Monday, December 19, 2016

When a dog's life ends

London, ON
December 2016
It was a sad day in our house today, as this morning we put our dog, Frasier, down*.

He had had diabetes for more than half of his 10 years on this planet, and while we were able to stay ahead of it since the day he was diagnosed, his liver had other plans starting this weekend, and he very quickly deteriorated until the point where taking that last drive with him to Dr. Tom was the right thing to do.

He was a rescue dog, and after a tumultuous start with a family that to this day I cannot judge, but hope they never again are entrusted with an animal, fate smiled on him - and us - and brought him to our family. We taught this crazy Miniature Schnauzer to walk on a leash, to sort of listen to the occasional command, and to trust us completely. What we didn't need to teach him was to bark, to cuddle when he knew we were troubled and we needed him to cuddle, and to endear himself to everyone he met.

Sure, I'm biased, but he was a sweet, kind, wonderful little being who permanently embedded himself into the very fabric of our family. He always knew who needed him most, whether he was hugging you with his paws, putting his head on your shoulders like Finnegan the dog (Mr. Dressup fans will know), shoving his little body into yours while you slept or sat, or simply staring at you when he knew you didn't want to be alone. He got us.

All day long I've heard his echo around every corner in the house, and I don't know how long it'll take until I stop wondering when he'll materialize in front of me or when I'll get used to that empty spot at the end of the bed when the house gets quiet at night. Indeed, it's the quiet that seems so odd, and as much as I appreciated not having to hold my breath this afternoon during a live radio interview from my home office that he'd freak out in the middle, the breath-holding was part of what made him so lovable. He was unpredictable, loud, messy, expensive and frankly borderline insane. But, God, I loved him.

I appreciate that he was a dog - and this isn't on the same scale as losing a human family member. Yet he indelibly coloured those experiences as well, helping us grieve after we lost my father and Debbie's mom. His mark on every chapter of our family's life mattered, and he made the tougher chapters somehow easier to bear.

As much as losing him hurts, and as disturbed as the rhythm of our family is by his absence, I keep reflecting on the singular reality of dog ownership: That their relatively brief lifespan means they'll always leave us. That getting a dog makes losing him or her someday an inevitability. We deliberately set ourselves up for wrenching days like this. Yet I wouldn't change a thing, because I'd rather have and lose than never have in the first place. Because I can't imagine life without a dog. I guess that makes me a dog person. So be it.

He also made our kids better people. After we first brought him home, they quickly took to the routine responsibilities of owning and caring for him. They fed him, made sure he always had enough water, and played with him until he was exhausted. And then played some more.

But it was after his diagnosis that our kids came into their own. They learned how to give him his needles, setting precise alarms and texting each other and us to ensure everyone always knew what had been done, and what needed to be done. We never worried about missing a shot or mis-timing a meal: They had it covered. They just knew. Their words today, shared on Facebook, continue to bring me to tears:

Zach:  It's not gonna be the same without you greeting me at the door every day.

DahliaRescuing you was the best thing we've ever done, Frasier. You taught us about unconditional love, kindness, responsibility and so much more. You truly were the best dog and my best friend. You were so cute and had the sweetest, funniest personality. Saying goodbye to you was the hardest thing I've ever had to do but I know that you are no longer suffering. You were and will always be a part of our family. I hope there's lots of Kleenex for you to chew up there, buddy. We love you and we'll miss you so much, Frasie Boo.

NoahYou'll always be my little guy. I'll miss everything about you. Rescuing you when you were just 8 months old was the best decision our family ever made. You made us happy just as much as we made you. I love you Frasier

I could not be more proud of how they took this scruffy pile of quivering fur and made him their own, of how they found ways to communicate with him despite the obvious fact that dogs don't speak English and humans don't speak dog. Yet he always knew what they were up to, and watching the three of them with him was one of those powerful joys of parenthood that won't ever fade. He made them better people.

More often than I dare admit, I'd hold him and whisper in his radar-dish ears three simple words, "Know you're loved." I wanted him to know that despite his tough start, we loved him unconditionally. My wife and I would always ask each other if he knew he was loved, and inevitably we'd conclude he did. In spades. At the same time, he had a funny habit of giving us far more than we ever gave him, and for that we're forever grateful.

We love you, Frasier Herschel. We're unspeakably sad you're no longer with us, but just as unspeakably happy to have had you at all. May your memory always be a blessing to us, and to everyone whose lives you touched.

Related posts:
The family grows by one (his first day with us, when we thought he was black)
The difference a day makes (a much prettier pup emerged after his beloved groomer, Jean, worked on him for hours)
A boy and his dog (when his human brother got sick)
4 weeks on (early learnings)
They'll always be puppies (his dog-buddy, Hudson)
His master's foot (when he hovered over Zach's broken leg)
Puppies don't get sick, do they? (his diagnosis)
A director is born (his movie debut)
All Act of Dog-labelled entries

* See Debbie's Facebook entry for more.


Beverly said...

A wonderful post! I am so sorry for your loss.

MissMeliss said...

Oh, Carmi. I saw the news on Facebook, but I felt like I wanted to come here to read and respond because this is how I met you, and somehow, it seems more personal. I've been through the process of grieving for a pet - and you DO need to grieve - more than once, and it never gets easier. I'm teary over Frasier's passing and I only know him through your blog.

My heart goes out to you and your lovely family, Carmi. And my own dogs are getting extra cuddles tonight.

Pearl said...

So beautiful. I'm crying here. Dogs need us just as much as we need them, but like you said, they are here for a relatively short time. They grow on us; they grow with us; they teach; they learn; they love; they are loved.

And I so love his middle name. A perfect fit.

I hope somewhere in doggie heaven, he's come across our Max, and they will gossip about the wonderful lives and families they left behind.

Sending a big hug to you and your family.

Michèle et Jean-Claude said...

Our dogs are part of our family. They give us unconditional loyalty. They give our lives a routine. They make you laugh everyday. They allow us to meet new friends when you move. Please accept from me and Max our Schnauzer our heartfelt condolences.

kenju said...

I remember some of those early posts after Frasier became yours; I know that he knew how much he was loved. How could he not?

I'm so sorry.

Tracey E. said...

I am so sorry for your family's loss and for the very gut wrenching decision ray pet parent has to make a some point. Years ago, we lost a beloved cat. This cat loved hugs, pats, wanted to be near the action and was attuned to how we were feeling, offering a cuddle when we were unwell.I often wished I could put him in my pocket and take him around my day's activities. He regularly travelled with us to visit family members, all who seemed to have an endless amount of love for him. It was agony to make the decision to let him go when radiation from cancer treatment belaboured his breathing. I wish your family peace as you adapt to life without your beloved Frasier. Condolences on the loss of your furry friend.

Gilly said...

Oh, I am so sorry Carmi! Dogs are family members, and our hearts break just the same when they are no longer with us. You will never forget him, and I hope all the happy memories remain with you to cheer you at black times.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

My heart goes out to u and your family... I too had to make the decision to put our dog down and it was the hardest thing to do.. In the end, she knew and I did as well... Your family member will be missed immensely and we will miss those great photos you would of taken!. ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

So very sorry for your loss..dogs are the besr 4 legged family members and the teach is plenty. He loved u like family as well and remember all that he did for your family...

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I forgot to mention. Most importantly he brought out the best in all of u. He definitely was a messenger!

fredamans said...

Beautiful tribute.
My deepest condolences to you and your family.

Alexia said...

I'm a dog person too, and I have enjoyed reading about Frasier ever since you got him. How lucky he was that you found him, and how lucky you all were that he looked after you so well. His sweet nature shone through every post about him. My condolences.