Three years ago today, I said goodbye to my furkid Bailey. I sat on the cold floor and played with him while the sedative they gave him took effect; telling him how much I loved him and what an amazing companion he was. As he closed his eyes for the last time, I held him on my lap, trying to stop the tears because I didn’t want his last memory of me to be one of sadness. I held his paws as he was given the lethal injection, then held my breath until his heart stopped. The vet said Bailey might whimper after he had passed, but he didn’t. He wagged his tail, as if even then he was comforting me, telling me it was okay. His suffering was finally over but mine had just begun. I had just lost my best friend and instead of holding on, I had to let go.
Bailey was a terrier mutt that started off his life being abandoned by his (so-called) guardians and being fed chocolate by neighbors to try to kill him. If anyone had a right to be distrustful, he did. Yet when I wandered into the Humane Society that day, he was all tail wags and happy barks. Even in a cage, his spirit was contagious. I had gone there on a whim and wasn’t looking for a dog — but the minute I looked into his brown eyes, I knew I was meant to be his guardian. There was a couple in front of me who were considering adopting him and I thought I’d lost him. But for some reason I returned to the humane society a couple hours later and he was still there. No hold. He was free to come home with me.
Like I said, the minute I saw him, I knew. And I’ve never been more right about anything in my entire life. He was my best friend and constant companion. He was unconditional love in a thirty-pound bundle of fur. His devotion got me through some very dark nights and, quite literally, kept me alive. I would be struggling with suicidal thoughts and he would put his head on my leg, or lick the tears on my face, and I would remember that someone loved me and needed me. I couldn’t — wouldn’t — abandon him.
He loved me when I couldn’t love myself.
One warm August afternoon, I entered my room to find an 8 year old Bailey on my bed having a seizure. I didn’t know what to do so I just sat next to him and spoke soothingly. It ended fairly quickly, and I thought that was it. I was wrong. He had another seizure half an hour later, so my Mom and I took him to the emergency vet hospital. They said the odds were that it was a brain tumor because he was too old to suddenly have epilepsy. That day, the nightmare started. Different doctors and different diagnoses; high-priced meds and special testing. All of this was taking its toll on me financially, but I was determined to do whatever necessary to save him.
The worst part was the toll this was taking on Bailey. It had only been three months, but it was obvious he was tired. He was still having seizures — in fact he had one on his 9th birthday. The seizures started to get more severe, and it was taking him longer and longer to come out of them afterward. The day before I euthanized him, he had two seizures, and after the last one he wasn’t himself for almost an hour. I called the vet and he said to keep an eye on him and if he had any more, to bring him in. The next day, he had two seizures again, and for the first time in his life he growled at me. It was like he didn’t know who I was. I rushed him to the vet’s office and after spending some time alone with Bailey, the vet came back to the exam room and told me it was “time.” I said I didn’t want to give up on him, and the vet told me I wasn’t; I was letting go so his pain would end. I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made that night. To save him, I had to let him go. I tell myself I made the right decision – Bailey was fading and suffering — but even today I still feel the weight of my decision. It hurts in places that light will never reach.
But I don’t regret one second of the time I had with him and even knowing how soon it would end, I would walk into the humane society over and over again. I was beyond lucky to have him in my life. He taught me about patience and joy and living for the moment. One of the biggest regrets I have is that I didn’t take a lot of photos of him, and I’ve remedied that with my furkid Sam, and with Oreo at the end of his life. Thanks to the lessons I learned from Bailey, I’m a better guardian.
My favorite memory of him and I is when I would howl like a wolf and then he would join in. It annoyed everyone who was unlucky enough to be in the vicinity (yes, we did this in public), but he loved it. Only a dog with soul could howl like that. I love you, Bailey. Always and forever. Thank you.
“Certainly grief is the price we all pay for love.” –Gretchen Jackson (Barbaro’s owner)