I think I can officially say that this past week has earned its place as the saddest week of my life.
Once you learn why, you’ll quickly see that I have lived a sheltered and easy life up to this point *knocking on wood* however, for me, it has left a hole in my heart that’ll take some time to shrink.
Today, my wife and I made the decision to put our beloved dog – Petie – to sleep.
It was a moment we have been trying to postpone for months, but he was in too much pain for too long.
Petie joined our family as a puppy 5 months after my wife and I got married. We figured that we would want kids one day and what better training than the most perfect little animal ever created? If we can keep him alive for a few years, surely we can handle baby humans.
I’ve had several dogs throughout my life and, given that my mom shows dogs professionally, I’ve been around a lot of dogs. Like… a lot. Petie was special.
Petie was born into a show-dog litter. His parents were like… Sheltie dog royalty with pure lines and champions and all of this razzle dazzle stuff that, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about. We got Petie because he was born with a defect. His upper left canine tooth had developed abnormally. It grew inward toward the center of his mouth rather than down like normal teeth. By every measure, Petie was the “perfect Sheltie” except for his tooth. And that alone disqualified him from becoming a show dog.
The breeder had actually taken him to a human orthodontist to see if there was any way to put braces on him to straighten his tooth. It was worth it to her because Petie’s fur, bone structure, height, everything was perfect in the Sheltie world… except that snaggle tooth. The orthodontist advised that it may not be the best look for his human patients to see him working on a dog and he politely declined. And that meant we could have Petie as our boy.
Petie was debarked before we got him. This is a procedure where a vet will make a small incision in the vocal cords to make a dog’s bark sound like more of a whisper than a bark. Since he was meant to be a show dog, living with lots of other dogs, his breeder debarked him and all her other dogs to keep the noise down.
Having done more research on it, the procedure itself isn’t scary. It is less invasive and the recovery time is quicker than spaying or neutering. The dogs still bark, it is just quieter. This post isn’t about whether or not debarking is okay, it’s just to say that he had a cute, quiet bark.
He would let us know when he wanted to go play or go potty based on his bark. We’d tell him, “Bark twice if you want to go potty.” *bark, bark…* “Bark 3 times if you want to go play *frustrated snort followed by, bark bark*
Now, did Petie actually understand the concept of human English, numbers, and complex algorithms?
Absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind he knew astrophysics and no one can prove me wrong.
I’m sure many of you have had a pet like Petie. He was loyal. He was always looking to please us, our kids, strangers, basically everyone he met. He rolled with the punches of 3 little kids tackling him, pulling his ears, and snuggling him at all times.
With each of our 3 kids, whenever my wife would get up in the middle of the night to feed them, Petie would wake up, follow my wife and sit by her feet as she changed diapers, fed babies, and rocked them to sleep. Every. Single. Time.
Petie was my fetch buddy. As soon as he’d see me reach for my tennis racket, he knew the game was on. He would play fetch for as long as I was willing to hit a tennis ball, trotting back to me just happy as a clam and dropping the ball by my feet for another shot. When it snowed, he’d dive head first into the snow after the snowball we had just made and tossed across the yard. He’d come bouncing back with he mouth open and his tail wagging ready for the next snowball to replace the one he couldn’t find.
As Petie got older, he couldn’t play fetch for as long. He couldn’t jump on the bed and wrestle like he used to. A couple of years ago we got a 2nd dog – a golden retriever – who brought a new energy into the home. Unfortunately, the golden retriever got a lot bigger than Petie and didn’t realize how big she was. She beat up on Petie a bit, but they eventually became friends.
Petie’s snaggle-tooth began to affect the rest of his mouth. His teeth started to decay in a way that made it painful for him to eat. As we moved to smaller kibble and eventually wet foods, he started turning down meals more and more frequently. On top of that, for the past year and a half, he’s slowly gone deaf, and for the last 7 months, he hasn’t been able to hear us call his name, or that he’s a good boy, or that we love him.
We tried to prolong his life as best as we could, but over the past week, you could see the fight to live leave him, and he was in too much pain to stand, to walk, and to eat. He would lick some ice cubes but he refused to eat anything. Chicken, turkey, gravy… all of his favorite treats were repulsive to him at this point. If he did swallow anything, he would throw it up.
The last week has been miserable for him. He didn’t want to get up or move. He went 5 days without food and so, this morning, we took him to the vet.
