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Saying goodbye to my best friend . . .

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I know it should probably be the other way around, but for many of us animals are the rock solid foundation in our lives. Just recently, my family lost our rock when we made the gut wrenching decision to send Mr. Tee to the bridge. For us it is always a quality of life issue and we could not stand by and let him suffer. That would only be selfish on our part and he deserved so much more.

Mr. Tee was a collie mix with the disposition of a gentleman and a pure heart filled with love and kindness for all he met. He was a rescue from Frederick County, Maryland more than ten years ago and a constant by my side since the day we rescued each other.

I remember that first walk in the snow and mud in the outdoor shelter exercise area as we viewed each other. At the time, I had my poodle mix Mr. Jake at home who was blind and suffering from a terrible case of separation anxiety ever since my golden girl Miss Tory had passed. There needed to be another special addition to our family to fill a void that Jake and I shared and something told me this beautiful collie was destined to be the one.

There was someone else looking at Mr. Tee in the shelter, but we were meant to cross into each other's lives. He was five years old when we met and it's ironic that in comments from the people who turned Tee into the shelter they noted he didn't like men. I never found this kind and gentle soul to dislike anyone either human or canine. A friendship was born that day between Tee and I which will last an eternity whether here or somewhere in the beyond.

Tee became the pillar of the household whether being there for Jake, and calming his anxiety when I wasn't there, or welcoming all the dogs who would follow when I began dating my wife and after we were married. Whatever came his way Tee always handled with dignity and grace. He was the light that guided all those who entered through our front door.

When I met my wife she had four dogs of varying ages from young to old. Mr. Toby was the youngest and was still acting with the innocence and playfulness that puppyhood provides. However, his brother Mr. Travis ("Boom Boom") and sister Miss Kiri ("Miss K") weren't amused and Toby found himself running for his life from their occasional snarls and evil eyes. Please don't misconstrue my depiction here because we loved "Boom Boom" and "Miss K" too, but when we first met they had their issues with Toby until each of them were exposed to the calming presence and sense of protection that only someone like Tee could provide.

You see we've always said and will always believe that Tee raised Toby as he progressed from being a puppy to being a dog. Tee was his teacher and guide in life and we worry how this loss will impact the sweet wonderful child that Toby has become now that his best friend is gone. Even when Toby developed blindness, Tee was always there to assure him that he was still safe and able to navigate through a tunnel without light. Right now Toby is forlorn and depressed, but we know that Tee is looking down from above and will always be there to watch over him.

Instinctively you know when a four-legged child comes into your life that someday you'll be faced with the prospect of losing him or her. It is what the movies call the "circle of life", but you're never prepared when that final breath is taken with that precious child in your arms. I was privileged to have Tee in my life for more than ten years and will miss most of all that wagging tail each time I came home and he was waiting for me. I've never felt more wanted by anyone and only those of us who love animals with all our heart will understand what his passing means to me.

Tee was the most kind and gentle soul I've ever met who watched over his family with great care and love. A friend described him as ". . . one of the most special boys I have ever known". When staying with us a few years ago here in Florida she remembers opening the ". . . bedroom door in the morning - - - and there he was at the door, wagging a good morning welcome. I would have taken him home with me if there was any way I could have. I adored him. Big-hearted, gentle, steady, sweeter than sweet, loving - - - - he was as close to perfect as they come."

We've often wondered how anyone could have given up this boy with such a special kind of soul. It was my good fortune to find him and I can only hope we gave him the life he so richly deserved. Wrote another friend to my wife, "I am sure you are missing Tee this morning. But when I look at you and Steve, I think about the love you have for your 'kids'. That is what is most important – the life that you and Steve gave to Tee. So many dogs suffer at the hands of people who don’t think about them as family, but Tee had so much love that any dog could not have been happier. It is never easy to lose a pet (or in our case a family member) – you just need to think about the 'life' that he had with you . . . You changed Tee’s life forever, my friend – always think about how happy he was." To be honest, it was Tee who changed our life for the better and took us on as his family for which we will be forever grateful.

I guess in many ways we were fortunate to even have had Tee for as many extra months as we did. Several months ago he was diagnosed with a splenic tumor and we felt as if we've been living on borrowed time ever since. Tee also battled seizures that would rock him from time to time, but he always fought his way out of them as we held him and waited for the seizure to subside. When he went to his water bowl after an episode we knew the moment had passed and all was right with the world once again.

