As I shared last time, when I wrote the first articles about our beloved Joogsie it was mostly to share and sort my feelings. The relationship between man and dog can be a powerful one, perhaps strangely so. They get into our hearts in a very significant way that, in some ways, is almost akin to close personal relationships.
I couldn’t say this enough about Joogsie (Samantha). She’s been an amazing dog and remained by my side through some incredibly challenges since we got her in August, 2008 (actually a surprise for my wife’s birthday) [NOTE: I got the wrong year in an earlier article]. And that’s why I’ve been compelled to share openly as I have. She deserves no less. But, due to the strong emotions involved, I don’t think I can give this article what it deserves either. Please forgive any lack in powerful verbosity or eloquence.
I think what has been most shocking as a result of sharing about our old girl is how many people asked about her in the following months. Even a year later, I was still being asked how she was doing. And when I mentioned recent events to a Steem/Hive friend, he said, “Oh, isn’t her name Joosie?” Pretty close!
When I wrote Joogsie – Still Going Strong and Now a Chile Dog, we simply couldn’t know how much more time we had with her. The recent surgery really took a lot out of her. Then we had the mishap where I thought we lost her, prompting me to write Joogsie: I Thought She Was Gone – More Grace. After that we really took it easy with her. We’d play a bit in the yard and go for short walks, but she got winded and overheated easily. It was tough to see her lose stamina, especially knowing that it was largely due to the tumors she’d suffered (well, the surgeries). It made it feel preventable.
Recognizing that we likely didn’t have much time left with her, we introduced a new Great Dane puppy to the family around December 2018, Capitán Jack Sparrow. He was a gangly pup with a wonderful sweet disposition and got along with Joogsie fantastically. We’d take them both for walks once in awhile, and sometimes my wife would take them both together.
They were buds from day one. Jack was sweet and playful with her and she seemed glad to have a little friend. And since she preferred to hang out with me and my wife was focused on Jack, it worked out nicely for us.
A few months later, we decided to add another pup. I hadn’t had my own dog for over 15 years and wifey wanted me to, so we did some shopping and found Jethro El Gordito, a Boston colored Great Dane. He was the opposite of Jack in almost every way. Jack was passive while Jethro was aggressive. Jack is thin and lanky while Jethro is stout and buff. And Jethro decided he was the new alpha, even as a pup. Sadly, it resulted in some real fights and even Joogsie getting hurt a couple of times. If food was involved, he was intolerant. But he loved to play with her too, jumping around her and trying to get her involved. It seemed like she liked it, in her old-girl not-very-mobile way. She pursued him, anyways.
Over the past year-and-a-half she became more incontinent. Her mind still seemed sharp, but we had to keep adding estrogen to her meals. It helped a lot, but estrogen can make males more aggressive, which turned out to cause some problems of its own. But we wanted to keep her around and as healthy as possible, and really didn’t know of any options other than leaving her outside or constantly in a diaper. Neither of those were appealing to us, so we worked through it with just a few mishaps.
But you just can’t make the clock stop. Age, and the atrophy that comes with it, is incessant. The sun cares not whether the next day will bring pain or joy. It comes up when it’s time and each cycle brings its new opportunities, challenges, blessings and adversities.
As the year turned, we knew it was about time. Joogsie had gotten to where I had to help her stand up as often as not. Her hips simply weren’t strong enough anymore. On good days, she’d get up without too much struggle. But some days she couldn’t even get her legs under her. Over the past couple of months, she even fell a few times after getting up.
Her bowel function was fading too. We’d sometimes wake to find that she’d had a movement. There’s just no dignity in these aspects of aging. As amazing as she was, especially with that almost arrogant stance of hers, she couldn’t stave off this declination in her body. And there was no solution for us. We tried different things to hold it off and make her more comfortable. We could see she was in pain, so did all we could think of to make her as comfortable as possible.
But there comes a time when your heart starts telling you that you’re keeping her around more for your own peace than for hers. How much pain is too much? How much of a struggle getting up is just not worth it anymore? How much of waking up in your own excrement is enough? For humans, we usually have some measure of verbal communication. And most are able to at least change their own diapers if their age results in incontinence. But with our furry friends, we just can’t have those conversations and they can’t learn to do things for themselves.
So the heart starts wrestling with these things, delving deep to try to grasp where selfishness begins and ends? Is it selfish to keep her alive? Or is it selfish to put her to sleep so we don’t have to deal with the inconveniences?
As I sit writing this, staring at the screen through blurry eyes, I would love to continue helping her up five or six times a day. To hold her right now, give her a few words of encouragement and lift her bony hips up so she could meander her way into the yard would be welcome. But there’s that wrestling of the heart again: For me or for her?
As I mentioned in Joogsie – A Friend Few Will Know, she was a gift to my wife from our sons. Ultimately it was her decision. A few months ago she said that she thought it was time. I resisted strongly. Then, as we found a new house to move into, I told her that I wanted her to spend at least a little time with us at the new house. She agreed, but was convinced that we shouldn’t wait – that it was too hard on Samantha (she never came around to calling her “Joogsie”).