The people at Brookside Animal Clinic were great. They were compassionate, they were kind, they gave us the space we needed and Petie the dignity he deserved. The first step was to sedate him. Within a minute or two, Petie was laying on the table sleeping. I think it was the first time in a long time that he hadn’t been in a lot of pain.
After about 10 minutes, the vet returned and put Petie to sleep for good. She mentioned that his heart would stop within a minute or two, but he wouldn’t feel anything. After a minute or two, she listened and his heart was still beating. He held on a couple more minutes and then we got confirmation that he was gone.
Petie just missed his 12th birthday. He will be missed greatly by me and my family.
I used to cry. A lot. I think I scared my parents because I would cry over just about anything. I’d remember pre-school friends and cry because I missed them. I’d cry during sporting events, movies, everything. Very sensitive soul.
But then my parents got divorced in high school and I didn’t want to cry anymore. I lived in Russia for a couple years after high school and I guess I learned how to suppress emotions rather effectively while there. I didn’t cry when my wife and I got married. I didn’t cry when we had our kids.
The first time my wife heard me cry was after 10 years of marriage. I had nightmares over two consecutive nights where I was forced to watch my kids die in the nightmare. I was crying in the nightmare, and woke up crying. So technically, she has never seen me cry… until today.
I tried hard, but just couldn’t hold it back – and it’s not a pretty site, but it is what it is.
The emotions come in waves. I went into work after I had calmed down and it was a good distraction. Held strong through most of the work day and then went home and started writing this and, well… let’s just say that I’m glad you are reading this and not watching me type it. I’m a mess. But, this blog is a journal of sorts for me and a way to memorialize Petie, so we must… keep… going.
I feel like dogs embody so much of what is good in the world.
However, for better or worse, all dogs seem to be terrible at one thing:
Hiding their feelings.
If a dog is scared, or hurt, or tired, or they have to go potty… they just can’t hide it. If my childhood dream ever did come true, and dogs could magically talk, you’d never need a lie detector test because their bodies and eyes would tell you exactly what they were thinking.
Most importantly, any time their person pulls in the driveway, and walks through the door, a dog’s ears perk up, its eyes widen, its tail turns into a helicopter, and they spin around barking because they are so happy that their person is finally home to pet them, play with them, and snuggle with them.
And this is what I’d like to focus on.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this next feeling a fear, but it is something that I want to avoid at all costs.
There are people in my life that mean so much to me. The easy family answers are obvious, but there are several friends, coworkers, and neighbors that I care so deeply about that it almost hurts.
Just like Petie, if I know they are coming to my house, I stand by the window, look down the street trying to catch the first glimpse of their car, and then run back away from the door so I don’t look too crazy and desperate, yelling to my wife, “They’re here! They’re here!” while spinning in circles, waiting for them to come to the door.
Of course, when I answer the door, all of that changes. I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m collected. I answer the door like I just don’t care, “Oh hey, *head nod* I was busy doing stuff, didn’t hear the doorbell ring, you been there long?”
It’s happened… recently… I’m not ashamed to admit it now, but why am I ashamed to let them know how I feel?
My guy friends and I seem to share the love language of taunting each other and piles of sarcasm. We’d never break down and say, “I love you, man.” And I don’t care how sentimental I get, I’m not going to resort to licking peoples’ hands. Dogs are kinda nuts there.
However, the last thing I want is for the people, about whom I feel so much love and respect, to never know how I really feel about them.
Whether it’s manly bravado or youthful ignorance or fear of opening myself up to someone who doesn’t reciprocate the same feelings (funny story there with my wife), I find myself hesitant to express how much I love, respect, and admire people in my life. I hold back words I want to say like, “Hey, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate our friendship and I get so happy when I see you succeed. I always look forward to spending time with you and I feel safe sharing my thoughts around you. Thank you for being in my life and making it better.”
So here’s my attempt at words of wisdom for this month. Whether it’s a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor – will you join with me in taking the time over this next week, maybe even today, to let the people you truly care about know how you feel. It’ll make their day. It’ll make yours.
We lost our buddy – our boy Petie today, and our house feels empty, missing something that should be there, but I have no doubt that he knew beyond question that he was loved and adored by me, my kids, and his favorite person in the whole world, who I believe he has stayed alive for longer than he maybe should have – my wife. He was and always will be her dog.
Miss you buddy.