This past Saturday, we had to make the difficult decision to put down our family dog, Blake. Needless to say, it’s been a tough week as we’ve worked our way through the grieving process. It’s amazing how much of a mark these silly, furry little animals make on our hearts and in our lives.
Dogs bring us so much joy, memories, frustrations, and sorrow. They teach us a lot, both about ourselves and about life. Here’s a look at what I learned in the 7-1/2 years I had with Blake.
The beginning – July 17, 2010
After considering a dog for a couple of years, we finally decided we would add one to our family after returning from our 2010 summer vacation. We did our research on dog breeds and settled on a Golden Retriever. A search through the classifieds eventually led us to a breeder in Lancaster who had 2 puppies available (1 male, 1 female) from a litter of four.
I still have vivid memories of that day in Lancaster. As one would expect, it was hot, really hot, although you wouldn’t know it watching the puppies romp around and play. We bonded almost immediately with Blake, and after a small amount of back-and-forth with the breeder, decided to take the male puppy home. A furious naming session took place on the 90-minute drive home. The two finalists were Blake and Rock. When we pulled into the driveway, Blake was home.
The Family Dog
Blake rapidly settled into his role as the family dog. It still amazes me that after just a month or two, he strutted around the house like he owned the place. You would’ve thought he had always been a part of the family.
Blake lived a dog’s life. I made sure that he exercised plenty. Some of my favorite excursions were our five (or more) mile trips around Camarillo that we would take on Saturday mornings. I’m pretty sure his favorite walk was when he got to roam the hillsides behind the outlet mall chasing rabbits. He also had his fair share of treats, marrow bones, and the occasional table scrap. He knew he was in for a special treat or two when the barbecue was fired up. He would stay glued to my side the entire time I grilled.
There’s all the silly and crazy stories. Like the time Amanda dropped a grilled cheese sandwich that we’re pretty certain he snatched in mid-air before it could hit the floor. Or the night he jumped onto the chair in my office and got stuck. Then there was the time he got caught eating a bowl of popcorn off of the stove. The evenings when he would patrol the backyard for critters (thankfully just scaring them off and not catching them). The stories go on and on.
While he may not have been the best dog to have ever roamed the earth, he was the best dog for us. While it’s possible we might get another dog, no one will ever replace Blake. He’s the dog that watched over all of the kids as they grew up. He’s the dog in all the pictures with them. He will always be the one and only family dog.
Friend, Confidant, Glue
Blake filled three roles for me.
He was a loyal friend. He was always there to greet me after a day of work, good or bad. He had that uncanny sixth sense that dogs have of knowing your mood. If it was a tough day, he knew how to comfort and console. If it was a good day, he knew how to enjoy and celebrate. He just brought a certain positive energy to the house.
- He was my trusted confidant. I liked to kid with people that Blake was the smartest dog in the world. I really enjoyed our many walks together. I would bounce ideas off of him and get great feedback. OK, so it was me having conversations with my inner self, but these conversations wouldn’t have happened without Blake by my side.
- He was the glue for our family. Having Blake around helped bring us all closer together. There were so many things with Blake that became a group effort. There were the walks with Lisa and the rest of the family, our Saturday trips to Starbucks, the walks to Baskin-Robbins, the trips to the dog park, and the baths that would usually take two of us.
Lean Times at the End
We struggled for the past year to put and keep weight on Blake. We went through two vets and a specialist and were not able to find any answers. Over the last couple of months, we managed to make some progress, and Blake seemed to be putting some weight back on and appeared to be feeling better. He was definitely showing more energy.
He was doing fine through the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. In fact, we went on one of our typical walks that evening, and he showed no signs of trouble. I started noticing some bloating in his abdomen mid-day Thursday, which worsened through the evening. By Friday morning his breathing was labored, and the swelling had not subsided. We took him to see the vet Friday afternoon thinking he might be having digestive issues. Unfortunately, we got bad news. His heart was failing. After talking it over and seeing him through a challenging Friday evening, we decided it was best to let him go.
After piecing together events of the last 18 months (and possibly longer), and given what happened at the end, we believe he had an undiagnosed heart condition, possibly heart disease. It was most likely the root cause of his weight issues and the condition that eventually claimed his life. In fact he was probably hurting more than he let on over the last 2-3 years. In spite of his struggles, he maintained his spirited, friendly and caring disposition all the way to the end.
What Blake Taught Me
Whoever choose to domesticate dogs as pets knew what they were doing. In addition to being loyal companions, dogs have a way of teaching us so many life lessons. Anyone who has trained a dog knows the frustration that goes with them getting to do what you want. You learn patience teaching them and experience joy when they finally understand what ‘Sit!’ means. There’s dealing with the disappointment when you come home to an accident in the house, especially when the dog knows what it did is wrong. There’s the discipline of keeping a schedule of feedings and walks with dog, because boy do they like structure. And there’s the responsibility of cleaning up after them, feeding them, bathing them, and generally caring for them. As a good friend of mine told me once, it’s like having a perpetual toddler in the house.
Most of all, there are two very important things one can learn from a dog. The first is how to love – both how to give love and how to receive it. A dog’s love is unconditional. The more love you give a dog, the more you get back in return. There’s a lot of lessons there that we would all be better off for if we applied those to our human relationships.
The second important lesson we learn from a dog is how to grieve. Dogs are only with us for a short time. If you’re not prepared to learn how to handle grief and loss, then don’t get a dog, or as I like to say, don’t play the game if you’re not prepared for the end. Dealing with the loss of a pet is hard. Losing Blake was extremely difficult for everyone in the family. In the end though, we will all be better people for it.
And so with that, thanks Blake, my buddy, the Blake-dog. Thanks for the good times. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making me a better person. You will be dearly missed.
Rest in peace my friend.