Y’all, I am not sure if I can get through this one but I am gonna try.
Every so often, I’ll get a photo from my ex of my dog, Cassie. She’s 12 now and, by the looks of it, doing pretty great. Does it break my heart to get these rare insights into Cassie’s life? Yeah. Do they also make my heart happy? 100%. I “lost” her in the divorce. Walking away from that dog for the last time is up there in the top 5 hardest things I’ve ever done. It gives me chills and a bellyache just thinking about it.
And, get your tissues (I certainly have mine here). Here are a few shots from our last day together. I might start day drinking after I attach these. Time will tell.
I have Izzy now and she’s a ball of energy and love. Completely irreplaceable. She has filled the hole in my heart that was left when I no longer had Cassie cuddles. She doesn’t know that she had big shoes to fill but she has done so with a grace and quirkiness and style that was all her own. Ok, maybe “grace” is a bit of a stretch but, to be sure, she is the four-legged love of my life.
But that’s just a peak into my life with dogs and that’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about. We’ll just consider the above a warm up. Sometimes you need a bit of an emotional stretch before you get into the real meat of a post, am I right?
Everyone knows that a dog’s love is unconditional. There have also been studies that indicate dogs understand when a person is sick or dying. Some dogs pick up on the smell of the disease; others simply notice the change in behavior or body language. In other words, their human just isn’t the same anymore and they are searching for answers and ways to comfort – just like we do.
My dad adopted Beau about a year after I introduced Cassie to the family. Beau is short for Bojangles, though if you spelled the short version “Bo”, you were corrected – yeah, it never made sense to us either. Dad had fallen in love with wiener dogs after he met Cassie and as fate would have it, Beau was with a family who had too many dogs and couldn’t take care of him anymore. Thus started a life-long friendship.
Dad had long been living in an RV that he bought, pretty much on impulse, years prior. As far as I know, he took about a half-dozen trips in that RV before parking it for good and turning it into a bachelor pad. To say it was a “Bachelor pad” is probably taking some liberties and I’m sure my family is over there shaking their heads right now. If I’m honest, I found it a lonely existence. I never knew what he did all day. Online poker and reading mostly. But, generally, he seemed happy. When he got Beau, we were all happy that he had a companion.
Now, Dad was no Cesar Milan. I can’t say that Beau was the best trained pup and he certainly wasn’t in a healthy weight class for much of his life with Dad. There were potty accidents, food surreptitiously provided from the table, not enough baths, and the list goes on. But, the loyalty that dog had for Dad and the affection that showed on both of their faces when they were in each other’s company? It would make your heart melt.
Dad’s health started to decline in 2019. When I’d talk to him on the phone, he’d complain about being tired and not being hungry for anything. I thought it was the typical aches and pains of getting older. I didn’t see him for a few months. There was a lot going on in my life the summer of 2019. So, when we finally got together to celebrate birthdays in October, I was shocked by how thin he was. For years, he’d been a little on the hefty side so when he first started losing weight, we were all very complimentary. By October, though, it was clear something was very wrong.
The rest was a blur of doctor’s appointments, tests, an eventual diagnosis and then a shockingly steady decline. It felt like we lost him almost as soon as we knew what was wrong.
Pancreatic cancer, by the way. F*** Cancer.
In my mind, it was a series of “lasts” because I knew we didn’t have long. I am grateful that Dad was less aware of the severity of his disease – though he knew it was not good at all. But for me, it was last lunch together, last birthday, last Thanksgiving, last Christmas. It was terribly heartbreaking and very very difficult to hold it all together.
But through it all, there was Beau. When Dad went to the hospital, my brother kindly took Beau into his home – knowing there would be poo poo presents and that he would likely make a great escape (he did … and was brought back by animal control, silly pup). That’s what you do for family though and it made Dad feel better knowing Beau was well taken care of.
The news just kept getting worse. We thought we’d have more time. We struggled to make the right decisions for Dad. We wanted to give him the comfort of living his last months, weeks, days in a place that he was familiar with. It couldn’t be his RV so, for a while, we thought we’d make my brother’s place work. It quickly became clear that we didn’t have the capacity to care for him like the professionals could, however. At that point, all Dad wanted to do was go home to his RV and be with Beau – even if for only a little while.
We tried. My brother took on the herculean effort of cleaning up the RV so that it could be even close to a hospitable place. We ran out of time though. It just wasn’t meant to be. We found a rehab facility. Well, they call them rehab facilities and I guess they are to an extent. But really, they’re places where people go to live comfortably until they pass on. It was close to all of us though and he’d have his own space and Beau could visit…or live there…I can’t remember which.
But that didn’t happen either.
He was moved to the hospice wing of the hospital and then to a hospice facility at another location.
He just kept asking when he could go home. We could only think of one thing to do. We’d bring a little bit of “home” to him. So, that’s when the Beau visits started. Of course, Beau was not up to date with his shots and needed a bath. All of which was necessary before he could come into the hospital. But we scurried around and got all of that done. There’s something about staying busy in the middle of a trauma like that – it helps occupy the mind and keep you a little more sane. I was happy to do my part.
Both the hospital and hospice were amazing in supporting these visits. No one blinked an eye when we brought Beau in to visit Dad and I’ll tell you something else, that dog was made for being an emotional support animal. You will never meet a more laid back, friendly, and sweet dog. It’s like he knew part of his life’s purpose was to be there in this moment. We’d take Beau in to be with dad for hours at a time and he’d just lay there with him. When we moved to the hospice facility, though, you could tell the whole ordeal was making Beau a little bit anxious.
The smells weren’t right and Dad became less engaged and eventually stopped talking altogether. It was hard for us to endure but it was also hard for Beau. He was growing restless and couldn’t get comfortable. Then I had an idea. I put the shirt that Dad was wearing when he first came to the hospital on the bed. Beau cuddled up there and they just slept together. I think he just needed to smell the Dad that he remembered – to feel just a little more at ease.
I said Dad wasn’t talking much but one of the last things he did in response to us was because of Beau. Beau had been there most of the day with Dad. They seemed content but we wondered if Dad was comfortable with Beau glued to his side all day. We thought about taking Beau back to my brother’s for a while and when we tried to ask Dad if he wanted us to take him, he just wrapped his hand around Beau’s side and pulled him closer. Enough said Dad – we hear you.
When you’re in a time of great sadness and pain, you tend to look for moments of comfort. Beau brought that to all of us. I’d like to think that it helped Beau too. Maybe it helped prepare him for not seeing Dad again because he knew something was wrong. I have never wanted to know more what a dog was thinking. Sitting here writing this though, my heart is heavy at that thought. I imagine that a dog’s thoughts are so pure that we couldn’t fathom their sweet simplicity. I think if I truly knew what was going on in Beau’s head at that time, my heart would explode with sadness AND love, if such a thing were possible. It’s true, we don’t deserve dogs.
Yet, they love us as if we do and that’s all that matters.
Beau is with another family now. They are dachshund lovers to the core and have another senior wiener (ha..don’t you love the way that sounds…”senior wiener”). I’m sure he’s still getting treats but maybe he’s dialed back on the potty accidents. In any case, I feel confident that he’s living the good life and I’m happy that Dad was a big part of making him the loving dog that he turned out to be.
In a lot of ways, Beau gave Dad what all of us couldn’t in those last days. Beau gave him the opportunity to feel at “home” one last time.