I will start this post by offering only this caution: If you are not a dog lover, you will probably not be able to understand what follows. It may be best if you do not read on.
I have never loved anything as much as I loved my dog.
A week ago, my family and I made a decision that I have been praying for over a year and a half we wouldn’t have to: to euthanize our beloved collie, Teddy. In October 2011, Teddy experienced a collapse that was linked to a heart condition, and in February 2012, he went into heart failure. At that time, we were told he would likely only live an additional three to six months, and understandably, we were devastated. However, at subsequent check-ups with his cardiologist at the incredible Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, his heart condition continuously did not worsen. We were overjoyed with each positive report, but sadly, Teddy seemed to have developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to walk. When this condition suddenly worsened over the weekend to such a point that he could not stand, much less walk, leaving the only option of performing an MRI for which the sedation may kill him due to his heart or to catheterize him at home, we knew it was time.
An empty darkness now hangs in the house, a kind of impenetrable silence that is almost deafening. We promptly disposed of his bed, food, toys, etc, but his infamous tumbleweeds of fur still lurk in corners and under chairs. The backyard seems to no longer have a purpose, as it was Teddy’s domain. My tiny bedroom looks so much bigger without his bed on the floor next to my own, and gone are the days of him crying at 6 am to be fed. But as sad as I am, I try to remind myself that we were lucky enough to experience so much more time with him than even the best doctors in the region thought we would. And as weird as it may sound, a part of me just had a feeling that this was going to happen this summer, that time was running out, that we couldn’t be that lucky for that long. Two days before he died, I woke up to let him out and he was having a particularly hard time walking. After falling several times, I just sat down with him on the front lawn and started crying. He seemed to not be trying any more, and there was a certain emptiness in his gaze. As bad as some of his weak spells had been, never before did I get an overwhelming sense that the end really was near. But as that day wore on, he seemed to get a little bit better, making it appear as though I had overreacted, but that strange sense still hung around me. Thus, when my brother texted me on Monday to tell me they were taking Teddy to the vet, I was not that surprised and feared that this would be the last of such trips. Nevertheless, the decision to put him down was the most awful experience of my life and I really do feel that my life will never quite be the same.
Some may wonder why the loss of a dog is so painful, and as odd as it may sound, Teddy was more than just a dog to me; he was truly a friend who through his every move taught me so much about how to best live life. We got Teddy when I was in sixth grade. Since Day 1, he taught me about responsibility and how to have fun in the purest senses. From those same early days, Teddy showed that his health would always prove problematic, for he developed epilepsy before he was even a year old. The seizures were seldom frequent, usually occurring once every six to eight weeks due to certain triggers. They were difficult to watch, as his body tensed and convulsed and he held his breath, and they even made me cry, for I so loved this dog that it killed me to see him in such discomfort. While some may have euthanized him then, my family and I knew that it was a condition we could manage with a little more caution and control of his environment, and he had several stretches of six month periods or longer without any seizures. Managing that condition required such a patience and love that has never been required of me before.
Having had him for nearly half of my life, Teddy was one constant source of comfort through some truly difficult periods. I cannot tell you how many tears of mine the fluffy white fur around his neck held, as I would usually curl up next to him and bury my face in his fur when something bad sent me into such a state. He would usually sit and let me hug him or pet him until I calmed down. Sometimes, if I cried by myself, he would come up to me and either lick the tears off my cheeks or just lean against me. Other times, he brought a toy to me in an attempt to distract me and get at least a small smile to spread across my face. Teddy added so much joy to my life, as we ventured on walks in the neighborhood and played in the backyard. He always greeted me with so much joy when the bus dropped me off around the corner in middle and high school and when I returned from being away at college. Teddy was a master of just being a silly dog who through wanting all the attention I had always brought some amount of joy to my days. Road trips down to Long Beach Island, NJ meant it was just him and I chilling in the back seat of my mother’s Santa Fe for five hours, when on the way there he was an excited ball of energy and on the way back he usually snuggled up against my side as we both snoozed, exhausted from the fun in the sand. It was this constant companionship, even in the toughest of times, that taught me what true love and loyalty is.
I suspect that my family and I will grieve for a long, long time. But I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals in the world to have been blessed with a dog that served as a best friend for nearly twelve years of my life. So much of my life and the life of my family centered around being dog owners, and to suddenly have that stripped away is causing a bit of an identity crisis. In the days since, people keep telling me that they know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a more meaningful compliment. To have it be widely known how much love I had for one creature speaks volumes, and if that is a trait that people easily equate with me, then I could not be more honored, and it makes me rest a little easier knowing that Teddy must have known how much I loved him, too. Sitting here, sadness overwhelms me, but while the end was not peaceful like they say it’s supposed to be, the deepest parts of my soul tell me it was time to let him go.