Last week, I had to make one of the most difficult, gut-wrenching decisions of my life. A decision I knew that someday I’d have to face and dreaded from the depths of my soul. My 17-year-old Jack Russell, Ozzy, had finally moved into the final stages of congestive heart failure. Only true dog lovers know how devastating it is to lose a fur baby. The sadness is overwhelming. Suffocating. He was far more than “just a dog.” He was my constant companion, my walking buddy and a source of unconditional, nonjudgmental love. He calmed me, comforted me and kept me grounded through multiple challenging times in my life. For 17 years, he never left my side, never let me out of his sight, following me everywhere I went in the house (which is why we had dog beds in nearly every room), even when getting up from his comfortable bed became difficult.
But as his heart condition progressed, making it impossible for him to take a normal breath, lie down comfortably and drink water, I knew that euthanizing him was an act of kindness and love that would avoid unnecessary suffering until the terrible, painful and inevitable end. But logic offers no solace in such circumstances, and I fought feelings of extreme sadness, guilt and depression for days, going through bouts of crying, calling the vet multiple times to discuss his worsening condition, looking for another medication to help him and combing the Internet for information on a miracle cure so he might recover. When it became obvious that there was no such solution, I agonized over the decision about “when.” Should I give him a few weeks? Days? What is *the* sign that it’s time? I took him for his daily walk, the thing he loved most in life, carrying him more than walking him, telling myself he was still “okay.” But I knew he wasn’t. Deep down, I knew it was his time.
Three years ago, my other Jack, Zoey, had developed cancer in her spine and back leg that was inoperable. At 15 years of age, the prognosis was not good. We helped slow it a bit with medication and chemotherapy, but she too got to a point where she couldn’t walk or do the things she loved to do. Looking back, I see that I waited too long – but the finality of the decision, of ending her sweet little life, was too much for me to bear. Unfortunately, because I waited too long to make the decision, my husband had to take her in the middle of the night to an emergency vet to put her to sleep. I couldn’t go because we have two little girls and someone had to stay at the house, and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t have the courage or ability to commit the act alone. Had I been willing to admit she was not going to recover and planned it better, I could have been with her, here, at the house where she was comfortable. I could have prevented much of her suffering. I should have made that decision sooner, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with Ozzy.
This is the terrible truth about life: we are constantly presented with dreadful decisions we know we must make. Decisions that have no upside. Decisions we attempt to ignore or procrastinate on. But the waiting doesn’t make the need to make it go away, and often only makes things worse to where the decision will be forced on us. Hill claimed “decisiveness” as one of the 13 characteristics of all wealthy successful people in Think And Grow Rich. I agree; most people are terrible at making decisions in all things in their lives and they suffer more because of it.
Now my life is a constant reminder of my loss. Ozzy’s chew bones are still lying around. His beds, empty. I no longer hear the click-clack of his nails on the floor in the morning walking over to the bed to softly whine to get me up so he could have his morning cookie. Whenever I eat, I catch myself thinking about making a little extra for him, knowing he’ll be at my feet, looking up at me with those big brown eyes, expecting his share. I miss him barking at me whenever I put on or change shoes, excited that he might be going for a walk – a ritual I estimate happened over 6,000 times, even after accounting for the days I was out of town or when the weather was bad. Hearing him whine at the door to go out. The slapping noise his ears made when he shook himself awake from a nap. The jingle of his collar. The absence of those sounds and daily rituals haunt me. The quiet emptiness is oppressive. A deeply important soul has been ripped from my life, leaving a giant, gaping black hole.
I know that over time the sting will subside and my tears will come less frequently, but I will never “move on” or “get over” the passing of my sweet Ozzy Bear. I’m not ashamed to say that the love I have for him and the bond we shared was deeper than what I feel for many family members and friends I have, the grief more intense than what I have felt for other human friends and family members who have passed. I know someday I will look back at our time together with fondness and be grateful for the time we were able to spend together. So many memories, so many moments. Until then, I take one day at a time. Grief is the price we pay for loving a pet so deeply and unconditionally, but it’s a price I’d gladly pay again.