Life

In Memory of a Great Dog

For a lot of dog owners, there’s definitely such a thing as love at first sight. They feel it the first time they lock eyes with the four-legged friend they take home from a shelter or from a breeder.

For me, I fell in love with Zoey the first time I saw her photo in a newspaper classified ad that had been placed by a Richmond rescue group.

I saw that tiny black and white image and just couldn’t take my eyes off her face. She was listed as “Josie,” a golden retriever and spaniel mix. I never truly saw the “spaniel” part, but there was no denying the golden part, from her color and her personality.

But when I called that day that the ad appeared, I was told that she had already been adopted. I was so disappointed that someone had beaten me to her, that I set aside the search for a new pet completely. I don’t know why, exactly…I really wanted another dog at that moment. But I wanted her.

About a month later, I picked up a copy of the newspaper at my office and thumbed through that same classified section and was surprised to see that same picture again. It must have been either a mistake or a marketing gimmick, I thought. But I called anyway, just to be sure. It turns out this frightened, timid dog had been adopted by a family with young children. The children, naturally, wanted a dog they could play with, but for “Josie,” their idea of play was just too frightening. The adoption just didn’t work out, and she had been returned.

I made an immediate appointment to meet her and she went home with me that day.

I’ve heard from a lot of rescue dog owners that their dogs know they’ve been given that second chance at life. “Josie” became Zoey, but she knew, too. Every night, after I fed her, she’d come to me with a big, exaggerated smile on her face and raise her paw, waving it at me like she was trying to tap me on the shoulder. When I’d lean towards her, she’d give me a big kiss as if to thank me for feeding her. My other dog at the time, a cocker spaniel I’d had since he was a puppy, made no effort: to him, I was just doing my job. To her, it was a special gesture she appreciated.

It touched me and saddened me at the same time. No dog as sweet as this one should ever have been abused. She should never have known what it was like to be unloved and hungry.

Over time — a lot of it — her “thank yous” became increasingly infrequent. Not, I think, because she became to view me feeding her as my job the way the other dog did, but because she came to understand that this was her home, she was my dog, and she no longer had to worry about where she’d find her next meal.

My favorite picture of her is one I snapped of her on my bed, a few months after I adopted her. She was curled up on a pillow on my bed, just sacked out. I’d heard her get up there, something I never objected to, and let out this big sigh of contentment after finding just the right spot. And every time I heard that big sigh, it made me content, too.

All of this, as you’ve probably surmised, is a setup to this next line that I really don’t want to even think about, much less type: I had to put Zoey out of her suffering early this morning.

Her condition had been deteriorating over the past three weeks. Prior to that, by all indications, she was fine. When I got her, the vet estimated her to be 2 or 3 years old. That would put her right at 10 now. But that was a guess. She could have been 12 or older than that.

Without going into a great deal of now-unimportant medical details, the three primary possibilities seemed to be either an aggressive blood clotting disorder, liver failure or cancer, none of which, at her age, was likely to end well. The vet was meticulous about going over options and cost, but in the end agreed with me that she was just too good of a dog for me to put her through some ordeal of treatment that was really for my benefit more than hers.

It was hard to think about, almost impossible to imagine, until they brought her into the exam room so that I could be with her for the end, and I heard her labored breathing. When I heard that, I knew it was the right thing to do.

She still knew me. She still relished having her ears rubbed and having me put my arms around her and tell her she was a good girl. But she was miserable. And tired. I could see it in her eyes.

As I held her, the end came very gently, without the slightest struggle. No more pain or discomfort. No more labored breathing. Just peaceful rest, just like in the photo of her on my bed, her head on a pillow.

I could say that I wish I had more time with her, but the time I had with her was wonderful. She gave me more than a lifetime of love in just almost seven years.

I live in a dog-friendly apartment complex, so there are plenty of canines around to provide that extra level of security for their home and the neighbors and to provide a little dog contact when needed.

There’ll be another dog at some point, but not just yet. But I look forward to a new round of memories with a new friend…even though I’ll never forget this one that I just lost.

Thanks for caring enough to have read this far. I appreciate it.

20 Comments

  1. Patrick, my heart goes out to you. It’s like losing a child.

    I had to make this same decision a few days ago with Hoodoo, my companion of 15+ years. I think Hoodoo made the decision before I did; she let me know she was ready. But we spent those last couple of days bonding even more than ever.

    I look at it as two hikers who split up to explore different trails, agreeing to meet at the destination.

    1. Thanks, Eric.

      Sorry to hear about Hoodoo. They definitely let you know when it’s time. And yours is a great way to look at it.

