When I posted this photo of Lucy on social media Wednesday, I just wanted to share my best furry friend. But a stranger who saw the picture saw more than I intended.
“Lucy doesn’t ask for much,” I wrote as the caption. “Most of the time, she’s happy and content if she can just lie quietly in the floor and watch me work.”
This stranger named Alan made a comment on the photo.
“My Lucy would often join us where we were working, too,” he wrote. “Cherish those moments, and don’t forget to give them a pat, and talk to them.”
His use of the past tense was my hint that his Lucy was a beloved dog from his past, but I still didn’t realize what was going on. After I assured him that I talk to Lucy more than I talk to humans, he responded again.
“When my wife was working out of town during the week, Lucy was sometimes the only creature I spoke to for a day or two, when work was slow,” he wrote. “I really miss her. (It’s only been a week and a day.)”
By this point, it was clear how much Alan was hurting. Once I understood that it had been only eight days since his Lucy’s death, I was full of empathy for him. It took my heart back to the way I felt when a dog named Maggie died 10 years ago.
Maggie’s death broke my heart.
“I’m really sorry you lost her,” I said to Alan. “I’ve never cried about the death of any human being, but I cry often when I lose one of my furry friends. They are amazing companions and wedge their way into our hearts in ways that are hard for others to understand.”
Alan could tell that I had experienced the pain he was going through.
“Thanks,” he said. “You really do get it. I wept more for that dog than other humans, too. Perhaps it’s the innocence. Being the one to choose to put her down was very hard. Intellectually, I know it was the right thing to do … the cancer (in her mouth/throat) must have been very uncomfortable for her, but knowing that I chose to end her life is hard. I’d like to think she understood.”
This discussion hit me hard and it took me right back to the last night I had with Maggie. One night, she suddenly wouldn’t get up when it was time to go to her crate. She tried, but she collapsed. I picked her up and took her to an emergency animal clinic late that night.
I spent the night sitting by her side as she laid helplessly in a kennel with an open door. The scans done at the clinic showed that she had fluid where it shouldn’t be. It appeared to be internal bleeding. There were several signs that pointed to cancer. We spent the night pumping her full of fluids and medicine to get her strong enough to go to my own vet the next morning.
I didn’t sleep that night.
As soon as my vet’s clinic opened, I carried Maggie over there, full of hope that he would have a solution. But when he did surgery a few hours later, our worst fears were confirmed. Her organs were full of cancer.
My beautiful little Maggie never woke up from the surgery.
In the coming days, I created and had printed some cards to share with the few people who had known her well enough to care about her death. Here’s what I wrote:
A faithful companion isn’t coming home.
There was once a sweet and beautiful puppy who lived with a young man who wanted to make her into a “mean dog” and teach her to fight. Fate intervened and she came to a better life instead. For 12 years, she was a faithful companion and amazing friend — for all of the people and dogs and cats in her life. She was funny and smart and sweet and brave. Without warning, she fell gravely ill on Feb. 28. She had internal bleeding caused by cancer in several organs. Maggie died a few hours later during surgery. Her absence creates a terrible hole in a family. She is missed and she is loved.
A decade later, my little Maggie is still loved and missed.
Our dogs have ways of getting into our hearts that few other things in this world do. The pain of losing them is awful, but it is made worth it by the wonderful bond of love we share with them during their lives.
Thursday night, I responded one more time to Alan.
“Alan, I think the truth is that the dogs we love know that we love them — and they know we make such terrible decisions only when it’s best for them,” I said. “I’m sorry you were in that position, but I’m completely confident that your Lucy died knowing you love her. You are bearing the pain now of doing what was right for her. I think she would have approved and supported the loving decision you made for her. I’m just sorry it’s so tough now to live without your girl.”
There aren’t that many things which can so readily unite strangers in understanding of the other’s pain, but Alan and I both know what it feels like to lose a furry friend who we dearly love.
I’ll face that pain one day with Lucy. I know it will hurt, but I’m going to spend wonderful years loving her and letting her fill my days with joy and happiness.
It’s a terrible bargain, but I wouldn’t want to live without our dogs.