This past week, I found myself saying goodbye to my first and only dog of almost 15 years. I was only 7 years old when my family and I picked him out as a puppy--I can't even remember a time without him around. He was a chocolate brown Bichon, Shih Tzu, and Toy Poodle mix with cream spotting. He was playful, happy, and full of energy.
Now, over a decade later, he has lived a long and fulfilling life. His quality of life has deteriorated drastically due to tumors, cataracts, and a bad hip. Within the last year, he's grown almost completely deaf. Recently, he hasn't been able to control his bladder, jump up on the couch, or run around freely. You'll even find him whimpering in pain while he sleeps. It was obvious for us all to see it was time to let him go. As I've worked through the heartache of saying goodbye to one of my best friends, I realized some things along the way.
1. You have to allow yourself to mourn.
Grief is the final gift of love. Some need time to let themselves be sad. Some will just deny everything that's happening. Others experience the five stages of grief. I've learned there's no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve. Everyone handles death differently and that's okay. I found myself to be entirely heartbroken--more than I ever thought I would be.
2. You'll wish you were more patient with them when they didn't understand.
Too many times I found myself frustrated and annoyed when he would whimper at my feet. What do you want? I just let you outside. You have food and water. What do you want? I never considered that, you know, maybe he just wanted to be loved and have my attention for a minute.
3. You'll wish you never took their presence for granted.
For years, he was always just there. That's just how it was. He would hear the door open and sprint to greet you like it was the best part of his entire day (honestly, it probably was) and I would just say hello and keep going with my day. When I walked in the door to my mother's house to say goodbye last week, it was different. He wasn't there to greet me. He couldn't hear the door open. He couldn't get up the stairs by himself.
4. You'll think about the unconditional love they gave you--even when you didn't deserve it.
Every single day. His love for me, my siblings, and my parents never wavered. He was fiercely loyal and loved each of us unconditionally.
5. They'll have more of an impact on you than you thought possible.
I can't even remember all the memories I've had with him over the last 15 years. He was there for all the good and all the bad. Dogs gift you with patience, commitment, loyalty, and friendship. They touch you in ways you don't necessarily notice when you're just taking their existence for granted.
6. You'll realize they're irreplaceable.
He was my first (and only) puppy and he'll never have that taken away from him. He'll always be with me in my heart.
7. You'll wish you took more photos of them.
Because one day you might find yourself writing an article about your puppy dying and realize you don't have any pictures of him. Take pictures when they're being playful, when they're just being plain cute, and even when they're sleeping. You'll want them for the memories.
8. You never thought this day would actually come.
Obviously you know that dogs can't live forever. Anyone could tell you that. You just never think that today will actually be the day you're forced to say your goodbyes. You couldn't even fathom this day for years. Now, it's staring at you square in the face.
9. It really is for the best no matter how much it hurts.
No matter how heartbroken you are, you'll be able to see how much more they hurt than you. At the end of a dogs life, they live each and every day of their life hurting. They deserve more than that. They deserve to be freed from the pain they've come to know all too well.
10. He knows, too.
Dogs are smart. They know and understand more than we give them credit for. All we can do is keep them close to our heart and cherish the time we had with them--all while hoping they enjoyed their time with us, too.