It seemed the tumor appeared as if almost overnight. One day our veterinarian was saying how remarkable Tee's health was for a fifteen year old dog and then two days later he was throwing up and started what would be the final months of his life. The day we took him for an ultrasound and learned about the tumor was devastating, but after a lot of soul searching and discussion with vets we felt the best course of action was to not put him through surgery and let him have the most quality we could give him during the ensuing months.

As time moved on we began to lull ourselves into a false sense of complacency that Tee would be around forever. This was one dog who seemed to defy the odds and we continued to hope our good fortune would continue to last. Then suddenly that all changed in the blink of an eye.

I noticed Tee was limping one Sunday night, but we really couldn't determine if he was favoring a front or back leg or both. We contacted our vet and set up an appointment for the next day. She decided to try an injection with a super-dose of steroid and nutritional supplements and a half-bag of subcutaneous fluids. We were hoping this would be a kick start on the road to recovery, but the vet cautioned this might only have a forty-eight hour window to be re-evaluated in another appointment two days later.

Our hopes were lifted the following day when Tee heartily ate a whole breakfast, greeted us in the evening after work, and strolled through the yard as if he hadn't been sick. We allowed ourselves to hope that he would bounce back once again, but by Wednesday afternoon he could barely lift his head from the floor and could only manage half-hearted tail wags.

Sure we could have repeated the heavy regimen from two days earlier, but was he then going to live by repeating this process every two days for an undetermined infinity or was it time to give Tee his dignity back? Again, quality of life is paramount to our philosophy of caring for our four-legged children and we felt this was something we owed our boy so he could be at peace. Our vet was honest in her assessment that Tee would not have any real quality left to his life.

Another friend later wrote to my wife, "Tee was a lovely soul and a precious being. You and Steve gave him a good life. When he asked to go, you understood and listened. RIP sweet boy." In our hearts we knew she was right about Tee telling us it was time to let him go and with a heavy heart and lots of tears we did.

Before the vet administered euthanasia, I told her we needed a few minutes to make a final decision and say goodbye. Crying uncontrollably while gently holding Tee I thought how much of a responsibility humans have to make a choice to end your four-legged child's life so he could receive grace with his dignity intact. Unlike humans, many animals who are sick are given the option of dying with their dignity intact. Still, the humane decision to end an animal's life even for the right reasons will always be the hardest decision I will ever have to make.

We continue to worry about the impact of losing Tee on our two other four-legged kids; especially Toby. He is often sad and somewhat distant now that he knows Tee is gone. We all share in his distress and pain. According to Dr. Debra, "The loss of a loved one can be distressing for those around us and, based on my experience, I think dogs can suffer as well. When another pet, an owner, or even just a human companion is suddenly gone from a dog’s life it can have an affect on their happiness . . . Dogs develop bonds with each other in ways that we simply cannot comprehend. Their ability to communicate with each other goes beyond what we are capable of, and it seems to many that they mourn on deep levels . . .". It really is a grief process that takes place in which both humans and animals need to support each other as they struggle to accept the loss of a best friend.

Tee was the consummate gentleman. He was the most loyal, admirable and classy dog I've ever known. My wife said he had more heart and soul than any human she's ever met and Tee's calming influence on his family and those he met is a real privilege for all who knew him. We all called him the best doggie ever and meant every word.

I still find myself feeling numb as I try to cope with this devastating loss. You may have found some rambling and disconnected thoughts in this week's column as I struggle with the finality of not having my best friend by my side. You begin to realize in the day to day nature of life one almost takes for granted that when you wake in the morning and arrive at home at night your four-legged symbol of joy will be there to greet you; when he isn't the balance in your life is turned upside down.

One night as we looked up and saw one bright star in an otherwise cloudy sky we knew it had to be Mr. Tee looking down from above still watching over his family as he always has. We miss him so much that it hurts, but we take solace in the belief that he's no longer sick. Now is the time for him to cross the Rainbow Bridge to reunite with "Grummy", Mr. Jake, Miss Kiri and "Boom Boom". I just know he'll be there when our time comes to join him and the rest of our four-legged kids on the Bridge.

Rest in peace my dearest child and know that we'll always love you. You are missed beyond belief, but now it's time to say goodbye until I hold you in my arms once again . . .

Love you always, Dad

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