Comment Of The Day: On The Passing Of A Beloved Dog

Spuds lobbied hard for this post by Joel Mundt on Friday’s Open Form to be a Comment of the Day, but I didn’t take much persuading. Joel began by wondering if it was sufficiently related to ethics to belong on Ethics Alarms at all, but he needn’t have worried. His story is reminiscent of the experience of a close family member of mine, who relatively late in life discovered the transformative power of unconditional love as only a dog can bestow. It changed her perspective profoundly, making her kinder, more patient, more optimistic and empathetic….and best of all, happier. The experience made ethics alarms surface that had been buried deeply for most of her life.

That’s Bailey, whom you will soon learn about, above. I hope Joel is all right with my publishing the photo, which he kindly sent along when I wondered what a Shar Pei/Whippet would look like. If you are a dog lover and have not already encountered it, I also recommend that you read The Oatmeal’s classic, “My Dog, the Paradox.” It is relevant, and you will see why.

Here is Joel Mundt’s Comment of the Day, his reflections on the passing of Bailey, his dog.

***

This afternoon, we said goodbye to Bailey, our fifteen-year-old Shar Pei/Whippet mix. She was happy, sociable, and a good eater up to the end, but her liver issues (either Cushing’s or cancer or a combination of both) could not be overcome. Her bad liver numbers went up 50% between March ’21 and March ’22, then went up another 50% (and into the red zone) in the ensuing five weeks. So as April ended, we made the difficult decision – if her health and demeanor held – to give her five more weeks.

Bailey was my first pet, and honesty compels me to admit that I did not initially want her. When our son called in April of 2019 and asked if we could take her, my first answer was absolutely not. But some contemplation and prayer changed my mind…well, really, my heart. Had we not taken her, our son would have been left in the untenable position of having to put her down, and we didn’t think it was time. So we drove to Phoenix three weeks later and brought her home. And to say that she has been a joy would be a gross understatement.

I can assure you I didn’t change Bailey in the three years she was with us. She transitioned from her life in Arizona to central Iowa with nary a whimper. She was always extremely friendly, quiet, well-mannered, and well-behaved. Everyone that met her had the same response…”what a wonderful dog”. Any person that gave her a pet was a friend for life. She always was friendly and oh-so-patient with children who, try as they might to be gentle, would accidentally pinch an ear or pull her fur or step on a paw. Bailey never got hostile or even aggressive, but just stood or sat with tail wagging, sometimes in a rapid circle when she was really happy, letting little hands pet and pat. I’ll never forget that.

Quite the contrary, Bailey changed me. I morphed from a middle-aged man with little time for – and pretty much no interest in – animals to someone that appreciates them deeply. I developed a love for Bailey (and for other animals) I never thought was possible. We play cards with some church friends on regular occasions and five years ago, I wouldn’t have given their dog a moment’s notice except to avoid her. Now Stella-pup gets as much affection as I can give her. Neighbor dogs receive the same from me, and will continue to do so.

We sold our home eighteen months ago, planning to build our “lake-adjacent” retirement home this year. Bailey changed that, too. We decided to build a year earlier, knowing that her health might not hold and desirous that she spend time with us there. Not only did we save about twenty percent in construction costs by building last year, Bailey was able to make five trips with us…five more than she would have made had we waited.

In late April, ethics entered the equation for us, when sobering blood test results brought us to a crossroads. Our vet told us few things frustrated him more than owners who brought their pets in too weak to walk or even stand. Owners, he said, simply won’t let go, and their selfishness (sometimes unintentional, but not always so) caused their pets needless suffering. Bailey, he said, was still in pretty good condition, but there was no way she was going to get better…she would only deteriorate. The temptation was there to just let things continue and not let her go. Instead, we set a date five weeks out…and stuck resolutely to it.

