Thursday, February 23, 2017

When we Have to say Goodbye to our Beloved Pets

The year was 2002, a cold winter morning, just days away from a New Year. I sat on the floor enjoying the warmth of a fire, while our beloved collie lay beside me. She had earned her rest.

Princess would be turning 13 in a few days, but time was running out. The last couple of years had brought a steady stream of health problems. Now, no longer able to control her bodily functions, we knew the end was painfully near.

In the stillness, I heard my husband’s truck in the driveway. Princess’s ears perked up, but she didn’t move. Used to, she would’ve been standing at the door to greet her master, tail wagging, face smiling. But that was before her health failed.

In a minute, Stan appeared in the doorway. “How are my girls?” he asked cheerfully, stooping down to stroke her head. I’ve never known anyone to love a dog more than he loved this one. The feeling was mutual. Princess gazed into his face, and attempted to wag her tail.

Silently, he stroked her gray muzzle, then looked at me with a sad smile. It was a knowing look, filled with a dozen years of sweet memories.

She was six-weeks-old when Stan picked her out of a litter of pure-bred collie puppies and brought her home to our daughter, who was almost four at the time. 

I wasn’t thrilled. Puppies need lots of attention. They can also wreak havoc. I wanted none of it. But since the deed was done, I stepped outside to greet the newcomer and there they stood—a frisky pup and a little girl—staring curiously at each other.

Suddenly, Anna zoomed around the yard like a rocket. “C’mon,” she entreated the pup. “Come get me!”

The pup obeyed with fresh enthusiasm. From all appearances, it was love at first sight.

We named her Princess. With a gentle spirit and chocolate eyes, she stole my heart in no time.

When she wasn’t with Stan, her favorite person, Princess could be found  trailing behind Anna like a shadow. Whatever Anna wanted to do, Princess went along agreeably. Sometimes that meant walking beside a tricycle to the mailbox umpteen times. Sometimes it meant listening to “John-Jacob-Jingleheimer-Schmidt” from a cassette-tape player for hours on end. They were a tight little pair, and, through the years, that bond never wavered.

Princess and I shared our own bond, as well. During the seasons when I wasn't employed outside the home, I was a “night writer.” At 2 AM, when inspiration struck, I’d tip-toe into my office, fire up the computer. Soon I’d hear a swish beside me, and feel a furry head pushing against my leg—Princess. We had a ritual. I’d rub her head, bend down and kiss her nose, then she’d plop behind my chair and sleep until I was done. I like to think my writing improved with her behind me.

Life can take unexpected turns, and pets have a way of keeping us balanced. They help us cope. They listen, and they love us unconditionally. In their own way, they comfort us when we feel helpless and alone.

Without a doubt, Princess added a special dimension to our family gatherings, and she never met a stranger.

There was a certain spark in the neighborhood whenever Princess was outside. Children came in waves, just to rub her head. 

One afternoon, I came home to find the back gate open and Princess gone. Panicked, I cruised the streets and found her in a cul-de-sac, two streets over, being adored by a circle of children. It took all of my coaxing abilities to get her in the car for the ride home, and as I drove away, the kids stood in a sad little row and waved goodbye.

One thing Princess loved: chasing squirrels. But they always got away. Two things she hated: cats and the UPS truck. When either were in the neighborhood, she made it clear that wanted a piece of them.

But there was one exception to her fierceness; she was terrified of vacuum cleaners. For that reason, my floors were never as clean as they should have been.

When we first noticed that she struggled to get up, we talked to the vet. A regimen of medication was started and it helped for a long while, but as the years passed, other problems arose. She pushed bravely through them all, but, in time, we knew she couldn’t go on.

And so, on a cool fall morning, Stan did the unthinkable. He dug a grave in the backyard. The sight of it there was shocking, but he said he wanted her to be buried at home and preparing the spot ahead of time would help him prepare for what was coming.

He covered the big hole with a blue tarp and told our daughter—16 by then—what he’d done.

Upon hearing the news, she burst into tears.

