Best Friends

On Facebook recently, a friend posted her thoughts on losing the dog who had been in her life for 13 years – a rescue dog who needed patience, a sense of security and love and found it in her family. I could honestly say, I feel your pain.

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When our twelve year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, Harley, lost significant strength and agility in his hind legs, I discussed the “what ifs” with our vet. My husband and I agreed that no Herculean measures would be taken to prolong the dog’s life that would cause him great pain or diminish his quality of life. The vet shared our viewpoint. We had an understanding for that some-day-in–the-future scenario. Sadly, within a few weeks of that discussion, Harley’s deterioration escalated.
The prognosis staring at us was dire.

When we brought the eight week-old Harley into our lives, he quickly established himself as part of the family. It was fascinating to see the relationships that developed. The dog hero-worshipped my husband. Their bond was instant, strong and silent. Although Harley kept busy with the kids and a certain degree of “homeland security” during the day, he always took his place beside my husband’s chair at night.

My oldest son was the dog walker on the coldest of mornings and the rainiest of nights. He loved him deeply but he also liked to remind the dog who was the Alpha Male in their relationship. Harley accepted the subservient role but would take every opportunity to sneak a sandwich off Alpha’s plate if left unguarded. My middle son always greeted the dog in the morning as Harley sat on the stairway landing looking out the window. These two would have a dialogue of words and wags as they began their days. My daughter showered him with kisses, hugs and belly rubs. He returned her love by sparing the one stuffed animal (a cat) that she loved dearly. All others were fair game for decapitation.

For me, he was my walking partner, my silent editor, the keeper of my secrets, tag along gardener, and the ultimate fan of anything I cooked. I was a stay at home mom and he was my stay at home dog.

The news from the vet was a sucker punch although, in all honesty, I had seen the wind-up. We knew the compassionate decision was to let Harley go, and with the guidance from our vet, we prepared to do so. Everyone had the opportunity to say good-bye. Then my husband and I sat with Harley on the floor in a small room at the vet’s office. I held his head with my two hands under his jaw and looked into his eyes while my husband scratched his ears and stroked his head. Both of us murmured “I love you” until his heart stopped.
I thought mine had as well.

That first night without the dog, neither my husband or I slept. I had complained for more than a year about trying to sleep in room with a snoring husband and snoring dog, now I discovered I couldn’t sleep without those sounds. The silence was disturbing. In the days following his death, I met more silence in the kitchen, the family room, my writing room. The house held that absolute stillness like it does in the moments after a power failure when you realize that the refrigerator and electric lights do emit sounds that are the low humming white noise in your home. I was in that power failure. No snoring dog at my feet while I wrote, no barking at joggers, no shaking of his head and subsequent jangling of his tags, no slurping of water, no paw-steps across the floor.

I posted something on line about losing the dog and like my friend, received many compassionate comments. Friends took the time to express their understanding of the depth of our loss. There were friends who wrote on the Facebook page, but others wrote personal emails and left phone messages. Some sent flowers with a note. Still others gave me long, tight hugs and told me that we made the right decision.

These are the friends who know the value of a dog in a family. These are the friends who know the depth of the bond between a dog and a family. They remind you of the great life you gave the dog. Some share your heartbreak because they have had their hearts broken in the same way. Some have older dogs and know their day is around some not-too-distant corner. They tell you to grieve. They take your hand. They let you talk about the dog and laugh with you in the memories.

They are your dog-gone friends.

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