I still vividly remember the day my dog Teddy died six years ago. We got him when I was six so we had grown up together, and as cliche as it sounds, he was my best friend. The last year of his life we slowly saw him go from a dog who ran around the basement in circles (I swear he would have made a great track star) to a dog that could barely walk down the stairs. The day we had to put him down — Monday, July 21, 2008 — he couldn’t even stand to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye.
Exactly six years later — Monday, July 21, 2014 — my parents were forced to put down our other dog, Jessy. Her illness was such a surprise that I didn’t even make it in time to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to your dog, your best friend, is one of the hardest things to do. What’s even harder is never getting to say goodbye.
I left for a weekend trip to Nashville the Thursday before Jessy’s death. That was also the same day my parents brought her to the vet and found out she had to go to the animal hospital in New Jersey for intensive care. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong at first, but they assured my parents that they could take her home in the next few days. (They later figured out she had systematic inflammatory response syndrome, a response to a form of bacteria). Not wanting to disrupt my vacation, my parents never mentioned her hospital trip. When I returned on Sunday, still nothing — they were told she would be coming home the next day.
On Monday, I called my dad to catch up — we hadn’t spoken on the phone in almost a week. Only minutes before our conversation, the doctor had called to say that Jessy had taken a turn for the worse. At nine pounds, she wasn’t big enough to fend off the bacteria and her kidney and liver were failing. Trying to speak between sobs I told my father I would get on the next bus (a three-hour ride upstate from New York City) and go with them to put her down. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time. “I don’t think you’re gonna make it,” he told me. “We’re leaving for the hospital in a few minutes.”
Less than two hours later, my dad called from the hospital and held the phone up to Jessy’s ear. This was my only chance at saying goodbye. I spoke into the phone and, of course, there was no response. My dad said into the receiver, “she lifted her head when she heard your voice.” That was my only goodbye.
I understand my parents tried to protect me from seeing her in pain. I get to remember her as she was — a hyper, loving nine-year-old Yorkiewho still acted like a puppy. Saying goodbye to my first dog Teddy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I gained a sense of closure from it. By not getting that moment with Jessy, she doesn’t feel dead to me.
Maybe it’s partly because I didn’t see her every day. I still feel like she’s at my parents’ house lying on the couch or barking at their front door. When I’m in Manhattan, she’s still there to me. When I visit for the weekend, it’s like realizing she’s gone … again.It’s like experiencing the same moment again and again,like the movieGroundhog Day.I find myself looking at the couch or the stairs, expecting her to be lying there.And I feel disappointed when she doesn’t wake me up at 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom and play.
She couldn’t possibly be gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
Have you ever not been able to say goodbye to a beloved dog? How has it affected you? What advice would you give others? Let us know in the comments.
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