Dog Days of Summer, Farewell

This summer, I had to say goodbye to two family dogs. Before I tell this sad tale, I must share the joys of my furry friends.

In 1996, the live-action 101 Dalmatians movie came out. I can recall my sister, 8-years-old at the time, and I, 6-years-old, begging our parents to let us get a dog. Stacy and I must have had some serious puppy eyes since we got two new puppies a couple of days later. I picked my dog because he was the only puppy not mobbing me when I walked into the yard. I named him Jordan. The top basketball player at the time was Michael Jordan, but I wasn’t into basketball at all. I figured it was better than any stereotypical dog name, such as Spike or Butkus. Jordan was a golden-retriever with some chocolate labrador in him. Stacy originally picked the same breed of dog. A year or so had passed. We asked the breeders to babysit our dogs for a week while we went on a family vacation. However, there was some miscommunication which resulted in the breeders selling Stacy’s original dog to someone else. I remember her being heartbroken when we returned home, but she was lucky enough to pick another dog. She named her Jewel, and she was a spunky, beautiful black labrador. We celebrated the dogs’ birthdays every Valentine’s Day since they were born in February. We would give them chewy bones or small dog snacks – a nice break from the dry dog food. Jordan would eat anything we gave him, but Jewel was a little more picky with her meals. I remember the first time our dogs escaped the backyard and ran straight to the busy city street full of traffic. Stacy and I were in tears thinking some large semi-truck was going to flatten them. I don’t remember how they managed to survive, but I’m sure it involved my mother sprinting across the street and bringing the dogs back home on their leashes. Slowly, they grew from puppies into old dogs. They lost interest in chasing each other around the yard and exchanged it for lounging in the sun. Their hair grew thicker, and their bellies began to stick out a little further. White patches of fur started to show around their mouths, and the color of their coats began to fade from their glorious richness.

When it was time to leave for college, I was not expecting to see Jordan again when I returned for the summer. His breathing was heavier and tumors began to pop up around his body. It was laborious for him to get up and walk into the other room. Yet, he stuck around until my junior year in college. The day I came back home, I went to the backyard to talk to my mom in the garden. I saw Jordan laying on the ground taking in the summer heat. I called his name, and he didn’t move. I figured he was going deaf and didn’t hear me. I yelled louder, but he still didn’t budge. As I got closer, I noticed flies were buzzing around him. My heart sank. I prayed to see his abdomen rise to take another breath, but his lungs had exhaled one last time. Still, I kept saying his name. His eyes were wide open and unfocused. My mother came to my side and said over and over again, “He’s gone, Sean.” She began to cry as I gave her a hug. In between sobs, I heard her say, “He was my friend.” I could not believe it. I refused to believe it. It wasn’t fair. My mom told me he was fine an hour before I arrived. I was sad, but I didn’t cry. I gritted my teeth in frustration. It just wasn’t fair. If only, I was there an hour earlier. One hour is all it would have taken. My father and I rolled Jordan into a plastic tub and covered it with a trash bag to be taken to the vet for cremation. The nurse was being very sensitive in explaining the fees. On our way out, I remember her telling us to try to have a good day. Needless to say, it was a terrible beginning for my summer. Things could only get better after that, right?

Nearly a week ago, I was with my sister and her boyfriend hanging out with some friends when my father called Stacy and told us that Jewel was dying. He wasn’t able to give us any more detail without losing his composure. Reluctantly, we got in the car and headed straight home. When I saw my father walking out of the backyard, I knew that this was real. I could see my mother lying next to Jewel barely lit by the backyard solar lights. She was sobbing uncontrollably petting the poor dog and lifting her head so she could breathe. I didn’t know what to do. Stacy crouched down and began to run her fingers through Jewel’s aged black coat, but all I could do was stand there and observe. My father was walking around with his arms folded and occasionally rubbing his eyebrows. In between sobs, my mother told me to kneel down and touch Jewel. The dog was breathing hard and was in deep pain. The last thing I wanted to do was touch her in fear of hurting her. Still, I knelt down and began to scratch behind her ears. I knew that she liked that. When Jewel was younger, she would scratch her ears with her hind leg. However, with old age came arthritis so she wasn’t able to do that anymore. I was there to scratch behind her ears. It made her happy. I could almost see her smile whenever she walked up to let me know that her ears itched. But this time, simply scratching her ears would do nothing. She had more trouble breathing and began to whine with every exhalation. There were a couple times when she yelped in pain as if I accidentally stepped on her paw. I saw that her stomach area was swelling. This was the point when I knew that it was time for her to go. I was mouthing a prayer with tears running down my face, “God, just take her now! She hurts so much!” Nothing changed. I realized that she was only going to stay in pain unless we put her to sleep. I knew that a 24-hour animal ER was nearby, and so I called the number and explained the situation. I was terrified to tell my mother that we had to take Jewel away and put her to sleep. She refused to believe that she was dying. She kept saying that Jewel was going to rebound, but I knew that it was time for the old dog to leave us. My father found a large piece of chip wood that we used as a stretcher. My mother delicately put a soft pillow beneath Jewel’s head. We put her into the back of the mini-van. Stacy volunteered to stay in the back and watch Jewel as we drove to the ER. We arrived, and I got out of the vehicle and walked through the front door. Wiping tears from my eyes and clearing my throat, I buzzed the receptionist to open the door. She led us through the side door, and we placed Jewel carefully onto the table. They asked for someone to do the paperwork, and I haphazardly filled it out quickly. They told us the procedure they were going to perform and that Jewel would not feel a thing. We had one last moment to comfort the old dog and feel her warmth as we petted her head. The nurse put a needle into Jewel and seconds later coldly said, “She is gone.” The nurse left the room, and I watched my sister begin to mourn and my father walk around the corner to weep privately. My eyes were so tired from crying. All I could do was watch a caged dog with one eye sleep in the corner of the room. I didn’t know where to look. The radio against the wall was playing some country pop song – hardly fitting for the family dog’s passing. We all slowly walked outside trying to stifle our sobs. My father paid the bill, and we drove home to see my mother and comfort her once more.

For me, it seems childish to be so distraught over a couple of pets. Maybe it’s because I am a “softy.” It felt like I was back in preschool, and someone broke my favorite toy. I would cry uncontrollably until the teacher would pat me on the back or give me another toy to distract me. This time, there is no replacement. In a sense, my childhood died with my dogs. Am I never going to have fun again? Can I not appreciate the simple joys of life? Certainly not. These events are just a marker in my life. These college years have been forming me into a more mature person and teaching me to continue living life. I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried. I’ve loved, and I’ve lost. Instead of dwelling on the past, it’s time to move forward and make new discoveries. It’s time to make new relationships and enrich the ones I maintain now. It’s my senior year in college, and it may not the be best time of my life. Yet, I will try. I’ll do my best and may fail, but I will truly fail if I abandon any second attempts. It’s good to be back in a familiar and happy place, but it’s the last time I can invest in this environment. Therefore, my goal for this year is to strive for more and never settle for less in everything, whether it be my relationship with God or singing my senior recital. I encourage you to do the same.

These are lilac bushes that we planted for my dogs with their old collars at the soil. They are in the front yard of my house in Joplin.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:2-6

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