the living room, and often yelped in pain for stepping wrong or when playing with the other dogs. He really only wanted to stretch out on the tile and rest (which was accompanied by some serious old man groaning for the effort). At 9 years old our baby Jake was in daily pain and there was nothing more the vet could do beyond just trying to make him comfortable.
So when I decided it was time to move rental houses, I also decided it was time to give my beloved dogs some peace. Our vet was wonderful through the whole process. He has always been the most caring vet I’ve ever dealt with, but for this he was just as calm and caring as we could have ever wanted him to be. He understood that having them both put to sleep at the same time was a tremendously hard decision, but its not as if we could have decided which one to do one day, and then come back a week later and do the other one. THAT would have been Hell! Knowing the date was approaching, the kids and I had spent extra time loving on Pepper and Jake, taking them to the dog park and indulging them with food and goodies. I also spent many hours holding Pepper at night and crying because I was losing her. I hereby formally declare DOING THE RIGHT THING SUCKS! Yet ultimately the process at the vet’s office was mercifully quick.
The last week in the house was emotionally hard. On top of the usual routine of a fulltime job, Jon’s school work, and Chelsie’s 20-something drama, there was packing to do, move planning, and a pervasive emptiness hanging over the house from the loss of our two dearest companions. Let’s just say emotional outbursts were frequent from all parties.
But we did move, and each day gets a little easier. It’s been almost a month and I can finally write about this – I’m choked up but not sobbing so I consider that progress. We are not completely dogless either, but having only one feels tremendously different. At 2 Cloe is young and energetic, but at times she has an old and knowing soul and looks at me with a Pepper expression that melts my heart. She’s still working through the loss of her pack, especially her boyfriend Jake, but she’s settling in to her roles of house-protector and plate-cleaner. She’s picked up a few other Pepper traits too, knowing how to sit-pretty and improving her Houdini-escapes by getting her big butt out of completely locked kennels (yep, they’re still locked but she’s not in them). I think there will ultimately be another four-legged addition to the family, but it’s going to be a while. I’m content to spoil Cloe while my heartache heals.
(Cloe, Jake and Pepper)