In retrospect, preparing the grave ahead of time was a good idea. Sometimes it’s better to take baby steps toward the inevitable; it makes acceptance a little easier. Many evenings I spotted Stan sitting out beside the blue tarp, just staring into space. I knew he was dying on the inside.

Christmas came and Princess worsened noticeably. Just a few days into 2003, we knew it was time. Her eyes begged us for relief. 

The night before it was to be done, we gathered on the floor with our faithful friend and thanked her for all she’d meant to our family, for her faithfulness, for having softened the blows life had dealt us. For simply having been. Here is a page from my scrapbook of the same night. We are smiling on the outside, but our hearts were breaking.

The next day, Stan loaded our beloved friend into the SUV. As we drove slowly through the misty gray morning, I held her close and sobbed. Our dear friend and companion had given us more than we could have ever hoped for. I couldn’t imagine life without her.

At the clinic, it was over quickly. Princess looked the same, only peaceful now. Gathering her up in a sheet, Stan carried her out for one final ride home.

After lowering her body into the ground, we held each other for a long time, thinking of how lucky we’d been. Princess loved us unconditionally. She was obedient, loyal, and brave. She earned her stars in her own backyard. Saying goodbye hurt something awful, yet not having known her would have been a greater loss. 

Before taking the shovel, Stan knelt down and wrapped an old American flag around her still body. It seemed a fitting farewell, for she was a very good soldier. 


A version of this story first appeared in The Beaumont Enterprise. All rights reserved.

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  1. What a beautiful and extremely, emotional love story. My heart pounded as I read about Princess because I had a "friend" who loved me unconditionally, too. That big,void hasn't been replaced. How could it?

  2. Tears here. Our female lab, Murphy, most likely won't make it through the summer. I can't imagine not having her. Only a pet lover can understand how painful it is to lose one.

  3. A heart-warming tribute to Princess. I loved her.

  4. What a beautiful story of this faithful friend and companion. Believe me, I know these feelings very well. Our back yard is literally a pet cemetery...I can count over a half dozen just off the top of my head, with the latest being our little Hunter who died in my arms a couple of years ago. When we moved here from KY in '92, we brought our three aging dogs with us. Our fur babies do become part of the family and I have a hope that we just may see them in heaven. Biblical?...maybe not but I choose to think they just may be there. You have some wonderful photos taken through the years. Princess was a beautiful girl for sure :)

  5. Oh Dayle. That post was a tear-jerker. Dear Princess. She gave you all so much love and so many heartfelt memories. Thanks for sharing. (sniff, sniff). Susan

  6. Oh, dear friend! I sat here crying while reading this! SO very touching and heartwrenching. I know what it means to love a dog this much...our own hearts ache for the precious Paige we left behind when we moved last year. One day, Lord willing, I plan to write about that pain in a blog post, but, so far, I haven't been able to. I am SO sorry for your loss all those years ago, and I am also thankful for the joy and comfort Princess was to you. I can't believe how much your daughter and little granddaughter look alike. God bless you and keep you, my friend. :)

  7. That's such a sad time in the life of a family because those pets are family! Your Princess was beautiful! My dachshund I received for my 14th birthday lived for 11 years before cancer took her. My poor daddy had to take her to have her put down. He's always been the one for that job. Now he has Willis. I can't bear to think of the day when Willis won't be around for him anymore.

  8. It is hard to let go of beloved pets. What a beautiful tribute to Princess. Thanks for sharing at Home Sweet Home.

  9. A profound and beautiful post, one that will be featured at Foodie Friday and Everything Else tomorrow evening. This is a subject that will always be close to my heart. Just last night, I watched What Dreams May Come, and when the Dalmation, Katie, leaped through the painted fields into Christy's arms, I burst into tears, and a moment later, when Christy wondered if he'd goofed and gone to Dog Heaven instead, I was laughing. Laughter and tears, the best memories. And your memorial is very, very fine. Thank you for writing it.

  10. I have known the love for a dog and the love received. It is quite a gift to have had a sweet pet in the family. Such a sweet story of Princess.


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