As I am writing this my good and faithful dog is sleeping at my feet. Hopefully this is not the last time that will be the case.
Roughly a week ago Maddie, my Golden Retriever, began to get sick. On Friday we took her to the vet and got medicine, but so far there has been little improvement. If things do not change for the better quickly, I will for the second time lose a dog that I have grown to love dearly.
I decided to write down my thoughts as I sit here for a few reasons. I am going to stay awake for a couple of more hours keeping watch over Maddie, and there is nothing good on television. More importantly, however, because many people I have talked to the last couple of days have been cynical about my being upset over my dog becoming ill.
Anybody who has ever had a true and loyal pet will attest to just how much that pet becomes a member of your family. Your pets often sit next to you at the dinner table. They watch sports, TV shows, and movies with you. We play with our animals. We buy them presents. They become a part of our everyday lives.
The first dog my family ever owned was a German Shepard named Schauncey. Schauncey belonged to my oldest brother, Brian, and those two were inseparable. When Brian would come home from school or work, I would tell Schauncey “Brian’s home!” She would run to the door immediately and wait for him to come in. After my brother left home to join the army, Schauncey belonged to my second oldest brother Joe and myself.
While in the army, Brian became sick with lymphoma. He lost his battle with cancer in the spring of 1990, and Schauncey became not just a family pet but a reminder of my oldest brother. When she got sick that summer day in 1996 and died, it was heartbreaking for several reasons. I had countless memories of playing fetch with her in my backyard, taking her to the beach on a warm summer day, and chasing her around in the snow. Our house also had numerous pictures of Brian throughout the rooms.
In about half of those pictures my brother was petting his dog.
My parents vowed they would never again get another dog. That lasted less than six months before we decided we needed to hear barking once more. One snowy day my mother and I made the hour drive out to a farm that was selling Golden Retriever puppies. As we looked over the litter now sure which one to choose, I picked up one of the puppies and sat in a chair. A couple of minutes later I realized that my shirt had become wet.
Maddie had marked her territory. I held Maddie in the backseat of the car the entire ride home, and immediately played with her in the backyard upon our arrival. Instantaneously our home felt whole again. As the years progressed and Maddie grew up, she became possibly the most faithful dog I have ever known.
One summer afternoon about six years ago my sister and her two daughters stopped over for a quick visit. Unbeknownst to any of us the back door had been left open. Eventually somebody noticed it and closed the door. It was about a half hour before anybody realized that Maddie had gone missing. Franticly, I put my shoes on and ran in my backyard looking for her. I then ran from my backyard down the row of houses without any luck. As I made my way back to my house from the sidewalk, I saw the most pathetic looking eyes on a dog’s face. Maddie hadn’t run away; she just couldn’t get back into the house.
In the past few years my father has faced serious health problems, and Maddie has been by his side the entire time. When dad collapsed upstairs last winter, it was Maddie’s barking that alerted my mom that something was wrong. Every day that is a particularly rough one for dad, he will lay on the couch or in bed. Maddie can always be found either at his feet or his side.
Now, as she looks at me with her sad eyes as if she is trying to tell me just what is wrong, I cannot help but cry. Maddie was there for us ten years ago when our family needed her. She has been there for dad throughout his illness. It is a helpless feeling to know when she needs us we cannot do anything. I was only five when Brian first became ill, so unfortunately more than half of the few memories I have of him are of watching him deteriorate.
Watching it happen now to my dog is no easier. Emily, my girlfriend, couldn’t hold back tears when she held onto Maddie’s paw earlier this evening. Before she went to sleep tonight, Emily told me ” I don’t know what I will do if I am around when Molly (her family dog) gets to that point. She (Maddie) just gave me her paw and looked at me as if to say ‘help,’ and I just feel sick because I can’t do anything.” Right now, at three in the morning, the only thing to do is to hope that tomorrow night Maddie will be panting in our living room instead of sighing sadly. We would never let her suffer, but if Maddie does not make it through this, it is all of us who will endure the most pain.