For those of us who are avid pet lovers and pet owners we understand the extreme grief that accompanies the death of our beloved companion animals. We often ask why our loyal friends can’t live as long as we do. When we adopt our dogs or cats we never think about the day when they will no longer be with us. Oftentimes we ignore the warning signs such as the graying muzzle, the slower gait, the cloudy eyes, and the struggles to get up.
My dogs Bear and Beau arrived at my house in February of 2001 at the age of 8 weeks old. They were born just days before Christmas 2000. I called them my “Christmas Pups.” They were brothers from the same litter. Bear was the cuter one filled with much personality and mischief. Beau was kind of the “ugly duckling” of the litter and very timid, afraid of his own shadow. He relied on his scrappy brother to make him feel safe and secure. The initial intent was to keep Bear and try to find a home for Beau. But I knew Beau would not do well away from his brother and might end up in a home where he would not be appreciated due to his lack of playfulness. Not everyone would be as patient with him. The best decision I ever made was to keep both of them.
Bear and Beau were inseparable. They would sleep side by side like two bookends, eat their meals side by side, play in the yard together and walk side by side on the leash. If one got further ahead he would look back to make sure his brother was still close by. Their first trip to the vet was quite an adventure for them. They had to suffer two fold. Not only did each one have to endure the indignities of being poked, prodded and stuck with needles but also cried when it was the other one’s turn as if feeling his brother’s pain as well.
My favorite thing was watching them lay in the yard, never more than a few feet apart and how they seemed to communicate with each other in their own language, each seeming to know the other’s thoughts. If either one caught a scent or some movement in the bushes they would run off in tandem to explore and conquer whatever it was together.
But alas, time passes too quickly and on February 6th 2013 Beau suddenly became very ill. He could not eat or drink without vomiting and lay on the floor shaking and trembling. He became disoriented and would stare into the corners and at the walls as if he was not sure of where he was. He was rushed to the vet who did a barrage of tests on him including x-rays and blood work. The prognosis was not good. The x-rays revealed a large mass in his stomach crushing his intestines. His spleen was enlarged and folded over and his liver was enlarged and misshapen. The vet gave him treatments for pain, nausea and dehydration and advised us to come back in the morning for a follow up. In our hearts we knew this was the end of the line for gentle Beau, the timid puppy who had come into our lives 12 years earlier.
Beau spent the rest of the evening laying on his bed tucked under a blanket, and sipping water to stay hydrated. He actually got enough strength to get up willingly and go out into the backyard with his brother. As they walked the familiar paths through the yard I could almost hear their last conversation with each other. Beau telling Bear he was dying, telling him not to be sad as he enjoyed their long, happy life together, telling him he had always been strong for him and to stay strong now. How Bear’s heart must have broke, knowing he was losing his best friend and constant companion.
In the early hours of February 7th 2013, Beau slipped away quietly, his brother next to him until the very end.
A dark cloud settled over the house without Beau’s presence. Bear was lost, confused and depressed. It seemed as though someone had switched a light off inside of him. Within several days he stopped eating and drinking and ignored all our efforts to interest him the dog treats he had always loved. He would lie on a spot on the floor and not even get up to go outside to the bathroom, thus messing himself.
So once again, a week to the day later we were repeating the previous ritual of rushing him to the vet, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. After an examination by the vet it was determined Bear had advanced arthritis in his spine causing paralysis in his hind legs. There was also a large mass in his abdomen that was pressing down on his stomach. I strongly believed he succumbed to his health issues because his brother was gone and he no longer had the strength or motivation to fight it. The vet presented us with the choice of taking Bear home to continue his suffering and languish away or mercifully end his suffering. Not an easy decision to make. As I looked down at Bear he stared up at me with sad, tired eyes, trusting me to do the right thing and take care of him as I always had. I went to the window and gazed out at the torrential rain that was falling and thought with irony that this was Valentine's Day, a day for joyfully celebrating our love for one another. I thought what better way to show your love for someone than to sacrifice your own needs and happiness for their sake.
The decision was made to euthanize Bear. It was over very quickly, he did not suffer at all. He lay on the floor calmly while I had my arm around him. I felt his great heart beating and then it was still. The rain continued to batter the windows as if heaven itself was crying.
That evening I sat in the empty house and listened to the silence that had replaced the pitter patter of paws and the swishing of tails. I saw the dog dishes on the floor, the leashes hanging forlornly waiting for a walk that was no longer to be, and a huge wave of sadness came over me as the tears poured out.
In the midst of my tears I suddenly had a crystal clear picture in my mind of Beau sitting up straight and tall on the other side of the legendary bridge, his eyes and face radiating love and happiness as he saw his brother in the distance walking cautiously, unaware of his surroundings and searching for a familiar face. Beau’s tail would start to wag slowly at first then faster and faster as Bear got closer, no longer paralyzed but able to run and jump again. How happy they must have been, together again, never to be seperated under that famous rainbow.
I fell asleep that night with tears on my cheeks but a smile on my face. I knew many dogs would come and go throughout my life, each one special and needing love in their own way but I would never, ever forget the rain on Valentine's Day.