These last weeks have been bittersweet, relishing our time with Bailey, but facing the inevitability of the end. For us, every “last” was a cause for grief: Bailey’s last visit to our new home over Memorial Day, her final weekly bath last Friday, her last cookie-delivery ride with us (my wife makes cookies every week for some neighbor kids and Bailey goes every time), making plaster-of-paris footprints as keepsakes, my dad’s last visit with her this morning, her last walk in the park this afternoon. Every “last” also provided the temptation to waver in our decision.

Bailey was tired. She had some arthritis in her hips and forelegs and still loved walking, but the walks exhausted her and she started stumbling on occasion. She ate well, but one side-effect of her liver issues was that she was continually hungry, a sure sign of its progression. Some evenings, she would look at us as though she had no idea who we were. Confused at times?…maybe. Tired?…definitely. Happy and loving and desirous of pets?…always…I joked that her addiction necessitated a “12-Pets Program.”

I am so thankful the Lord brought Bailey to us. And today, after three years and with full hearts, we have given her back to Him. There are no better hands to care for, and love on, a tired pup than the ones that made her. Even though we know we made the right decision, it is very painful. But while the sorrow I feel now is sharp and the loss is just as sharp, that will diminish with time. In its place will be the happy memories of one of the most fulfilling periods of my life.

11 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: On The Passing Of A Beloved Dog

  1. Bailey’s health issues sound similar to those our dog Baby (a terrier/poodle mix) experienced before her passing approx. 8 years ago. She died at home, and my husband brought her to the vet in one of the blankets I had crocheted for her. (Her successor, Cali (a Jack Russell Terrier) has been with us since the fall of 2014; she’s now 11 years old and in pretty good health so far.)

    • My wife took up crochet late last year and made Bailey a blanket. She suggested having Bailey cremated with it, but that was one place where I overruled. We are keeping it instead.

  2. This is so touching to me. We are facing a similar decision with our cat Zuzu who has been with us for 16 years. It is hard to let her go, but we don’t want her to suffer because we can’t bear to part with her. Sometimes being a pet owner means heartbreak.

  3. One day, my wife (a Neurologist) was on call at a local hospital. The patient she was asked to evaluate had a relative who’d driven a fair distance with a cardboard box of puppies just getting ready to turn 8 weeks old, when they could be sold. Leo was a thoroughbred Mini Schnauzer, and he was my Father’s Day gift in ’00. For a Schnauzer, he was not a yippy pup, ever. He was as much a part of our family as our Golden, a gift from one of my wife’s classmates (a breeder) “for our kids,” who, at the time ranged from 11 to 17. Dakota, the Golden, can fairly be said to have taught Leo how to “be” a dog when he came home as a puppy, and Dakota an even-tempered 8 years old, whom we enjoyed for another 8 years before we put her down in 2008.

    Leo lived to the ripe old age of 17, when he died on what was his 17th birthday, in 2017, May 1st. He died with my wife and I near to him as he passed away from what we and our Vet think was congestive heart failure.

    We added a new golden early in ’06 so she could benefit from Dakota’s training. Maggie brought joy to us over the next 14 years until she began having seizures. Now, we share our home with a Labradoodle, Cheyenne, who was a breeder’s dam. She had 2 litters, and a couple of months after her 2nd, the breeder told our Vet, who was also hers, that she didn’t want to breed her again and would be interested in placing her with a good family. Cheyenne joined our family in October ’19, aged 4, and she turns 7 in July ’22.

    It’s fair to say that all 4 dogs brought their own personalities to us and, rather than us changing their temperaments, they all changed us, uniquely, and we are the richer because of it.

  4. I am hesitant to comment, as I feel like I will be repeating several tales already told here.

    I will try to keep things fresh, with new insights, if I have any.

    Ellen Goodman (if I recall correctly) said that the greatest gift a pet will give us is the ability to say Goodbye to our parents. Roughly 30 years have gone by and I am still waiting to test that hypothesis (and the timeframe keeps shrinking).

    I feel fortunate that my father was a veterinarian. We always had pets (mind you, dogs and cats—no rodents, fish, reptiles or birds). I may not know how lucky I am because of that.