  2. Oh Patrick

    My heart is broken for you. I didn’t know about Zack until way after he passed away, and now I see lovely Zoey has passed too. Both such lovely dogs. Hon, if it is any comfort at all, I just know Elvis is taking really good care of them on the other side. He was a caregiver, and I know his little soul is at work helping the new friends adjust to their new life and surroundings. I can see them running around the Heavenly Meadows together. Patrick, please know that phone is on if you want to chat IRL.

    Hugs ((((((Patrick))))))

    -Carly

    1. Thanks so much, Carly. That’s a really comforting thought. I think Zoey would like having Elvis showing her around. And I’m sure Elvis could actually keep Zack straight, which is no small task! 🙂

  3. I’m saddened to hear about Zoey. We went through something similar with Willow ze wunderhund a year ago. It is never easy, never pleasant, despite the best intentions and all the love one can lavish upon a canine companion. I feel your pain. Know it will fade in time.

    1. Thanks, Wil. I remember when you lost Willow. I talked to a friend of mine yesterday about how much losing one hurts, but they give us so much in their lifetime that it’s still worth it.

  4. That is well said my friend and broke my heart.. Any dog would be honored to have you as their friend. As you can see from the picture, she had love in her eyes…

  5. Patrick, a very nice tribute to a good friend. “Love is not selfish…” letting her go was the most compassionate thing you could do. She loved you deeply and you were with her to the end. God gave you the gift to be home when time came. Praying for you buddy.

    1. Thanks, Andy. I was actually preparing myself while in Florida over the weekend that there was a strong chance that my folks might have had to make the decision. I’m very glad I could be there with her for the end, so that the last thing she’d hear was me telling her she was a good girl.

  6. Someone I know lost his dog recently. Many treatments were attempted, but in the end it was her time. I wanted to say something to him, aside from my condolences, to tell him that I understood the depth of his loss.

    I’ve had several dogs, and the loss of each of them cut me deeply. With some dogs, the bond is stronger than with others; I’ve known dogs that I knew, without the slightest doubt, would cheerfully lay down their lives before they were to let any harm come to me. I don’t know if there is any bond stronger than that of a man and his dog. Your dog doesn’t judge by looks or past mistakes. I’ve never known a dog to be anything but earnest in his commitment. I know some people do not subscribe to the notion that dogs go to heaven, but I’ve never questioned it; how could it be a heaven, after all, without dogs?

    I don’t think there is a greater gift that can be given than one’s love, one’s heart. She knew she had yours, and to a dog as much as to a human being, that is a big deal.

    I am very, very sorry for your loss.

  7. I am sooooo sorry! It is so difficult to lose one of the furkids, but you ultimately made the correct choice -for her-. She was a lucky dog to have had you, and you were blessed to enjoy her company for 7 years. I know that our pets are the heart of our family, and I am sure Zoey was that for you.

    1. She was indeed, Astaryth. I had a hard time with the “is it the right choice” question especially when money had to come into the equation. But after listening to the prognosis, asking a lot of questions, then just hearing her breathing and looking at her eyes and seeing how exhausted she looked, I just knew.

  8. Ugh, Patrick, that is a tough one.
    I’m very sorry to hear about your dog. As someone who has had dogs all his life, I’ve been in your shoes before and probably will be again someday.
    Take comfort in the fact that you provided her with a loving and warm home, where as she might have never known it if you hadn’t stepped in. Her life was made infinitely better because of you.

    1. Thanks, Matt. I appreciate that. I’ve been trying to tell myself that a lot over the past few days, knowing that this was the likely outcome. I know in my heart that I gave her a life she couldn’t have imagined in her earliest years when she was inexplicably abused by someone…but as much as I gave her, she gave me a hundred times more.

  9. You are wise not to rush right out and get another dog; wait for the right one to come along. Cliff insisted we go to the shelter and get another dog the next day after my Mandy died because he couldn’t stand to see me cry; it’s worked out in the long run, but I still know I would have been better off grieving for several weeks or even months before getting another dog. Poor Sadie had all that grief poured into her when I first brought her home, and I don’t think it was really good for her. I wouldn’t take anything for her now, understand… but I do know the timing was bad.

    1. You know, Donna, I used to be one of those who would tell people to go out and get a new pet as soon as they feel ready. What I had forgotten at that moment, since it had been a while since I’d actually lost a pet, is the terrible guilt that comes with getting a pet “too soon:” you feel as if you’re somehow telling your old dog’s memory that it didn’t mean anything if it could be replaced so easily.

      That’s not at all what you’re doing. You’re actually making a statement that your old dog meant so much that you just can’t stand the thought of being without that love to give and receive.

      But when you’re in that situation, it’s hard to step back far enough to see that.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.