Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Saying Goodbye

It's never easy letting those we love go.

Last week Toby starting going into decline quite rapidly.  Stairs had become his nemesis, and there are stairs everywhere at our house.  His nether regions had become extremely weak, and going up and down stairs was a recipe for a tumble, head- or tail-first.  Even during our twice-daily walks he was stumbling and falling, and getting back up on all fours was a challenge.  Hearing was going, and I believe sight was going, too. Friday night he turned his nose up at his cheese snacks...and normally he would do ANYTHING for cheese!

So, on Saturday we took our final trip to the vet.  Tears galore.  But his passing was peaceful, and he is now reposing near the sugar maple out behind the house.  Come spring, I will plant a little native plant garden above him.

On Sunday I realized just how much he filled my life, for the house, even with two cats, now seems SO empty.  And quiet.  I had kept up a constant chatter with Toby - he was my roomie.  Now there are no conversations.  No one to share meals or to help clean the dishes.  And evenings (all three so far) I find myself preparing in my mind the schedule (let T out, fix and eat dinner, go for walk) only to remember that that is no longer the routine.  Taking off shoes, changing clothes...all those little things we don't think about are no longer important.

Sunday afternoon I couldn't take being in the quiet house any longer, so I went "shopping" - had to get some caulk for windows and doors.  I was browsing through the patio furniture at the store, thinking how nice it would be to have a table and chairs on the back deck, or a fire ring in the back yard...and then I realized I have no one to share these things with.  It's no fun to sit by a "campfire" on a summer evening if there is no one to sit there with you.  Ditto eating a meal on the back deck - although with T we usually just sat on the back steps.

I actually found myself at the animal shelter in Ann Arbor yesterday - desperate for a dog to fill the silence.  Lots of sweet pooches - many pit bull mixes - but the only one who "spoke to me" was a little mix-breed called Biscuit, who does not like cats apparently.  That wouldn't have worked out.  Sat with an enormous German shepherd called Panzer for a while, but he ignored me entirely and piddled on the floor.  I don't think he would've been a good fit - just too too big and apparently really has issues with other dogs (although cats are fine) - and the neighborhood is full of dogs running loose.

So, I find myself enduring the silence of the house.  The cats are, well, cats.  They interact on their own terms.  I have the bed mostly to myself now, too.  It means I get better sleep (three animals tend to push one to cling to one side of the mattress), but I miss the presence of so many warm bodies.

Toby was about 14 years old.  In three weeks we would've celebrated 11 years together.  He came home with me completely unplanned that warm April day in 2002.  I was at a commissioner's meeting at the APA headquarters in Ray Brook (NY), and on the way back to work I stopped at the animal shelter on a whim.  No intention of getting a dog - just window-shopping for our seasonal.  And there he was:  the only quiet dog in the kennels, lying there with his head on his paws looking so sad.

I asked the staff what his story was.  A woman had gotten him as a puppy.  She had some young kids.  After about three months he was tied out back and there he was for the next three years.  At least once he broke loose and had been hit by a truck.  The current boyfriend had brought him to the shelter to be put down because he was "dangerous" - claimed he had bitten him.  So, he was put into quarantine and the day I was there he had just come out.  He was due to be put down the next day.

I took him out for a walk.  He was in sad sad shape.  Fur greasy, and he had diarrhea, so he was a mess.  He cowered as we walked and cringed, tail tucked, when I went to pet him.  Afterwards, we went into the meet-n-greet room.  I filled my hands with water at the sink to give him a drink (it was unseasonably warm out), and when I turned to offer it to him, he hit the floor in complete fear.  He had been punished with water.

This dog needed help.

I took him home.

I remember taking him in for his first vet appointment (to be neutered) and the vet recognized him.  "Oh, God," she said.  "He's back."  A year later she told me it was hard to believe this was the same dog - a little TLC, good food and training had turned him into one of her favorite patients.

And that's what it was - months of training and working with him, making sure he had good food and exercise, and lots and lots of love.  The latter went both ways.

Toby was my best friend, and I miss him terribly.  But it was time - his quality of life was gone and as difficult as it was to say goodbye, it was the right thing to do.

Will I get another dog?  I don't know.  Not having to rush back home to let the dog out will free up my time...will certainly make my employers happier.  But I find that already I miss the companionship.  I don't have my hiking buddy any more.  On the other hand, MI is not as friendly to dogs as the Adirondacks are - too many natural areas say "no dogs allowed."

Only time will tell.  If another dog comes along who desperately needs love, I just might say, "C'mon - let's go home."


  1. Oh Ellen ! so sad to hear about your buddy - I never got to meet him but his personality came through in your words and photos - love the photo here, it looks like he's FLYING - you found him almost by accident and things may happen that way again - you have love to offer and someone out there will need it - Sue P

  2. Oh Ellen, I can hardly write through my tears of sympathy. I will miss hearing about your adventures with Toby and seeing his photo. You might remember I lost my dog a couple of years ago. It took me a year to stop crying daily and then weekly and now occasionaly. Because of traveling and finances I have not invited another dog into my life as yet but I am constantly asking strangers and friends if I can pet their dogs and eveyone is very obliging. I just have to get a dog fix every now and then. So until another buddy comes into your life there are lots of dogs out there that can use a hug and a pet along with yourself. I put photos all over the house in places where I looked for her and even bought a stuffed dog, it helped a little during my grieving. Now I have picked up most of the photos and hold her in my heart. Blessings to you. Squirrel

  3. Ellen-- what a lovely tribute! It's a sad loss, but you have many wonderful memories too. I'll be facing the same "last trip" with my 14-yr-old one of these days. His legs also giving out-- so hard to watch them struggle.

    I hope you decide to find another "best friend" someday. Best to you...

  4. So sorry to hear Ellen. A big-hug.

  5. Such kindness and love toward this fellow creature has surely earned you good karma.All will be well. But in the meantime, your heart aches. I am so sorry. All fellow pet lovers understand your grief.

  6. I'm saddened to learn that Toby has passed. As a long time dog lover, I've experienced that loss many times myself. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully.

  7. 'Sorry for the loss of your companion. It certainly takes time to accept or accommodate the empty space and silence that is left.

  8. That is a fabulous photograph of Toby and although I knew some of his history, I didn't know all of it. You saved each other :) Sadly, Rose is 14 this year, and she is deaf, blind in one eye, and she creeks whens he walks and has walking accidents if not taken out more frequently than years past. Until that time, she is faithful to me and on my heels all the time. If I walk out of a room, there she is, and she won't settle until I sit. If I am not in "my spot" in the evening, she goes batty until I do. Strangest thing, actually. But, I know you understand that. Hugs to you. One of these days, you will save and be saved by another furry friend, I have absolutely no doubt in that.

  9. I couldn't finish reading this entry. It spoke so close to my heart- I just got MY own first dog, about 4 months ago. Yesterday she turned 6 months, and I'm already wanting time to slow. How cruel is it that these pets give us so much and we only get them for 10 plus a few years? You'll find another pup, a good fit. Adoption is the way to go!

  10. I am soooo sorry :-( Both my cat and dog were euthanized at the Ray Brook vet during the summer of 2011. I miss them. I miss having pets. Now I will miss Toby, too. We humans just live too long. Sigh....

  11. So sorry to hear of your lose. You gave Toby a wonderful life after his dismal start. My heartfelt condolences.

  12. So sorry to hear of your lose. You gave Toby a wonderful life after his dismal start. My heartfelt condolences.

  13. Hope that comment took... I can't tell.