But . . . but It’s [Not] Just a Dog!
Trigger warning. This article discusses the death of a beloved pet. Seattle Pup Magazine understands how difficult it is to lose a member of the family. If you or someone you know is having difficulty with the loss of a pet, we encourage you join a pet loss support group--you are not alone. Click here for a list of Grief and Loss Support Groups.
But . . . but It’s [Not] Just a Dog!
By Jeffrey Brooks
Are you his daddy?”
“No, actually, we don’t know who his father was.”
“And, no, my wife is not his Mommy. He’s a son of a bitch.”
Or on other occasions someone said, “Hi Sweetie.”
I’d reply, “I’m Sweetie. This is Buddy.”
"Are you his owner?”
“No. I’m not. I don’t think you own your dog. Nobody does. No more than you own your wife. Let’s say he lives with us. Let’s say he’s my partner, my buddy.”
Buddy’s gone. I had the vet euthanize him on a Saturday last month. It was very peaceful.
He barked when she and her assistant arrived. I picked him up, cradled him in my arms, and went and sat down. Seemed like he liked being held. He was always a touchy-feely kind of dog, more so lately. I held him often, whenever I felt like it. He complied. I know he liked it, too.
Sometimes in the evening, I’d say more recently, he’d be wandering around seemingly sort of aimlessly. I thought it was anxiety. So, I’d pick him up and hold him. Sometimes tightly. He’d calm right down. So serene. He’d lie on my lap, often with his nose buried under my arm. He would quickly drift off. I always knew when he drifted off. His breathing would change. He’d start his quiet snoring. I liked that. So sweet, cute.
Or he would nuzzle his nose under my arm when he wanted to be held for a while. That’s what he did on Saturday. He was on my lap. I petted him gently. He nuzzled his nose under my upper arm. So peaceful. He drifted off, snored like he often did, gently. Then he died.
A week later and now a few weeks later, did I feel relieved? Yes, a bit. I’m definitely relieved. I now know he is not suffering, that I don’t have to worry about him dying a horrible or painful death. He had been struggling lately. He couldn’t go down one stair from our deck to the grass. He would stand there and wait and glance back at me in the house. I’d go and carry him down to the lawn. He was struggling, and I think he knew it.
I miss him. I wish he was here. I wish he was healthy. I wish he could run, run, run. But he’s not. He wasn’t. He couldn’t. I had to tell people. I felt the urge. I told mostly close friends who asked or others who I knew didn’t want to ask but wanted to know.
Buddy and Jeffrey
He was a little big dog. He was my buddy.
Barbara met a neighbor this week who said she was sorry our dog died. We hadn’t told her, but she had seen us walking. Walking with no dog can only mean one thing. I wondered what I would say if someone did listen to my story and then said: “But he’s just a dog.” Nobody did. They were all kind.The closest was when someone said: “Well, he’s in a better place.” His wife quickly corrected him. “No. No, he’s just dead. He’s dead. That’s all. Dead.” I replied, “Just like us. We’ll die. We all die. That’s all. We’ll be dead.”
Buddy wasn’t “just a dog.”
We never treated him like a baby or a child. He was neither. He wouldn’t have liked that. He was a little big dog. He was my buddy.
He loved speed, the joy of running, running, running. He loved being chased by big dogs in the park. He’d let them get close then zig-zag quickly away, causing the big dog to fall and tumble as he evaded capture. Great fun.
When there was no big dog around, I would sometimes chase him in a field or pretend to. On one occasion, someone saw me and joined in. The guy was so proud when he actually caught Buddy, or more probably, when Buddy let him catch him. The guy didn’t realize it was just a game. Buddy did.
We adopted Buddy. His name was Jack at the time. He was almost two, the terrible twos. Like so many Jack Russell Terriers, he had spent most of his life in a cage. So many Jacks are put up for adoption around age two. They are so cute, but the cuteness wears off after two years. They are a lot of work and many people just aren’t up to tiring out a doggie. When we found Buddy, the pads on his toes were so so soft. He didn’t get out much, I guess.
He loved being chased by big dogs in the park. He’d let them get close then zig-zag quickly away, causing the big dog to fall and tumble
as he evaded capture.
He wasn’t used to walking in the woods. The first time he saw a branch, a twig really, on the trail, he freaked, and we had to more or less drag him to meet it. After that, he would explore whenever he could, on his own.
Barbara had to teach him to swim. Terrified, he wouldn’t go near the water. So, she took him in her arms, held him tight so he wouldn’t scratch her and walked with him into the water. After a few tries, he got the hang of it and loved swimming. For years after that, he’d swim every time he could. We’d throw a stick. He loved to dive in and swim to get it. He’d dive off the dock and swim to get the stick. He loved that. He would have done that forever or until he died if we let him. He was so excited and loved it. Such joy. Such fun!
Then I got Buddy certified as a therapy dog. He was probably eight years old at the time. Actually, it all started after I asked the volunteer coordinator if I could bring my dog with me when I volunteered in Palliative Care. She said, “Sure bring him in.”
