The Pain and Grief of Saying Goodbye to 'Joey the Dog'
My Dog Joey
Losing a pet
Have you ever lost a beloved pet
I knew it was time to say goodbye to my dog
I knew it was time to put my dog down this past August of 2016 when he struggled to get up from his bed and could barely walk without falling down. Watching my furry best friend slow down from arthritis, and lose his usual upbeat spirit was like stabbing a knife into my heart. He and I have quite the history together which goes back to the year 2004. This was a year ripe with trials and tribulations which made it the perfect time to adopt a family dog.
Adopting our beloved dog
As I mentioned earlier, our family was facing many hardships back in 2004. I was diagnosed with lung cancer in February of that year and moved in with my twin sister and her two children. I'm like a second mom to my niece and nephew, so news of auntie mama having cancer was very scary for them. They were also dealing with the pain of their mom and dad's recent divorce. Things were pretty serious around our house, so my sister and I decided it was time to adopt a dog. It was one of the best decisions we ever made.
I wasn't there when Joey was adopted because I was having a garage sale with a friend. I remember the family coming to the sale with the sweetest male, black lab mix. Joey was three years old and had a hint of grey already coming in around his mouth. He was well behaved and I was excited to finish the sale and make my way home to share in the excitement of our new addition to the family.
When I arrived home, Joey was already acting like he'd lived with us for years. He excitedly barked (what we got to know was ) his 'happy bark' when I walked in the door. It was a really special night getting to know our new dog and establishing family rituals.
Joey and I Did Everything Together
Joey and I formed a special bond from from the very beginning. We spent hours together because I was too sick to work while I underwent chemo and radiation. While my sister worked and the kids were at school, Joey and I hung out and took care of each other. I even brought him to radiation treatments with me for moral support. Joey became everything to me, and I wondered how I ever got along without him. He and I had a special connection and understanding of each other that's hard to put into words. I'll share one of many stories to illustrate it.
I was in the thick of chemotherapy and my body was starting to revolt. The oncologist had warned me that with every chemo treatment, you get sicker because the drugs have a cumulative effect on your body. This particular day, I was feeling crummy, but no worse than usual. I started noticing that my furry best friend was following me everywhere. He even tried to follow me into the shower, which is strange as he was always afraid of it. I had no idea at the time that Joey sensed impending doom. He knew that my health was off and kept close to me throughout the day. The answer to his behavior came later in the day when I collapsed on my way to the bathroom. Turns out my blood counts were extremely off from the chemotherapy drugs, and my body just shut down. I remember waking up on my bed with Joey laying his head in the nape of my neck. He laid there until the paramedics put me on a stretcher and wheeled me into the ambulance. He watched and whined as he saw mama pulling away in a big scary truck; knowing something was not right.
It was my Turn to Take Care of Joey
Joey took such good care of my family and I throughout the years. I remember when we used to bring him to the ice rink and he'd pull the kids around with a rope. It was great exercise and fun for all. When I was getting weak from cancer treatments, Joey would pull me up the hill on our daily walk. He lifted our spirits when we were facing something difficult, like divorce or illness. We always knew without a doubt, Joey was there for us. As Joey got older and the tides were changing, we knew it was our time to give extra love and care to him. He was having a hard time getting out of his bed and up the living room stairs to go outside. We were his loyal cheerleaders rooting him on as he summoned the courage to hop up that last step. It was a beautiful thing actually; picture two teenagers and two grown adults engrossed in helping our furry family member get outside to do his business. That's what family love is all about. He gifted us with the raw meaning of unconditional love all these years, and now, as he slowed down, it was time to make sure he knew we were there for him. Those last few months I was still able to get him out for a walk in the neighborhood with his younger sister 'Spooky' who is much younger and has lots of energy. We both sensed at some level that getting Joey out for a walk was nearing an end. The walks were getting slower and shorter but we respected his journey and went with the flow. There were times when Joey fell because he had lost most of the muscle strength in his back legs. Spooky and I would patiently wait until Joey was ready to get back up and continue on. We rejoiced in our time together on those last walks; not how fast they were or how far we went. The daily walk was all about giving joy to Joey, wherever he was on any given day.
Joey's Last Night Celebration
I innately knew it was time to put Joey to sleep. It wasn't just about his age related health problems but his diminishing zest for life. I could tell my sweet boy wasn't having fun anymore. The bright sparkle in his eyes became dimmer and dimmer his last week on earth. We made the dreaded appointment with our local veterinarian with a stinging apprehension. We designated his last night on earth a 'Joey celebration'. We all laid on the floor next to him and told family stories of our time together. The stories poured out from our hearts like they happened only yesterday. I could have sworn Joey was smiling during one of his favorite memories of he and the kids. That night, Joey enjoyed his favorite treat, awarded for only special occasions. Bittersweet tears flowed as we watched him lick his last Vanilla ice cream cone. What a painfully beautiful night it was, that last night celebrating our beautiful boy. Surrounding Joey in our blankets and sleeping bags, we performed our last goodnight ritual together as a family,
Our Final Goodbye at the Animal Hospital
We sat cross legged, gathered around Joey as the doctor explained the process ahead of us. I could see that the first medication he administered caused Joey to get extremely groggy and out of it. I panicked and moved from my place at Joey's side to the front of his beautiful face. I wanted my face to be the last face my sweet boy saw. I tried my best to speak clearly as emotions took over me. I whispered words I often spoke when he was scared or not feeling good. "Mama's here Joey, everything will be alright." I caressed Joey's face and repeated these words until he took his last breath. The heartache in the room was palpable as we all faced a life ahead without our beloved family member. Our only solace as we grieve the loss of Joey is the vision of him running, pain free on his favorite walking trail.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
Josh Billings (a.k.a. Henry Wheeler Shaw; humorist and lecturer)
My beautiful dog
Video of Joey and Spooky Getting Excited for a Walk
My Dog and I
© 2017 Linda Rogers