Sunday, June 5, 2011

Goodbye, Old Friend

I wish I hadn’t answered the phone. We were in Memphis to celebrate my Aunt’s 100th birthday. We were taking it easy in the motel waiting for the evening get-together when the cell phone rang. Dayna answered it and handed it to me. It was the vet. We had kenneled our dog Sadie there for the weekend just as we always do when we went out of town. But this time was different. Sadie was scheduled for a follow-up test on her kidney function. About three weeks before, the vet discovered a significant loss in Sadie’s kidney function. She said it was an aging thing.

Sadie was getting old. We got her from the pound when she was about two years old. She had a case of the mange, she was malnourished and underweight, she had bad teeth, and she was skittish when a hand was held out to her (probably a sign of previous abuse). But she was a Sheltie mix, and we loved her right away. That was thirteen years ago this summer. Sadie was very shy and she wouldn’t bark. For the longest time we didn’t know if she had a bark. But a year or so after we brought her home, we finally heard her bark for the very first time. Though she always remained shy around people, she finally came out of her shell.

And now she was just plain old—15 years old, that’s roughly 105 in dog-years. And the old girl was feeling it. She was pretty much deaf as a post. She was night blind. Her hips were bad, making it hard for her to negotiate step downs or step ups, and sometimes those back legs would just slip out from under her leaving her a little like Steve Urkel: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” And the poor thing only had about five or six teeth left in her head. But she still smiled a lot, still sat patiently staring up at us as we ate our meals, waiting for a little handout, and she could still prance about when she felt like it. So we didn’t know what to make of her condition.

That’s why the vet wanted a re-test on the kidney function after she been on some medicine for awhile. They ran the test last Friday when we dropped her off at the vet. And the phone call in Memphis told us the test was not good. Her kidney function had deteriorated dramatically in the three weeks since her first test. She was dealing with uremic poisoning, and it was going to kill her.

I asked the vet after the first test if it was time to think about putting her down. The vet said, “Probably not just yet. If a dog can do two of the three things she enjoys most, then she has quality of life.” I was tempted to say to the vet, “Well, would you ask her what those three things are because I really don’t have a clue?” But I refrained. We were caught off guard by this and wanted to see if the medicine would work.

It didn’t—not one bit. The vet told us Friday that Sadie’s condition was irreversible, that she would be dead in a month and that she would suffer with this. “Should we put her down?” I asked. “That’s up to you,” he said. “You don’t have to do it right now. You could even wait till you get back in town so you could say goodbye to her or you could just keep her till she showed more serious signs of the poisoning.” Sigh . . . “Can I call you back in a few minutes? I need to talk to my wife.”

So Dayna and I talked. As much as we didn’t want to let her go, neither one of us could bear the thought of showing up at the vet’s on Monday, scratching her behind the ears for a moment or two and then turning her right back over to vet to put her down. Neither did we want to watch her deteriorate and die before our eyes. So I called the vet back. “Go ahead and ….” I couldn’t finish the sentence and there was silence for a few seconds as I tried to speak through this giant lump in my throat. The vet was very patient with that silence—I think he had heard it before. “Go ahead and put her down,” I said. “It’ll be humane,” he said. And sometime late Friday afternoon, Sadie went to sleep for the last time.

And I miss her. Dayna went to Jonesboro from Memphis so I came home alone. And there was Sadie’s bed—a bed she’ll never sleep in again. Her food and water dish in its familiar place—it hurts to know I’ve fed her for the last time. And there’s that rug we put in the corner of our room where she likes to sleep. We put a rug there in hopes that her hair would end up on that little rug instead of in the carpet. Of course, she would start digging away until she moved the rug out of the corner enough to lay on the carpet. It was like a game to her I think. Well, we don’t need that rug anymore. I wonder how long it will take before I'll quit looking for her to come walking into the room? I tend to squelch my emotions on most everything, and I kid with people who get so emotional about their pets. But even stoic old Scottish me is feeling my emotions today.