She was a dog person, but not in the way I am a dog person. She spent countless dollars getting her dogs trained as show dogs for competitions. I never paid a dollar to have any of the six dogs I ever had, trained. I preferred to live with them and then pick up on some of their innate character traits—stuff that came naturally and that they liked. For Buddy running was one. That being said, my dogs were all very well behaved, but it came naturally. They just wanted to behave, to please, and to be rewarded with praise.
Sensing when people were sad or ill and getting close to them came natural to Buddy. He was fearless in this way. So, when the coordinator said to bring him in, I suggested maybe I should get him certified first. I wasn’t really worried about Buddy, but I thought that this would reassure the patient and hospital administration.
He’d start working the crowd with his little vest on. People would ask, “Can I pet the dog?”
And I’d say, “Yes, that’s what he’s here for.”
Buddy loved volunteering at the hospital. We’d park the car then walk to the hospital. He’d pull me through the door. Then it was like he was in a dog biscuit shop. He’d start working the crowd with his little vest on. People would ask, “Can I pet the dog?” And I’d say, “Yes, that’s what he’s here for.”
It was a joy to visit patients at the end of life with Buddy. So serene. There are many times when our visit with patients stood out. One was when I walked slowly past a lady’s room, and she motioned for me to come in. I went in and placed Buddy on her bed by her arm. I always had my hand on him. That was his security. I was there for him. We talked, then her phone rang. She spoke to someone. It sounded like family.
She mentioned, “I have a nice warm doggie in my bed. It is so sweet.” She continued. After she hung up, I told her, “You know the person on the phone will think ‘Mama must be on the good stuff. She has really lost it.’” We laughed. When we returned later that week the lady had a visitor. When I walked into the room with Buddy, her visitor smiled and said, “So there really was a dog!”
One time I had a meeting and to get there, we had to walk past the Oncology Department. There were maybe 25 patients and their company in the waiting room. We took our time, all the time we needed. Let’s just say, I was late for the meeting. No apologies. I wasn’t even sorry. We had important work to do, making patients cry. Patients always come first.
Hospital work was exhausting for both of us. We were tired after 3-4 hours on the ward. It was stressful, but we loved it. We did that twice a week for seven years or so. When we got home, Buddy would sleep the rest of the day.
He loved hiking, usually on leash. He was a terrier. Terriers are full of instinct, and you never knew when that was going to take over. So, it was better to keep him close, on a leash. We used to go on long hikes, summer and winter. When with Barbara’s son Chris, hikes were always challenging and usually in the British Columbia back country. Several occasions stand out.
Krystil and Buddy
There was the time we hiked into the Waddington Hut, slept overnight then went hiking all day to the top of a mountain or two, in a mix of open rubble, slushy snow. We arrived back at the hut pleasantly tired. Buddy was exhausted. While we were gone, probably two dozen other hikers had arrived. The place was over full. Buddy was snoring. He had checked out. He was done. Chris decided, “This isn’t going to be fun. Let’s get out of here.”I agreed. We left. Bud was obviously not in favor, but we had to go, and he obediently followed.
Another time was when we did a mountain traverse to check out a trail that a group of students were going to do a few weeks later. They were going to do it in five days. We did 30 km in three. The second day there was a lot of bouldering. This involved crossing a boulder field for several hours. It was strewn with boulders of varying sizes. I couldn’t have Buddy on leash. He was struggling. I would tell him to “stay” while I positioned myself, and then I’d say “jump,” and he’d jump as high as he could to a spot he could not hold on to. I would hold him, so he could continue climbing up the stone.
Next morning, it was -5 C, and he would not walk. I checked him out. He seemed OK, but his pads were worn and sensitive. So, I “bagged him” for the walk out on the last day. Rather, after struggling, Krystil offered to take him in her pack. He liked being in the backpack. After that, we bagged him when he was tired.
A month later I miss him dearly. Yes, in a way Buddy was just a dog, the kind of dog every dog wants to be if you let them. The kind of dog everyone wants to have.
To answer the question you might be thinking, I do hope to get another doggie. Someday, maybe. But not someday soon.
Where to go from here: I have decided to give up palliative care volunteering completely and move to other forms of volunteering. This is not a decision I am taking lightly. It was something I enjoyed for close to eight years.
But it was something I did with Buddy. His presence was a huge ice breaker. I was able to visit longer with patients because we had a reason to be there for a longer time. I didn’t have to ask if there was anything I could do for them, and they didn’t have to respond. They were happy to feel the presence of the little warm body next to them, to gently stroke his back. And that could lead, or not, to a conversation.
Not to worry. I’m not done. Now, I am researching how to become a Senior Life Guide (aka a coach), to this end I've begun creating a video about retirement, a snippet of which can be viewed here.
Editor's Note: Buddy lived to be over 16 years old and will be missed dearly by all of us at Seattle Pup Magazine. We miss you BUDDY!