    I have always been comfortable around dogs (and cats).

    A friend of mine kept his mastiff secluded from his friends because he was worried it would be aggressive. I did not realize this, but insisted on meeting his pet and had a great rapport with him. He reconsidered his protectiveness of his dog.

    While we were dating, one of the signs my wife saw in me is that she walked into her living room one day and saw Ashley, her cantankerous cat, sitting on my chest as I law on her couch. She was the only person Ashley liked.

    I’m not perfect though. After 15 years, my parents’ cat still does not like anyone.

    And, I am not always the brightest when it comes to animals. One time, while sitting on the back stoop of my house late at night, the “pit bull” from next door wandered around the corner of my house. Feeling playful, I jumped up and got into my NFL linebacker stance. Paddington would always respond by crouching down and then running around. This dog immediately charged me from about 15 yards away. I did not have a lot of time to consider that that may not have been the brightest maneuver with an unfamiliar dog, I was not mistaken. The dog let up, was very affectionate, and I returned her to the neighbor.

    But, there have been lots of sad times.

    My dad put Rusty to sleep in a private ceremony (just family). We went to his clinic and everyone said goodbye. As a 6-year old, I did not understand much.

    Then, while working at his clinic doing odd jobs one summer, he asked me to come in and hold down a pet as he administer some medicine. Only after it was over did I realize he put the cat to sleep. No one was there to console the cat but me. It was very much unlike Rusty. It was sad.

    Then, there were the “mass euthanizing” of shelter animals. Even sadder, and the stench was terrible.

    Then, it came to putting Ashley down. My wife was distraught. it was a cat she had had for 15 years. I listened to the vet; I weighed the options; I advised her that any additional time would accomplish nothing good. She made the decision.

    Within the month, she also had to decide to put down Lexie, her little Yorkie.

    Within a few years, I had to make the decision to put my cat, Felisity down. She was not old, but her kidneys were hardening and there was no chance of long-term recovery. I did not have anyone to coach me on the decision. It was not pleasant, but i have no doubt I made the right decision.

    And, Joel Mundt, I have no doubt that you made the best decision available to you.

    My condolences to you.

    -Jut

  5. Thank you all for sharing and Jack, yeah, it was totally fine to publish Bailey’s photo. You all don’t need an on-going saga of our coping mechanism (this is an ethics site, not online grief counseling), but I will say the weekend was quiet with several bouts of tears. I’m not too proud to say that some of them (probably more of them) were mine.

    Many of those “lasts” that we grieved are now the “firsts” that we will grieve…coming home to the empty apartment, going to the store without her, breakfast without her, etc. It’s a process for sure. But we’re already laughing and smiling with the memories, so that’s encouraging.

    My only remaining worry is that when Bailey lay on that table, was she angry at us? I don’t think she was and we told her how much we loved her and that it wasn’t her fault, but she was a dog…she couldn’t tell us.

    That is agonizing.

    • That’s one of the worst parts of having to put dogs/animals down, Joel. You can’t tell them what’s happening and can only wish/assume they know the drill. I think they do. They have an intelligence we don’t have.

      I was distraught when our then dachshund was hit and killed by a passing car after bolting across the street after a rabbit. Genes. On the way to work the next day, I thought to myself, “Hey. We’re talking dogs, not humans. We can get another one!” Which we did. Mrs. OB and I had to put down both of our most recent dachshunds within the last few years. They both aged out. At our current age (70), putting them down is too hard. So, we’ve decided, “no mas.” But if you’re up for it, get a new dog to fill Bailey’s paw prints around the house. Doing so will help.

  6. We know that a disproportionate number of school shooters did not have a father at home. I have to wonder if anybody has looked into how many had a dog.

    • Excellent point DaveL. Nothing builds empathy than having a pet to love. It isn’t that empathy develops from our caring of the pet, it is that the pet teaches us how to care by somehow knowing when we are down, and then go about trying to comfort us in our hour of need.

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