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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #35: A Doggie Death in the Family

Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.

For those of you who haven’t heard, we lost our little dog Happy last week.

Happy was a Cavachon mix, a spoiled little princess with fur as soft as lambswool. She was 11, which is not terribly old for a smaller breed of dog, but as I wrote in my post in February, little Happy had been sick with an enlarged heart that the doctors discovered over the winter. Whenever she got excited or had any kind of physical exertion, she would start coughing as if trying to work something out of her throat.

Despite the medicine we gave her to slow the progression of the disease, the coughing got progressively worse in recent weeks until even jumping off the bed or going up the stairs would bring on a coughing fit. It was tough watching her struggle. We could see her little heart working extra hard in her chest, and we knew it was only a matter of time before it gave out.

The end for Happy came mid-last week when Rachael and I were away on an overnight trip to attend the installation of my high school classmate and longtime friend Timothy Senior as the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg. When we came back from that joyous occasion, we got the sad news that Happy had gone over the rainbow bridge. Rachael’s kids had found her that morning in the downstairs hallway, lying peacefully on the floor with her head on one outstretched paw as if she had gone to sleep there and not woken up.

It was a tough scene in the house as we gathered around Happy and said our goodbyes. But it gave us some comfort to know that from all accounts, she hadn't suffered at the end. Pets are part of our human family, after all, and like our family members, we want to know that they are not hurting too much when the time comes to give up the ghost.

Other than her enlarged heart, Happy was fairly healthy for an 11-year-old dog. She didn’t have arthritis, did not (to our knowledge) have cancer or another awful disease. She had a good appetite, was able to go out on walks and on trips in the car. She was doing all these things until her final days, which was a blessing.

It also gives us comfort to know that Happy doesn’t have to struggle for breath anymore. To borrow words people often use when talking about a deceased loved one, she is in a better place now, and it’s left to us, her family, to adjust to life without her.

That’s not easy, especially for Rachael and her kids. I came in late in the game, when Happy was three or four. Rachael and her children, on the other hand, knew her from the time they brought her home as a nine-week-old puppy.

When you have a pet for that long, you really get to know their every little habit and idiosyncrasy. Each dog, like each person, has them. And just as is the case with our departed human loved ones, It’s those idiosyncrasies that make our pets unique and special, and what often lingers in our hearts and minds long after they are gone.

Happy, for instance, was a worrywart with an abandonment complex. All we needed to do was pull out a suitcase and she would get that worried look in her eyes, as if her long-feared abandonment was finally at hand and she would left without home and family, as must have happened when she was separated from her mother and siblings as a puppy.

Conversely, the day we would walk back into the house was the best day of her life. All her worries were forgotten, and she would run for joy to grab one of her stuffed toys and lie with it on the floor and continue the process of shredding it to pieces with her razor teeth.

She was a little mother hen, happiest when everyone was sitting down watching TV and she could relax, knowing we weren’t going anywhere. Likely all that worrying took a few dog years off her life, as it tends to do for us humans as well. But it was part of her personality, and something that made her all the more loveable.

Every dog has its master, the sun around which its world revolved, and for Happy, that was Rachael. Whenever Rachael left the house, little Happy would sit in the hallway staring at the door, waiting for her to return. When Rachael was busy and I took Happy for a walk with my German Shorthair Pointer Cassie (not an easy task, with Cassie pulling me like a sled and Happy trailing behind like a bowling ball), Happy would constantly be looking back to see if Rachael was coming too.

We suspect the reason Happy was lying in the downstairs hallway at the end is because she was waiting for Rachael to return from wherever she’d gone this time. Likely, she’s up at heaven’s door now, waiting for the day to reunite with her family. (Do dogs go to heaven? Who knows, but there’s nothing wrong with hoping.)

It’s incredible, isn’t it, the bond we form with dogs? I mean, they are animals, after all--descendants of wolves. The fact that they’ve been bred over the centuries to walk by our sides as our best friends speaks, I think, to humankind’s deep need for companionship.

Animal companionship is so important to us, in fact, that we’re willing to spend our hard-earned money on taking care of our dogs and spend hours walking them around the neighborhood on leashes while picking up their poop in little doggie bags.

In the end, of course, they die—hopefully after a good long life—and we’re left heartbroken. Is it worth it—to have to spend all that money, go through all that trouble, collect all those poop bags, only to be left with memories and a broken heart?

Some would say no. As for me—and, I think, Rachael and her kids as well—I will close with the words of the great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson:

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

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Jul 02, 2023

Perfect comment on having and losing a beloved pet.

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