The typical way of saying goodbye to our pets is to take them to the vet and walk away. They provide the injection and we trust them to be humane about it. But we just couldn’t do that. Losing her was heartbreaking enough. The idea of dropping her off and leaving her in the hands of strangers to breathe her last would feel like a betrayal.
A week after we moved into the new place, the vet was scheduled to arrive that afternoon. It was one of those days when you feel betrayed that the sun would dare to show. Not yet. But what are the options? As soon as my eyes opened, I knew what day it was and got up to face it with a heavy heart.
First, I went to Joogsie to help her up. She’d messed her blanket that night.
I had a cup of coffee and read for a bit. It wasn’t something I needed to do. I was stalling.
We had picked a place in the yard for her. Who wants to start that task though? But the sun kept reaching into the sky.
I went and got the shovel and started the hole. We wanted it deep enough that the smell wouldn’t be a problem. And she was still a big girl, even in her dilapidated state. So there was quite a bit of earth to move. And each shovel full was a burden. But the sun refused to wait for me.
About noon or so, the hole was done. I got some water and just sat around with Joogsie. I wanted to do something with her, but I didn’t want to tax her. We did give her a good meal at around 2pm.
The vet was scheduled for 3:30. We still had time to postpone it. But would that be selfish? My gut was a knot of anxiety and sadness that I knew I couldn’t properly sort through quickly. Even now it’s hard to sort through.
Joogsie conveniently laid down near the hole in the ground. How could she know? Would she feel betrayed if she did?
I sat down with her with her head on my lap and just loved on her and talked to her… and wept. It was a nice day, but she panted so hard. I assured myself that it was due to pain and age, and that we were doing the right thing. And I tried to encourage myself, remembering The Privilege of Weeping for a Dog.
I wanted more time with her. But the sun kept moving across the sky. My watch kept ticking. The time continued its inexorable crawl through my saddened heart.
My wife is wired differently. She tends to try to shut things out until she has to deal with them while I let them consume me. Usually this results in a quicker release for me while she gets hung up. Maybe not so much this time. But I refused to hold back my heart for our old girl. Wifey finally came around to sit with us around 3 or so, letting her heart finally come to bear.
The vet was a few minutes late. Another small mercy for us. And his English is very good – another one.
As I sat there loving on Samantha, he talked to us about life in general, told a personal story, asked questions and otherwise simply gave us time to get to know one another. I just sat with my girl’s head in my lap, doing all I could to keep the conversation going.
But he couldn’t stay all night and eventually said that he was ready to start. With the delays, it didn’t feel right waiting longer. And Joogsie continue to lay there panting, reminding us that, even if she would always be our pup, she’s wasn’t a puppy anymore.
The first injection is to calm the animal. So it was easy to take. We just loved on her as she started to relax. It took about ten minutes before it was obvious that she was calming down. Her breathing slowed a bit and she rested her head in my lap more.
We continued talking during this time, stretching it as much as we could. Finally, he apologized and said that he really had to get going. The sun kept crawling across the sky.
As he provided the final doses, we loved on our girl as much as we could. I could tell she was relaxing for the last time, expressed my love for her and said, “Goodbye girl”. My wife was acting similarly, through her tears. Then I covered her eyes, knowing she was almost gone – a couple of moments later I put my hand in front of her nose and felt… nothing…
The vet listened with his stethoscope and confirmed what our senses were telling us.
What was the last thing she heard? Saw? I can’t know for sure. But she didn’t breathe her last breath alone with strangers. She was in the arms of those who loved her most. She was in the arms of those she had most cared about all her life.
It still felt like a betrayal though. I’m her protector and provider. Now I was convincing myself that I was ending her suffering while my heart was breaking. And, yet, my work wasn’t done.
There’s a convenience to using a facility and leaving your dog behind. But I couldn’t do that. I had the hole prepared and now it was time for the final goodbye. Each stage is heart wrenching. Each shovel of dirt dropping onto my beautiful girl’s body stabbed. But each one got easier as the hole filled. And I spent a lot of time trying to make it look nice.
We had chosen a Fuji apple tree to plant above her. My wife loves them, so it was special to her to do so. So I tried to get the tree well as nice as I could, finally, after planting the tree, filling it with woodchips.
I didn’t realize that the busyness was therapeutic for me. So when I was done, it hit me afresh that there was nothing else left to do. I had stretched out this last step with love and tenderness, but now the last little thing I could do for her was done, and all I could do was grieve.
We had let the boys (pups) out before I buried her, to see her body. We weren’t sure what to expect, but thought it might be prudent. They seemed uninterested. But Jethro seemed to want to stay close when I was done. He follows me everywhere, so it was interesting that he lingered here by the hole for a half-hour or so after I walked away.
Then Jack went out, of his own accord, and laid next to the hole for awhile. It was encouraging to see, though we’re careful not to read too much into it. Now both boys pretty much ignore that spot, other than that it’s near shade from a pine tree.
This house is a rental, so her body won’t always be nearby. But her memories will be. And, when we leave this beautiful house, a piece of our hearts will remain the ground under that apple tree.
God, thank you for an amazing pup. You blessed us tremendously.
And thank you to those of you who followed my meandering thoughts and asked about our beloved Joogsie/Joogs/Samantha/Sammie/Sam.
Goodbye sweet Joogsie.