I once heard somebody say, “You’re not truly free till the last kid leaves home and the dog dies.” I’ve repeated that a lot in a humorous way. It’s not funny to me today. There have been times in the last year or so where for whatever reason Sadie has thrown up a lot and even messed in the house and on the carpet. That really made me mad. And I'll be the first to confess that when I wake up to that in the morning, I said some mean things to Sadie upon discovery of such things. She never seemed to mind. She always forgave me. And in the last year or two she couldn’t hear me anyway. Our carpet is even older than Sadie, and (thanks to her in many ways) we need some new carpet. But I wasn't about to pay for new carpet until Sadie is gone. You know, I could have lived with the old carpet a little longer.

Of all the dogs I’ve ever had, Sadie was my favorite. Lassie was a great dog to have when I was a kid. She played ball with us. She helped us through a divorce. But Sadie has been the dog of my maturity, just a good old friend. For years she would run with me in the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t even have to leash her. She stayed right with me, her herding instincts kicking in gear as she’d follow behind me moving from one side to the other. Now and then she’d follow her nose instead of me and pause here and there along the way, but a slap on my leg and she was right back at my side. Dayna always said that Sadie was my dog. She wanted to be in whatever room I was in. She longed for the stroke of my hand on her head. She wanted to be near me, sometimes annoyingly so. Maybe she found some comfort in having me near, I don’t know. But she was the dog of my maturity, the dog my grandkids loved and looked forward to seeing every time they came to our house. I guess you could say that Sadie and I sort of aged together.

God has given us many gifts in life. Sadie was one of those gifts to me. Just as God rescued unlovely me from certain death, Dayna and I rescued Sadie. But across the years, Sadie loved us better than we loved her, at least better than I loved her.

People often ask me if dogs will go to heaven. I’m not as dogmatic about that as I once was. The Bible tells us there will certainly be animals in the new heaven and new earth as God redeems all creation fully and finally. Whether that means some of the animals we’ve loved in life will be there, I don’t know. But I do know this: heaven would be just a little bit brighter for me if could run a few more times there with Sadie at my heels.

Goodbye, old friend. I miss you already.


  1. We lost Freckles this year. She had been with us for 17 years. It's odd, but she always had a smile on her face. I've never had a happier dog. I understand your grief. God bless you.
    David Turner
    El Paso

  2. Oh Pastor, I am so sorry for the loss. My heart just goes out to you and Dana. I so love my cats and my sister has a cat that will soon have to be put down (unless he passes in his sleep) and this is just so sad. It amazes me how much animals are capable of giving love unconditionally. How little in return they ask of us. Who could live with such a loving creature for so many years and not be affected by the loss ? I will keep you and Dana in my prayers , and just pray that your grieving is smooth as it can be. Thank you for sharing this with us. Lori and Marcus Gomez

  3. We had to put down Angel a couple of years ago. Linda had her for over 13 years. When Linda volunteered to take care of my through my cancer, I moved from Arkansas to California with her. Angel seemed to immediately know that I was sick and stayed by my side during the treatments. She slept by my bed and by my chair when I could be up for a while. Both of us were devastated when she had to go. We, also, could not stand to see her suffer. We stood by her as she did by me during her illness. Knowing that no other dog could replace her, we waited a while but finally adopted a border collie mix (Terra), who does not replace Angel, but has become another part of the family that gives us unconditional love in return for just a gentle petting or playing in the water. I feel for you loss and I know the pain it brings. I pray God sends you another "love pet" for your life so you can enjoy the companionship again. You and Dayna are in my prayers and we know God will love you through your grief.

  4. John, it doesn't really matter how theologically sound it is, when you lose a pet, the loss is deep and very, very real. Been there, done that, and a year later still grieve sometimes. Reminds me of the poem Jimmy Stewart wrote about his dog Beau, and read on the Johnny Carson Show:

    ...doubt if even a stoic Scot can hold up under this one, so don't watch it unless you have a big box of kleenex close by.